BioWorld International Correspondent

LONDON - The UK government formed a National Clinical Trials Network to provide a single gateway to the largest pool of patients in the world, in the National Health Service.

The network will pull together the activities of pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies with the research councils and research charities, provide a channel to administrative and medical professionals within the NHS and coordinate clinical trials in the UK.

The formation of the network was one of the main recommendations of an industry-sponsored report titled "Bioscience 2015: Improving National Health, Increasing National Wealth," published in November.

The network will not be a contract research organization, but will provide and coordinate access to NHS patients, to set up high-quality, rapid and economic clinical trials. Bioscience 2015, based on the views of more than 70 members of the bioscience industry, said that would foster the development of the sector and attract overseas companies to do clinical research in the UK. The report concluded, "The UK has the opportunity, through the NHS, to transform the efficiency and effectiveness of clinical trials conducted here."

The plan for the National Clinical Research Network is one aspect of a 10-year plan for medical science, announced by Gordon Brown, UK chancellor, in the annual budget speech last week. The plan will see spending on research and development by the NHS rise by £100 million (US$184.8 million) to £1.2 billion a year by 2008.

The plan also will fund the establishment of research centers to coordinate all the specialists and funding bodies in particular disease areas.

The model for those centers is the National Cancer Research Institute, set up in April 2001. That is a partnership between the government, cancer research charities and industry to streamline cancer research in the UK. It provides a single point of access to information on all cancer clinical trials running in the country, and last week outlined plans to create standards and formats in cancer bioinformatics to promote easy exchange of data.

Aisling Burnand, chief executive of the BioIndustry Association (BIA), welcomed the additional government support for clinical research.

"In particular we are delighted that the budget explicitly recognizes recommendations in the BIA-led [Bioscience 2015] report to strengthen clinical research in the UK, and that funding has been earmarked to take this forward," she said.