Minister for Innovation in the Dept of Health and Social Care Lord Bethell speaks at roundtable

The COVID-19 pandemic has pushed the need to make clinical research more efficient, more effective, and more resilient – and health innovation has become a national priority. In March this year, the UK Government published its vision for The Future of UK Clinical Research Delivery. The Government’s ‘Saving and Improving Lives: The Future of UK Clinical Research Delivery’ plan aims to create a world-leading UK clinical research environment that is patient-centred, more effective and more robust, and makes research an everyday part of the NHS. The government has stressed the vital role of health innovation – from digital technology to new approaches to delivery.

On Friday 25th June, we were delighted to welcome Minister for Innovation Lord Bethell to an All-Party Parliamentary Health Group roundtable, hosted by Lord Hunt, exploring the plans and priorities for health innovation and clinical research in response to the ‘Saving and Improving Lives’ paper. The discussion was multifaceted and examined the role of data in clinical research, embedding health tech at the core of patient needs, and how the government can effectively partner with the private, academic, and third sectors. Lord Bethell also launched the key aims of The Life Sciences Vision.

Other speakers included:

  • Daragh Ryan, Head of Clinical Digital Strategy (Janssen), Johnson and Johnson
  • Oliver Buckley-Mellor, Policy Advisor, Cancer Research UK
  • Debra Padgett, President Elect, Institute of Biomedical Science

Along with the distinguished speakers, the discussion had input from a wide range of stakeholders including community advocacy groups, academics, life sciences industry figures, clinicians, and wider health care professionals. The session Involved stakeholders from all four nations to discuss UK wide innovation.

Clinical Research, Health Innovation and Life Sciences vision

Lord Bethell, the Minister for Innovation, took the opportunity of this event to announce   the launch of the Clinical Research Delivery Implementation Plan 2021/22, which sets out the steps taken during 2021 to 2022 to achieve the vision the government set out for the future of clinical research delivery.

Health innovation was the core of the UK’s response to the pandemic. For instance, the UK was the first country in the world to approve COVID-19 vaccines developed by Pfizer/BioNTech and Oxford/Astrazeneca. Meanwhile, the UK RECOVERY trial identified dexamethasone as the first effective treatment for COVID-19 patients.

The Life Sciences Vision focuses on:

  • First, the need to build on the UK’s world-leading science and research base and to capitalise on strengths in genomics and health data to revolutionise patient care.
  • Second, the creation of an operating environment in which industry can thrive and grow – with agile, efficient, and innovative regulation alongside a talented, diverse and highly trained workforce.
  • Third, to make the NHS a world-leading innovation partner, with a forward-thinking commercial environment where cutting edge treatments and technologies get into the hands of the patients who need them faster than ever before.


"By working together to deliver on this vision we can unlock the potential for research and innovation to accelerate the development of new drugs, diagnostics and medical technologies, to bring life-changing innovations to patients more quickly." – Lord Bethell, Minister for Innovation

Attendees echoed the need to use the momentum from the pandemic to innovate but also raised concerns about how difficult it has been in the past to encourage and enable the NHS to participate in delivering health innovation. Oliver Buckley-Mellor (Cancer Research UK) highlighted the Health and Care Bill and the upcoming Spending Review as opportunities to give the NHS both a strong research mandate and the resources it needs to enact it.

Enhancing collaboration

“Covid was strangely opportunistic with regards to timing as it allowed us to accelerate our digital health strategy that was in the process of planning.’’ - Daragh Ryan, Head of Clinical Digital Strategy (Janssen), Johnson and Johnson

The COVID-19 pandemic has raised public awareness of clinical research’s vital role in delivering health innovation, creating a unique opportunity for the government and life sciences sector to leverage public engagement. The speakers also stressed the importance of collaboration across sectors, with a particular focus on forming further research-led partnerships. 

Part of the government’s Life Sciences vision is premised on establishing close working between the UK government and devolved administrations, partners across industry, medical research charities and academia. Attendees from the private sector noted that breaking the siloed nature of clinical research was important for digital transformation to work and complete partnership across the sector is equally pertinent.

Funding patient-centred research

"We welcome the Vision for UK Clinical Research Delivery, especially its support for patient-centred research, a sustainable research workforce, and embedding research in the NHS." - Oliver Buckley-Mellor, Policy Advisor, Cancer Research UK

The speakers further underlined the value of funding when it comes to mitigating the disruption caused by COVID-19 on research capacity. The Government’s ‘science superpower’ mission and continued commitment to the 2.4% GDP R&D investment target for 2027 is encouraging given fiscal pressures. There have been further reassurances made by the government as the Implementation Plan (2021-2022) pledges £64 million to bolster patient-centred clinical research and health innovation. 

An important aspect of the recovery agenda is targeting health inequalities that arise due to socioeconomic disparities. Funding further clinical research that covers under-served communities can help level up patient health outcomes. The case for funding clinical research that is tailored to patient needs was underlined by Lord Bethell.

Part of the call to increase funding in clinical research is aimed at upskilling NHS staff. As such, the innovation agenda is intertwined with the issues tied to workforce. This will also provide a more streamlined, efficient pathway to innovative research. As a result, patients will have faster access to better treatments and care. Additionally, specialists have highlighted the need to create diagnostic products as part of the health innovation agenda with patient pathways integrated to improve patient outcomes.[1]

For clinical research and health innovation to match the ambition of the government’s implementation plan, close collaboration and capacity building across the NHS and the wider industry will be pivotal. Speakers and contributors to the discussion agreed that any type of health innovation must consider the patient pathway and the patients must be empowered with tailored treatment plans underpinned by data.

Image is official portrait, used under license CC by 3.0.

[1] See e.g.