Having spent fifteen years supporting cutting-edge biomedical research before coming to Parliament, I was one of the early evangelists for the new landscape of “translational” medical research. In labs, universities and hospitals, I saw the start of the shift from the one-size-fits-all model of blockbuster drug development, to the new age of personalised medicine, using the latest advances in genomics and informatics to enable us to better prescribe the right drugs to the right people, and better design drugs around our understanding of how and why different patients respond to drugs and disease in different ways. I could see that this was a revolution that would change all our lives, and allow us to export our knowledge around the world. And I knew the UK had the chance to lead the way.
That’s why I was so proud to be appointed by the Prime Minister to co-ordinate the first ever Life Sciences Industrial Strategy in 2011 setting out a vision of what could be achieved, and to be appointed the first ever Minister for Life Sciences in 2014 to make this vision a reality, with a multi-billion portfolio overseeing the NHS drugs budget, data and digital health, the NIHR, genomics, NICE and industry engagement.
Make no mistake; this personalised medicine revolution will be as game-changing as the discovery of penicillin. It is the Holy Grail for 21st-century healthcare. Every patient receiving the right medicine, in the right dose, first time, every time. And every country is racing to discover the rewards. Last year I visited the White House to share the UK’s progress in this sector, and President Obama launched a major precision medicine initiative in his State of the Union address in 2015.
This is about covenanting the original values of the NHS for the 21st Century. Nearly seventy years after the foundation of the NHS in 1948, I believe we can build on our existing strength in this sector make the UK the world-leader in the personalised medicine revolution.
To do so means focusing on three things – capitalising on our lead on genomics, investing in research and seizing the opportunity to export our knowledge to the fastest growing economies around the world.
Genomics lies at the heart of precision medicine, which is why it was front and centre of the Life Sciences Strategy in 2011, with the landmark commitment for us to be the first country to sequence the full genomes of NHS patients as part of the 100,000 genomes project. At the time I described it as the equivalent of the Kennedy Moonshot, the new space race. With £300 million of investment, that ambition is now becoming a reality, unlocking much of the information needed to support the development of precision medicines for rare diseases and cancer. No other country in the world is investing in embedding genomics at the heart of the health service, making the project a global first.
Secondly, it means investing in research. In the Life Sciences Strategy we set out the ambition to make every patient a research patient, and every hospital a research hospital. It goes back to the founding principles of the NHS – a research-driven service, with more power locally and with a greater focus on prevention. That’s why one of my key personal priorities is investing in research, supporting the work of the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) and the Medical Research Council with projects across the UK.
Thirdly, we must also never lose sight of the stakes. The potential economic prize is huge. Already the global annual market in this area of life sciences is estimated at £14 billion and this is expected to grow to £50-60 billion by 2020. This sector is also about a model of growth that can benefit us all. We have the chance to drive a new cycle of growth in our economy, showing how an Innovation Economy is essential to an Opportunity Society, a theme I have campaigned on over the last five years as founder of the 2020 Group of MPs. By thinking global, the Life Science sector can help feed, fuel and heal the world through new technology and our world-leading research, exporting new technology and knowledge around the globe.
It can also help build vibrant local health economies, a theme championed by the Chancellor’s radical devolution agenda and Northern Powerhouse scheme, and the ongoing work of rebalancing the economy. Alongside the Golden Triangle (London, Oxford and Cambridge) we have seen major new Life Science clusters across Birmingham, the Northern Health-Science Alliance and the Scottish belt, driving jobs, skills training and opportunity around the country.
The quiet revolution of personalised medicine and patient empowerment will change all of our lives for the better. In 1948, a previous generation seized the chance and changed the world with the foundation of the NHS. Now we must be as bold and ambitious again, and make sure the UK continues to lead the way in this new landscape of 21st-century healthcare.