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Life Sciences and Medical Research

Volume 643: debated on Tuesday 19 June 2018

The life sciences sector is critical to the UK economy, which is why we support it with a £1 billion annual grant through the National Institute for Health Research.

What steps is my right hon. Friend taking to further life sciences in Scotland? Will he meet me to see what the UK Government can do to support the forthcoming International Environment Centre in Clackmannanshire in my constituency?

I am happy to do that. The life sciences industry is critical to Scotland, and Scotland’s role is critical to the UK. We all remember Dolly the sheep being pioneered in Edinburgh University, and last week’s announcement of a new centre in Renfrewshire is another good example of the great things happening in Scotland.

The use of big data and artificial intelligence in medical research has the potential to save hundreds of thousands of lives. Will my right hon. Friend consider setting up data hubs and support the full digitisation of patient records?

My hon. Friend is very knowledgeable about that area. We have announced the creation of a set of digital innovation hubs, and perhaps we can broaden those to turn them into the hubs that he thinks would be a good idea.

Getting new drugs approved more quickly would not just be a big boost for the life sciences and medical research sectors, but would help my constituents and others across the country with cystic fibrosis who desperately need access to Orkambi. They have been waiting for years; it is not good enough. Why can the Secretary of State not sort this out, get a grip, get his officials and Vertex in a room, and force them to come to an agreement? People have waited too long for this.

That is exactly what we have been doing, but we need Vertex to be reasonable regarding the price that it offers the NHS. We need to pay fair prices. We have heard that it will be coming back with a new offer next week—we hope it is a reasonable one—but we urge Vertex to waive commercial confidentiality so that we can all see, in the interests of transparency, the kind of prices it is trying to charge the NHS.

Will the Secretary of State consider West Yorkshire in particular? We have the universities, the science, the technology and the life sciences; all we need is a new teaching hospital in Huddersfield.

We have great teaching hospitals in Yorkshire and we have introduced five new medical schools. When we do the new workforce plan later this year, who knows? We may need more.

Further to the point made by the hon. Member for Dudley North (Ian Austin), we know that the UK is a world leader in research into rare conditions, but that does not always translate into timely access to those treatments. The Secretary of State will know that there are many CFTR—cystic fibrosis transmembrane conductance regulator—treatments in the pipeline that could benefit people who are living with cystic fibrosis. Will he meet me to see how we can ensure that those are available in a timely manner for the people who desperately need them?

Of course I am happy to meet my hon. Friend. I recognise that this is one of the things that we are not good at at the moment. We have fantastic research, with amazing new drugs developed in this country, but our uptake can be painfully slow, and that is of course something that we want to put right.

ME affects approximately a quarter of a million people across the UK, and while there has been substantial psychological research into the condition, there has been very little biomedical research. What funding will the Secretary of State make available specifically for biomedical research into the treatment and diagnosis of ME?

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for raising that issue. She is introducing a debate on it in Westminster Hall on Thursday. I have met a number of families who have suffered very badly as a result of ME, and we would all like better research, so I hope that her campaign is successful.