The Government has unveiled over £113m of funding to create a Vaccine Taskforce-style model for research into ‘cutting-edge’ technologies and treatments for the four biggest public health challenges.
Funding will be funneled into research for the Government’s four ‘healthcare missions’: cancer, obesity, mental health, and addiction.
In line with the Vaccines Taskforce, which delivered the highly successful Covid vaccine rollout, the four healthcare missions will each be led by an independent chair – an expert in that field – to accelerate the development and drive collaboration across partners.
The chairs will be appointed by an expert panel dedicated to each mission – this includes Kate Bingham who headed up the Vaccine Taskforce. This process is expected to conclude soon.
The funding will be split among each of the four top public health priorities with £22.5m going to cancer, £40.2m to mental health, £20m to obesity, and £30.5m to addiction.
Priorities identified for the programme
Cancer: £22.5m will go into cancer research to develop new immune-based cancer therapies, including cancer vaccines, which are targeted to a patient’s specific cancer. Funding will also support the development of technologies that enable earlier, more effective cancer diagnosis. This will support progress towards the NHS Long Term Plan ambition to diagnose three-quarters of cancers at Stages 1 or 2 by 2028.
Mental health: £40.2m for research into mental health to develop and introduce digital technologies to support patients. This could include technology allowing patients to monitor their mental health at home and instantly report to their doctor if in need of help. Funding will be spent in the Midlands and the North to bolster services and ensure people across the UK can access support, helping level up health across the country. With one in four adults experiencing mental illness, poor mental health costs the economy £118 billion a year.
Obesity: £20m to trial how best to deliver new medicines and technologies for people living with obesity, particularly in deprived communities across the UK. This will help new medicines coming to market – some of which have the potential to reduce a person’s weight by more than 20% – to better support people to achieve a healthy weight. The mission will explore how these medicines can be combined with cutting-edge technologies and digital tools to improve long-term health outcomes. Obesity costs the NHS £6.1 billion a year and helping people lose weight and lead healthier lifestyles could lead to significant savings.
Addiction: £30.5m, including funds contributed through collaboration with Scottish Government, will be deployed to accelerate the development of new technologies to prevent deaths from overdoses across the UK. This could include wearable devices which can detect the onset of a drug overdose and signal to first responders to prevent deaths, and better support people with substance use disorders to manage and combat their addiction. Funding will also help grow research capacity and capability across the UK to better understand addiction and the most effective ways to treat it as a chronic healthcare condition.
Obesity currently costs the NHS £6.1bn annually with the Government expecting this to rise to £9.7bn by 2050.
The new £20m obesity research fund is hoped to lead to promising medicines and digital technologies, such as apps and online portals to encourage lifestyle changes.
An open competition will be run in early 2023 to identify sites to deliver this research, exploring how new and potentially transformative medicines can be combined with technologies such as digital tools to improve long-term health outcomes for people living with obesity.
Research will be focused outside of London and the Greater South East, in the areas where obesity rates and health disparities are highest.
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, health and social care secretary Steve Barclay, and business secretary Grant Schapps will meet with key industry figures at the Life Sciences Council to discuss how to boost NHS efficiency and deliver innovations to patients.
Mr Sunak said: ‘This funding will improve outcomes for patients, ease existing pressures on the system and ensure that we are amongst the first to benefit from medical breakthroughs. Importantly it will also help save the NHS millions of pounds that could otherwise be spent on patient care.’
NHS England chief executive, Amanda Pritchard said: ‘We have already seen the incredible ways that new technology and innovation can transform NHS care and the lives of patients across the country – from glucose monitors for people living with diabetes, laser therapy for those with epilepsy to genetic life-saving testing for severely ill children and babies.’
Mr Barclay said: ‘We’re leading the way in cutting-edge research which can find new ways to speed up diagnosis, enhance treatments and ensure a better quality of life for patients – both now and in the future.’