Sir John Bell

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Sir John Bell, professor of medicine at Oxford university, this week unveiled the Life Science Industrial Strategy, the first in a series of government-backed efforts to formulate a new industrial strategy for post-Brexit Britain.

His report is a big, bold plan covering everything from research funding and manufacturing incentives to regulation and skills shortages. Underlying everything is the need for closer collaboration between industry and the National Health Service. “We are trying to shift the nature of the interaction between the industry and the Department of Health from being essentially confrontational to one where they can work constructively together,” Sir John told the FT.

The most eye-catching proposal is to set up a Health Advanced Research Programme (Harp) to invest many hundreds of millions of pounds in high-risk, high-reward projects that would “create two or three entirely new industries over the next 10 years”. Likely fields include: genomics, building on the achievements of UK Biobank and Genomics England; diagnosing disease before symptoms appear; using artificial intelligence to transform pathology and imaging; and understanding the biology of healthy ageing.

The report also calls for an increase in conventional research funding and a target of bringing in an extra “2,000 discovery scientists from around the globe” to work in British labs. More generally it wants the UK to establish a migration system that allows “the recruitment and retention of highly skilled workers from the EU and beyond”.

Besides recruitment, its main concern about Brexit is the disruption likely to be caused by leaving the European Medicines Agency (EMA). The strategy should ensure that the UK Medicines and Healthcare Regulatory Agency continues to work as closely as possible with the EMA, it says.

Having helped Sir John to formulate the strategy, leaders of the life science sector naturally gave it an enthusiastic welcome. Health secretary Jeremy Hunt and business secretary Greg Clark also had warm words at its launch in Birmingham on Wednesday, and Sir John is confident that they will pick up most of his recommendations when a “sector deal” is agreed with government. It remains to be seen whether enough new funding will be available to propel the ambitious “moon-shot” projects envisaged for Harp.

Three questions

Michael Bloomberg, businessman, philanthropist, former mayor of New York and World Health Organization Global Ambassador for Non-communicable Diseases, took a tough line on health and junk food in an interview with the FT. His foundation is giving away $700m this year.

Why your interest in the Healthy Cities Partnership and non-communicable diseases?

In the third world . . . [people] have never had access to the things that you should have in moderation or not use. More people are dying from non-communicable diseases than from communicable ones. That’s never happened before. In fact, more people are dying from obesity than starvation, for the first time in the history of the world.

What has been the greatest contribution your giving has made?

Our dream model is to find something nobody is willing to fund, fund it, and then convince them to start taking over so we can go on to something else: guns, coal and tobacco. Smoking [control] . . . has probably saved most lives . . . For the first time around the world, the sale of cigarettes is going down. 

How do you answer critics who say philanthropists should pay more tax to governments rather than taking deductions and funding causes directly?

Nobody thinks that if they did that, they would do any of the things that private philanthropy is doing. Government demands specificity and a guarantee of results which you can’t do [when you are innovating]. Government would never have funded the transition from Old Masters to Impressionism . . . or funded charter schools. You’d certainly never have the diversity of programmes and we don’t know which are going to be the successful ones.


With its $11.9bn purchase of Kite Pharma on Monday, Gilead is returning to familiar territory: it has acquired a potentially curative therapy that is expected to be among the most expensive of all time. After HIV and Hepatitis C, now Car-T treatment for cancer.

News round-up

Treatment begins at home African politicians seeking medical help abroad is shameful, and harms healthcare. (The Conversation)

The final frontier There is fresh discussion on how to connect research in outer space with applications on earth, including in global health. Report of a meeting at the UN Office for Outer Space Affairs. (IHP)

Sniffing out mosquitoes Researchers are developing appealing odours to lure mosquitoes away from humans, to cows for example, and so cut the risk of malaria transmission. (Science, Times)

On the edge Sex workers in Mozambique are providing health support to those at the margins of society. (Mosaic)

The value of BCG The old childhood vaccine for TB may provide protection for up to 20 years, according to a new study. (Guardian)

Blue dogs Why canines in Mumbai are turning an unusual colour. (NPR goats and soda)

Harvey’s aftermath Houston after the storm faces five public health crises, including mould. (The Hill)

Doctor deficit 5,159 GPs left the NHS in England between April 2016 and March 2017, reflecting a rising workload and underfunding. Recruitment agencies could be paid up to £100m by the NHS to find 5,000 new ones. (FT)

America’s neglected 300,000 people in the US have Chagas, where stigma — and the disease’s association with Latinos — keeps many from being diagnosed. (HuffPost)

Poor performance USAID’s largest health project is the $9.5bn Global Health Supply Chain — Procurement Supply Management contract. Only 7 per cent of shipments arrived on time and in full. (Devex)

Leadership deficit Women make up the vast majority of global health students in the US, but a minority of faculty and directors of institutes. Discrimination and the lack of role models help explain why. (Fogarty)

Best from the journals

World Bank and health The institution plays a pivotal role in strengthening health systems, but carries the risks of further privatisation. There is also tension between its mandate and the right to health, which is at the heart of universal health coverage. (BMJ)

Quality diagnostics It is time for improved quality, consistency and monitoring in disease detection. (WHO Bulletin)

Care beyond the medical centre There is growing evidence regarding the efficacy, effectiveness, economics and clinical preferences of remote patient monitoring and telemedicine. (Lancet)

Food access and obesity A study on veterans showed that nearby supermarkets, fast-food restaurants or other large outlets had little effect on body mass index. (Health Affairs)

Parkinson’s treatment Monkeys implanted with neurons derived from stem cells showed sustained improvement after two years. (Nature)

Stem cell regulation call Very few stem cell therapies have proved to be safe and effective in clinical trials, yet there has been a global proliferation of clinics and associated businesses. (WHO Bulletin)

Podcast of the week

Hurricane Harvey and health costs. (KHN/What the health?)

In case you missed it

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Final thought

The big yawn Researchers suggest that contagious yawning is controlled by primitive reflexes in the primary motor cortex. There is little you can do about it — the study suggested that instructions not to mimic someone else yawning only made the likelihood of doing so stronger. (Current Biology)

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