The Government has announced funding to fast-track new treatments for obesity and cancer, including new weight-management drugs and cancer immune therapies and vaccines.
Modelled on the success of the Vaccines Taskforce, which got vaccines out in record time, the Government has set out four ‘healthcare missions’ – obesity, cancer, mental health and addiction – which will see new research funding of £113m.
Bids for the funding will open next year, with the Government to target ‘innovative research ‘into improved treatments, including ‘cancer immune therapies or vaccines’ and ‘game-changing weight loss medication and technologies’, the announcement said.
This will speed up the process of developing treatments and introducing them to NHS patients, as was achieved with the Covid vaccines programme, the Government hopes.
Each area will see an independent chair appointed to lead on the mission, who is an expert in that field.
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: £30.5 million, 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.
Source: UK Government
Prime Minister Rishi 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 – for example by tackling obesity which costs the health service over £6 billion annually.’
The ‘highly successful Vaccine Taskforce, which procured millions of life-saving vaccines in record time during the pandemic’ will now ‘become a blueprint for how we harness the best talent and expertise from around the world and drive investment in research and development’, he added.
Health and social care secretary Steve 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.’
Professor David Strain, BMA board of science chair, said: ‘The UK is in the grip of an obesity epidemic, which is having a devastating impact on people’s health and lives, as well as on public services and the economy.
‘This Government announcement to support and harness the UK’s research potential to improve the treatment for obesity is welcome, but ministers must remember that prevention is better, and indeed cheaper, than the cure.
‘Once the neurochemical changes of obesity have been triggered by weight gain, complex long-term interventions are often required; the target of this research fund. Whilst there is no doubt this investment is necessary, it should not occur at the expense of supporting proven preventative measures.’