The cash-strapped biotech industry is to ask the NHS to help shoulder the cost of clinical trials in a radical move that would see the health service take a slice of revenues from any new drugs that emerge.
The BioIndustry Association, the sector's trade body, is in the early stages of putting together the proposal as the industry struggles to come up with new ways to get round its lack of resources.
"Funding is an important issue for our members," said the BIA's head of public affairs, Laura Gilbert, who is leading the proposal. "This is one way we are looking at filling that gap."
Patricia Hewitt, Secretary of State for Health, is trying to find ways to ease the NHS's crippling debt load, which has more than doubled over the past year to pounds 512m. So the BIA's offer of profit-sharing on drugs that make it to the market - in exchange for money to help get them there - could be appealing.
Fostering the growth of the pharmaceutical and biotech sector is also a top priority for the Government, which is keen that Britain retains its position as the largest producer of prescription drugs after the US. Earlier this year, Gordon Brown asked the venture capitalist Sir David Cooksey to review the Government's pounds 1.3bn health research budget in an effort to stimulate greater co- operation with the private sector on drug research and development. He is expected to publish his initial findings next month.
The BIA expects to submit its proposal in the autumn. …