Speech by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rt Hon George Osborne MP, at the opening of Imperial Centre for Translational and Experimental Medicine

Speech by the Chancellor of the Exchequer.

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

The Rt Hon George Osborne

It is a real honour to open this new Imperial Centre for Translational and Experimental Medicine.

It is what this country’s vision for the future of life sciences is all about.

This new Centre rises to the challenge of ensuring we remain a world leader in life sciences - and I want to thank Keith O’Nions, Eliza Manningham-Buller, Anthony Newman Taylor, Richard Sykes and Mark Davies for all their hard work in making it happen.

The future is academic research, clinical practice and industrial application coming together.

Indeed the very words you use to define your particular mission get to the heart of the challenge we face.

First, your mission is described as translational medicine, translating research discoveries into clinical practice.

We are all familiar with the argument that Britain is great at the original creative ideas but not always so good at applying them.

The cliche, whilst not always fair, does have a kernel of truth.

We can be slow to get our best ideas out into the wider world to be implemented or commercialised.

When it comes to medicine, the creation of the NHS brought many benefits but it had the unfortunate effect of severing some of the close links between teaching hospitals and local universities.

There has recently been a sustained attempt to rebuild these links.

Imperial’s structure linking hospitals to the university is a great example of these new links.

We still need to do more to ensure that the NHS is an early adopter of ideas emerging from our universities and research labs.

That is why it is so important to deliver the proposals by Sir David Nicholson to ensure the NHS backs innovation.

We owe it to our medical researchers who have come up with the smart ideas.

We owe it to companies in the life sciences sector who have commercialised them.

Above all we owe it to patients in our country to ensure they benefit from the latest advances.

Translational medicine must not just be a one way street from bench to bedside.

It must be two way.

Innovation is promoted by the sustained interaction of medical research and practical application.

A classic example of innovation through the interaction of science and technology is genetics.

The great scientific discoveries of Watson and Crick ultimately prompted the development of new genetic sequencing technologies, led by Frederick Sanger at Cambridge, and others, and at Leicester - Alec Jeffreys’ seminal genetic fingerprinting techniques.

These advances in turn led to further advances in medicine and science and high tech business -right here in Britain.

This centre is not just about the translational, it is also about the experimental.

It means researchers talking to clinicians much earlier.

We believe every willing patient should be a research patient.

But we are still not doing enough to use the full range of patient data to drive research.

Look at what they have done in Scotland to link primary care data, hospital in-patient data and genetic information.

This has transformed research and care in for example diabetes because Scottish doctors and researchers know exactly how many patients with diabetes have also had an amputation or eyesight problems.

Patient data like this is crucial for experimental medicine and we are determined that it should be available across the whole country.

It is what our new Clinical Practice Research Datalink should deliver.

You also describe the medicine here as stratified.

That means medicine is increasingly targeted more precisely on more narrowly defined patients and conditions.

Above all this is good for patients.

But of course you will understand that in the Treasury we are always looking for ways to make scarce pounds go further.

Every time a drug is wrongly prescribed for a patient who cannot benefit from it, or in the wrong amounts, or a cancer patient has healthy tissue damaged because the tumour cannot be precisely targeted, the patient loses out.

So does the taxpayer.

We all want to see every pound of the health budget used for maximum benefit for patients and stratified medicine makes that possible.

The funding of this centre is an excellent example of public and charitable funders coming together.

First there is the Medical Research Council of course.

Next year the MRC celebrates the hundredth anniversary of its founding in 1913 as the Medical Research Committee and Advisory Council.

It was created as part of the funding for health care in the 1911 National Insurance Act passed by a Liberal Chancellor.

Now a Conservative Chancellor in a Coalition with the Liberal Democrats is protecting the MRC’s funding at a time when other budgets are being squeezed.

It enjoys cash protection along with the rest of science budget but with further real terms protection because of the license income it generates.

We are keen to ensure the research it funds gets through to commercialisation which is why the new £180 million Biomedical catalyst is such an important part of the life science strategy launched by the Prime Minister and David Willetts almost exactly six months ago.

This centre also benefits from charitable funding from the Wellcome Trust and Cancer Research UK.

Our great medical charities are another great strength of the British healthcare system.

They bring diversity and flexibility.

We are seeing the creation of more of these research partnerships such as in the new Crick Institute.

And Imanova next door is a collaboration of the MRC, UCL, Kings, and Imperial.

The extraordinary advances in life sciences extend beyond medicine.

Synthetic biology is another particular strength of Imperial.

Richard Kitney and your Institute of Biomedical Engineering are doing crucial research where Britain has a world lead.

We have established a synthetic biology leadership council bringing together academic researchers and business to ensure we make the most of these advances.

There are already companies such as TMO Renewables carrying this work forward with a bacterium which can consume waste products and turn them into bio fuels.

We are bringing industry and academia together to ensure that we take advantage of such opportunities.

We have backed it with funding from the research councils and the Technology Strategy Board.

Today I can announce that we will this summer be publishing a plan to support synthetic biology technology in the future.

We don’t claim perfect knowledge of what is to come but that should not inhibit us from setting out our understanding of how we believe this technology will advance.

The Government’s commitment to research in this new technology should give industry the confidence to invest alongside us.

Let me conclude with a wider point about our universities as a whole.

I understand that changes in student finance have prompted a lively debate about the role of the university.

A university is not simply a business.

We understand the importance of free intellectual enquiry which is worthwhile in itself.

It is what I valued about my time at University - as I suspect did you too.

Our cash protection for the science and research budget includes protection for original research that begins with no commercial application on the horizon.

That is as it should be, and we fund that research not just through the research councils, but through bodies dedicated to learning like the Royal Society and the British Academy.

But we do expect something of universities: that when there is an idea, a discovery, an invention that can be applied and commercially developed you help make that happen.

Imperial Innovations is one of the national leaders in doing this.

It is a model from which others can learn.

Nowadays universities are invested with more significance in generating growth than ever before in our history.

This is something to be proud of.

It is a recognition of how important our universities have become in our national economic life.

We are extraordinarily fortunate to have in this country world leading universities like Imperial.

We should thank our forebears that they created these institutions and sustained their standards of research.

Not it falls to this generation to carry forward their work.

We are backing you in tough times because we know how important you are to our long term economy. 

We are backing you because our future depends on the work going on here and in world class labs like this across the country.

That is why we will continue to back you.

And that is why it gives me great pleasure to declare the Imperial Centre for Translational and Experimental Medicine open.


Published 28 May 2012