Thank you Richard, and I appreciate the opportunity to have this discussion. Ive just got back from the Science Museum, where Ive had my first jab.
And the Queen was right it doesnt hurt a bit.
I had Professor Van-Tam vaccinating me, which was a real honour. For me, having that in the Science Museum just underlined the significance of science and the life sciences. And having it from JVT, who has obviously played such an important role in this vaccine effort, it has been wonderful. And it really crystallised for me the job the life sciences have done over this past year, and, you know, how as an industry we moved with such extraordinary speed and helped to build the defences, in what effectively has been a race against time to save lives, that race is still on.
Weve seen some incredible results.
One year ago, the number of people we could test for COVID in a day stood in 5 figures. Last month, we tested nearly 2 million people in a single day. That is because of advances in the diagnostics industry.
Of course, back then we didnt have treatments for COVID, so we found them including for instance dexamethasone. And now of course were looking for more. And the estimate is the dexamethasone, the discovery of dexamethasone, has an impact on mortality, it has saved up to a million lives globally.
Before the pandemic, of course, we didnt make many vaccines in this country. Now were manufacturing millions.
And weve achieved in months what usually takes years.
Some of it we may never have achieved had it not been for the extraordinary circumstances that weve faced.
And from what we started with, what we had at the start of this, a combination of elite research institutions, innovative regulation, pro-innovation regulation, and of course NHS and the NHS data, which has been such a powerful package. And one of the things I wanted to talk about today.
Its a real tribute to our life sciences sector, I think, and to members of the ABPI, and its a clear signal of what we can do, if we work together.
I am incredibly proud to join the 34 million people who have had the jab now, and were getting more data that shows our vaccines are really reducing peoples chances of catching COVID, and were constantly finding out even more about the layers of protection that the vaccines are giving us.
But despite this good news, we still face some real challenges right now. Around the world, there were more cases of COVID last week than any other week.
But vaccines are not the only hope in this fight we can also now see how important antivirals can be. And I just want to put antivirals on the agenda to this group, and this audience, because I think that they are very, very important for the future of how we handle this pandemic.
First, they can treat people early, to stop mild disease becoming more serious.
And secondly, as a prophylactic as a precautionary measure in settings where someones tested positive.
So were absolutely determined to do more and learn from what weve achieved in the last year and a half on vaccines. With antivirals are the next frontier.
Weve just launched our antivirals taskforce to do this year with antivirals what we did last year with vaccines.
And the mission of that taskforce is to search for the most promising new drugs and speed up their development and manufacture here in the UK and have them ready for deployment this year.
And we need to get to a world where we take our tests at home, and if you test positive, you take your antivirals at home.
That is the next national mission and Im looking forward to working with a great many of you on it.
Weve learned a huge amount this last year and weve learned a lot about how to make things happen. Its one of the things I want to address today. How weve managed to accelerate things, that often happens in a crisis, but crucially, weve got to hold on to those things and translate the lessons weve learned, especially from the things that have gone well the discovery of dexamethasone, our vaccines project.
I name those 2 as the top 2 in this space, but there are many more. And we need to use these lessons, right across the board, not just in response to COVID, but more broadly too.
And I just think its worth us all dwelling for a moment on the fact that the public has never been more engaged in health research never has the public been more engaged about health research so lets harness this enthusiasm.
Tackling COVID has been a global mission but there are so many other noble missions that still lie ahead. I am sure you can think of those that you are most focused on.
Tackling cancer. Treatments for dementia. Preventing heart disease. So much more.
Now, over the last year, the NIHR and their restart framework has helped support the recruitment of nearly a quarter of a million participants to non-urgent public health studies.
And although its heartening that three quarters of commercial trials that had been paused have now re-opened, weve got to go further to recover non-COVID research.
And the NIHRs Clinical Research Network is providing targeted support for the recovery of studies that they together with you have identified as both vital and urgent. And Im very grateful to ABPI and your membership for your instrumental role in this approach.
And just looking ahead, that approach has got to be about more than just recovery.
I think its very moving to hear the words of Stephen Hawking, he said that the true meaning of intelligence is the ability to adapt to change.
So its no longer about getting us back to where we were its about charting a new and better course, where we learn the lessons of the pandemic, and build back better, to transform the UK into a life sciences superpower. That is what we can do. I know its an ambition you all share.
Under the banner of the 2017 life sciences strategy, which feels an age ago now, weve achieved a great deal together.
We have got some great things to build on.
The best life sciences though, just as you were saying, come from the collaboration of the holy trinity: of government, academia and industry.
There are things that we must do, and by government I mean in the broadest sense, including the NHS, here are things that you must do. And we must do these things together.
Today, I want to address 3 things of each 3 things that we need to do, 3 things that you need to do, and then drill down into them.
But really, in all cases, we need to do them together.
First, on our side of the fence.
How do we turn these ambitions into actions?
The first thing I want to touch on is regulation and trial design. We have to take a hard look at our rules and regulations.
They are of course the cornerstone of sector, practice, and getting new products into use with patients, but left unchecked, regulations can outgrow their original purpose and stifle innovation.
Now, one of the quiet but very significant success stories of the pandemic has been the MHRA, and thats because they have taken a culture and approach of focusing on safety, not bureaucracy, not simply taking step A then step B, then step C, because those are the steps that theyve always taken, but running steps, A, B and C and D and E for that matter, concurrently at the same time.
The result of this has been really clear for the whole world to see, because we were the first in the world to license a safe and effective clinically authorised vaccine, and we were quick out of the starting blocks with the recovery trial that identified dexamethasone and other treatments.
And in my view, the MHRA has proved themselves to be one of the finest medical regulators in the world.
But we cant rest on our laurels, even during the pandemic, we legislated for the medicines and medical devices Bill, something were able to do now outside the EU, and that will allow us to build a regulatory system over time, that is one of the most effective in the world.
Thats one of the most ready innovations in data and AI, advanced therapies, and technologies that dont yet exist and none of us have yet dreamed of.
And its at the heart of the bold vision we published last month for the future of UK clinical research delivery.
The goal here is a country and a sector thats ready to embrace the breakthrough technologies that can help us tackle some of the most pressing Population Health burdens in the future, and save and improve peoples lives.
And for me, thinking about the purpose of this. The clue is in the name, life sciences are about saving and improving lives.
An important part of that is to have trial designs that are not only, innovative, but interoperable across borders, too.
And throughout the pandemic, weve been stung, when clinical trials arent designed with set standards from the start, meaning that it takes longer to translate the data, and longer to get the results that we have so desperately needed, changing that is something that Ive put at the heart of our G7 presidency, because getting it right means that well be able to get treatments out faster, and save more lives.