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Osborne money goes to synthetic biology, biologics and cell therapy

UK government publishes update to its life sciences strategy

The UK government has earmarked £100 million investment in infrastructure for life sciences research as part of the £600m for science announced in the chancellor’s autumn statement.

In an update to its Strategy for UK Life Sciences, originally launched in December 2011, the government says the new money will be split between three projects: £50m for synthetic biology centres; a facility for the manufacture of biologic medicines; imaging and cell manufacture facilities and a clean room, organised through the UK Regenerative Medicine Platform.

The synthetic biology funding will be used for a network of multidisciplinary research and training centres, including for gene synthesis. The update document contains no further information on this. It confirms however that the government’s synthetic biology leadership council has been established and that its first meeting will be held this month. The council will be co-chaired by science minister David Willetts and Shell executive Lionel Clarke.

The Department of Health has also pledged £100m to fund the genome sequencing of 100,000 patients with cancer, a rare disease or an infectious disease.

“Researchers in academia and industry are interested in opportunities to generate genomic data on a significant scale within the UK,” says the document. “100,000 whole genome sequences will provide a valuable data source and the beginnings of a hub for genomic research.”

The money will go towards training genetic scientists and building the infrastructure needed in the NHS to sequence patients’ genomes. A health department spokeswoman said there were no further details on how the £100m would be split between these two areas, nor allocations within each.

The document contains new figures on the Clinical Practice Research Datalink, a £60m project launched in March to collect data from medical records for use in clinical trials and population observation studies. The update says that 16 pharmaceutical companies have been granted CPRD licences, over 100 research studies have been submitted using the data, and 623 researchers have registered with the system.

Details of a UK Trade and Investment project to promote UK life sciences to companies abroad were also released in the document. The UKTI Life Science Investment Organisation is focusing its campaigns around dementia, stratified medicine, experimental medicine and clinical trials, and medical technologies. The stratified medicine campaign will be launched first.

On tax incentives for innovation in life sciences, the update confirms that the patent box will be phased in from April 2013, providing a 10 per cent corporation tax rate on profits attributed to patents.

The above-the-line R&D tax credit will also be introduced in 2013, but the government did not say that it would be made optional, as the business lobby group the CBI has called for. The decision will be announced in the government’s response to a Treasury consultation on the topic.

The update includes the government’s intention to “create an exciting new biomedical informatics capability in our universities”, also with capital from the £600m announced in the autumn mini-budget. Part of this is the development of a National Bioinformatics Framework, which will include a “step-change in investment” for bioinformatics research through the Medical Research Council.

An MRC spokeswoman said that no further information would be available until the MRC’s first meeting on this framework on 14 December.