UK Health Minister John Hutton last month reported the publication of Modernizing Pathology Services, a document intended to support the National Health Service (NHS) in implementing change in pathology services. Key messages in the plan include ensuring that services focus on patients' needs and the importance of keeping pathology services up to date for their benefit by utilizing "new, appropriate and properly evaluated technologies, techniques and tests."

Hutton said that pathology services "are essential to delivery of the high-quality, evidence-based treatments and care which patients receive in the NHS." Noting that "much of the work done by pathology staff is often invisible to the patients that they serve," he said the Modernizing Pathology Services document "brings pathology services into focus as a key component of the modern NHS heralded by the NHS Plan."

The implementation of Modernizing Pathology Services will be supported by a total of 9.1 million revenue and 54 million in capital funding through 2006, helping expansion of those services.

The new guidance "reflects our commitment to ensuring that pathology services are able to become a modern service able to respond to the future challenges posed by new scientific and technical developments, changing practice and changing public perceptions and expectations," Hutton said. He added that "the new approach to delivering these vital services will help us to both raise the profile of pathology and make more effective a service which provides an essential foundation to high-quality clinical care. The development of new pathology networks and changes in the skill mix of the workforce are crucial ingredients in this program of change."

The Department of Health also will set up an implementation oversight group as part of the national focus on increasing diagnostic capacity in the NHS, Hutton said. That group will look at how service design, "particularly through the development of managed networks, can help build the pathology capacity required to deliver key targets and commitments."

Professor James Underwood, president of The Royal College of Pathologists, said the initiative "puts us in a stronger position to provide the most effective service for patients." He added that the extra investment in such services "will help us to achieve this."

The UK government established the Pathology Modernization Program in 1999. In the first three years of that program, about 28 million was invested in 39 demonstration sites across the country.

French firm adds medical device practice

Bionest Partners (Paris), a provider of advisory and management services to life science companies, has formed a medical device practice through which it will offer services in both overall consulting and related advisory services, along with basic corporate finance functions.

Heading the new practice is Olivier Pilley, associate member of Bionest. Pilley has 17 years of experience in the medical device industry, holding a variety of corporate positions in cardiology, healthcare e-business and blood treatment. Most recently, he was executive vice president of Fresenius Hemocare, the European leader in plasmapheresis therapies, with management responsibility for the company's international business unit. Prior to Fresenius, Pilley led a project of e-procurement for hospitals in France following a 13-year stint at Ela Medical, a European leader in cardiac rhythm management and diagnostic systems, where he was marketing director, Asia-Pacific sales director and director of business development. He is an engineer graduate from the Institut National Agronomique Paris-Grignon.

Alain Gilbert, managing partner at Bionest, said, "Olivier's experience will be a cornerstone of our new activities as we continue Bionest's rapid expansion by launching [this] new practice." He noted that medical devices have been "a steady growth area while other sectors have been more volatile, and with new technologies entering the field, it is an area that is of increasing interest to our clients, large and small, particularly as U.S.-based companies are entering the European market."

Citing Bionest's "highly successful first year of activity," Gilbert said the creation of the medical device practice "will ensure [that] we continue to grow and bring advisory and management services to the many medical device companies out there in the field." He noted that the new practice can bring "valuable know-how and experience to bear" in areas such as technological assessment, meeting medical and public authorities, and market entry in Europe.

"Many new devices come from the ideas of practitioners," Gilbert said, "but these need to be developed into a device that meets the requirements of the whole medical community. [We] can help in gathering valuable opinions and comments from key opinion leaders to validate and improve the future potential of an innovative technology before rushing into production."

Saying that understanding healthcare budget constraints "can often make the difference between success and failure," Gilbert added that Bionest "organizes preparatory meetings with authorities in order to fully comprehend their requirements for regulatory and reimbursement processes." This avoids the risk, he said, of producing and filing applications or proposals that may be rejected.

Gilbert said European market structure and EU regulations "have their own specific characteristics," but that the time to market "is significantly shorter than in the U.S. and may allow American companies to generate revenues and to gather clinical data in parallel or in advance of their U.S. operations." He said Bionest helps U.S. firms prepare for entry into Europe "by assessing the best model and implementing the [necessary] pre-launch steps." He added that the company "has the expertise to assist in selecting the optimal EU headquarters location and coach managers in their first steps into European markets."

Bionest now has three practices, with the others being focused on pharmaceutical/specialty pharmaceuticals, and biotechnology and related start-up companies.

Ad campaign extols virtues of patient choice

As part of the national patient choice initiative in the UK, a new advertising campaign is being utilized to help raise awareness of choice for patients who have waited five months or more for elective surgery in London. Advertisements began being placed in South East London newspapers last month to raise awareness of the London Patient Choice Project. If successful, the campaign will be rolled out across the country in areas with eligible patients. That would tie in with the national effort to offer all patients a choice of alternative hospital beginning later this year.

