Published online 23 March 2011 | Nature | doi:10.1038/news.2011.183

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UK chancellor puts science at heart of growth strategy

Budget includes £100 million for research infrastructure.

George Osborne unveiled funding and regulatory policies aimed at turning science into industry.R. Hartley/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Science and innovation are central to the United Kingdom's economic growth and recovery, George Osborne, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, said today in his budget speech for 2011.

"That is why I protected science from cuts last year," Osborne told the House of Commons.

Osborne announced plans to establish a regulatory agency to streamline clinical trials and help achieve the government's ambition of making Britain a world leader in the life sciences. In addition, funding for clinical trials in the National Health Service (NHS) will, in future, be conditional on a trial's first patients being recruited within 70 days of the funding being agreed. The aim is to cut the current average lag time from 621 days.

These initiatives follow recommendations from the Academy of Medical Sciences, based in London, which in January called for reforms to cut the bureaucratic regulation of medical research.

Responding to today's announcement, clinical pharmacologist Michael Rawlins, who was a co-author of the academy's report, said in a statement that he was "delighted" the government had acted quickly on the recommendations.

"Addressing the current bottleneck in obtaining NHS R&D permission will be crucial to delivering new treatments to patients," he says. "Streamlining how the providers of NHS services approve research should be the highest priority."

Investing in infrastructure

Osborne also announced an investment of £100 million (US$162 million) to provide facilities for the commercialization of research, accommodation for innovative small- and medium-sized businesses, and new research capabilities. The funding will go to existing UK science campuses, including the Babraham Research Campus in Cambridge.

The government announced that nine university-based centres for innovative manufacturing in areas such as biological pharmaceuticals and intelligent automation would be established by 2012. The centres will be funded with £45 million from the UK Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council.

The research council will also fund a new programme of manufacturing fellowships aimed at linking business and academia. At least six researchers will be awarded £1 million each over five years under the fellowships.

Research leaders welcomed the additional funding. In a statement, Mark Walport, director of medical charity the Wellcome Trust, said: "The government has recognized that science and innovation have a vital role to play in the UK's growth agenda. The £100-million additional capital investment in strategically important scientific projects is particularly welcome."

But Imran Khan, director of the Campaign for Science and Engineering in the UK, a London-based pressure group, warned that labs across the country will still be "struggling" following the £1.4-billion cut in science spending that was announced in October last year.

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Other initiatives in today's budget include a competition to form a centre for technology and innovation in cell therapy. The contest will be run by the Technology Strategy Board, a public body established by the government in 2007 to stimulate UK innovation. And the National Institute for Health Research, which funds NHS research, will run a separate competition to award £775 million over five years to establish biomedical research centres that will focus on translational research, such as developing new drugs. Winners are due to be announced in the summer.

In addition, the government announced:

  • The Intellectual Property Office is to publish recommendations in the autumn on improvements to patent legislation.
  • An increase in the research and development tax relief for small businesses to 200% from April 2011, and to 225% from April 2012.
  • £20 million over the next two years to the Small Business Research Initiative, which uses government procurement to drive innovation in small- and medium-sized businesses.
  • Allocation of a further £2 billion of capital to the Green Investment Bank to speed up investment in green infrastructure.
 

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