Health Secretary John Reid said the London Patient Choice program has been very successful and has shown that patients want choice. Since the start of the project in October 2002, 12,500 patients have been offered choice over where their treatment takes place and 7,480 have accepted it. The South East London region of the National Health Service has available capacity with the opening of new treatment centers in Orpington and Bromley, which offer a wide range of surgical specialties, including gynecology and urology. Similar advertising efforts already have been successfully used in the northwest of England, where Cumbria and Lancashire Strategic Health Authority advertised in 2003 for patients to receive faster treatment for cataracts.

"This campaign signals the beginning of a much wider campaign to ensure that patients are offered more choice in the NHS," Reid said. "We need to make sure that every single patient who is eligible for choice knows that they have a choice of faster treatment at another hospital if they wish to move." He said the NHS needs to learn from projects such as the London Patient Choice Project "and gear up for the national rollout of choice." Choice at six months programs already are running in London, Dorset & Somerset, Berkshire, Surrey & Sussex, Trent, West Yorkshire and Greater Manchester, and for cataracts across all of the south of England.

Oil tax eyed as research funding source

The Danish government is proposing the establishment of a DKK16 billion ($2.7 billion) foundation that would fund basic and applied research in biotechnology, nanotechnology and information technology. Funding for the initiative would come from taxes on North Sea oil revenues, which would reach the DKK16 billion target by around 2010.

The proposed foundation would allocate the interest derived from its capital holdings approximately DKK800 million based on current rates to the country's leading researchers and companies.

"The government has proposed to use this as a step toward Denmark becoming a high-tech country," Jens Peter Jacobsen, director of the science, innovation and education division of Denmark's Ministry for Science, Innovation and Technology, said.

Political negotiations are now under way, but Jacobsen was unable to say when they are likely to be completed.

The plan has been welcomed by the Danish Association of Biotechnology Industries (Copenhagen, Denmark). "We are, of course, very positive toward this initiative," spokesman Peter Frank said. "If it's done correctly, it's a substantial part of the way toward meeting [the target set by] the Lisbon Declaration." The latter is a European Union objective for all member states to increase publicly funded research to 1% of gross domestic product (GDP) by 2010. At present, Denmark spends around DKK9.5 billion on public research, which represents around 0.7% of GDP.

More funds directed at IT systems

The UK Ministry of Health is making available an extra 30 million to ensure that information technology (IT) systems used by general practitioners (GPs) are ready for the implementation of new GP contracts in April.

Health Minister John Hutton said that the new money is in addition to the 20 million already committed to primary care IT under the new contract agreement. He said all GPs would now be able to have in place the IT systems to process the clinical data that is central to the new quality-based contracts. That, he said, will bring improvements "not only to patient care, but also to GPs' rewards."

Hutton said the project to see new GP contracts implemented by April is "on course," adding, "the extra money we are making available for IT will play an important part in that on-going implementation process." He said the additional funding would allow National Health Service primary care trusts "the flexibility to meet the full costs of maintenance and upgrades, and also to make absolutely sure that all practices have systems that can support the new contract."

Restructuring plan completed, says Elan

Elan (Dublin, Ireland) last month reported the completion of the sale of its European sales and marketing business to Medeus Pharma Ltd., a new UK pharmaceutical company backed by Apax Partners Funds. Elan said it realized total consideration of about $120 million from the transaction, which was reported just before Christmas. Some 180 employees of the Elan business will transfer to Medeus Pharma.

Separately, Elan said it expects to complete the sale of certain rights to two products in the UK and Ireland for about $10 million during the first quarter.

Elan said the announcement marked the formal completion of its recovery plan, which was unveiled in July 2002. That effort involved the restructuring of its businesses, assets and balance sheet, resulting in divestiture proceeds of more than $2 billion, ahead of the original target of $1.5 billion.

Kelly Martin, Elan president and chief executive officer, said, "The success of our recovery plan returns Elan to a position where the focus is on our people, our science and our commitment to patients. We are excited about optimizing our science and business plans, creating value for our shareholders, and focusing on therapies that will help millions of patients and their families."

Elan said that the announcement also marked the end of operations for its Elan Enterprises business unit, which was created as part of the recovery plan and had focused on the disposition of certain businesses and other assets, including business ventures and non-core pharmaceutical products.

Injunction creates exclusion zones

Chiron (Emeryville, California) was granted an injunction at the High Court in London protecting its UK employees and premises from harassment and protests by animal rights activists. The order creates exclusion zones around the company's facilities in London, Liverpool and Oxford and around the homes of employees.

Chiron has been targeted in the UK, the U.S. and Holland by protesters active in Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty, which is campaigning to close the animal testing company Huntingdon Life Sciences (Cambridge, UK).