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Lord Haskel: My Lords, it is my privilege to congratulate and thank the noble Baroness on behalf of the whole House on her maiden speech. She explained her deep involvement in medical matters and, thanks to that, she spoke with insight and knowledge about them.

But the noble Baroness has had an impact on other aspects of our lives. She described herself as a generalist. How true. In 1999 she became Commissioner for Public Appointments. She was reappointed in 2002 and her appointment was extended in 2005, so she must be doing a great job in ensuring integrity and diversity in public appointments.

The noble Baroness spoke of ageing. Women have greatly benefited from her involvement with the Pennell Initiative for Women's Health, which addresses the needs of women over 45. She has received many honours from universities, including an honorary professorship in creative leadership at York University. What a wonderful and imaginative chair. She is an ambassador for places as far apart as St Andrews in Fife and Gloucestershire—places, no doubt, to which she feels a sense of loyalty and of gratitude.

There is more: charities, a building society, hobbies and family—she is a very busy person. Nevertheless, I hope that we will see her often here so that we can all benefit from her large and important contribution to public life.

Noble Lords: Hear, hear!

Lord Haskel: My Lords, my noble friend Lady Hayman is absolutely right: we will not progress in health research without a strong science base. The science base is essential, but is it sufficient? Is a good science base enough to ensure that a good idea in the laboratory becomes a good idea in the market? The answer is no. It seems to me that there are three additional essential elements that we need to add to our science base. First, an outward-looking and open economy, secondly, a well regulated medical sector, and, finally, a well developed knowledge transfer
 
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system. Let me briefly explore each of these elements, because without them our science base could become an ivory tower.

An outward-looking and open economy is essential because research is international—it knows no boundaries—and so it does not matter where it is done as long as we benefit from it. It is a part of globalisation that we should welcome, and welcome the people that go with it. Critics of this policy—and there are many of them—argue that this openness sets off a race to the bottom. They argue that competition from emerging economies will constantly undercut our pay and conditions. But, in truth, we are learning that the opposite is true. Openness will help us win the race to the top—and winning the race to the top means giving up the low standards and old technologies which hold us back. This is why we need an open and welcoming economy in addition to our science base.

My noble friend Lady Hayman also spoke of sensitive regulation being an essential addition to our science base. I agree. As she said, without this, there will be less public support, but we also need public support because the medical records, tissues and tests used for research belong to the public. The public must see public benefit.

Biobank, and the way it has been set up, licensed and regulated, certainly has public support, but there are further questions. What are the property rights over tissues and embryos? These are ethical as well as commercial considerations, but regulators must put people in a position of control over their tissues if that is what they want.

Regulation also affects the researchers. In a debate on 27 April, my noble friend Lord Winston gave the rather worrying example of stem cell researchers giving up their work because regulators gave the impression that it was in some way disreputable and required extra surveillance. I hope the Minister will take note of that.

Then there is the regulation of the commercialisation of medical research. When researchers become entrepreneurs, the regulatory balance is difficult. When I was in the United States recently, knowing that this debate was coming up, I asked some venture capitalists whom I knew from my previous life in business where the smart money was going in medical research. Diagnostics, was the answer. They told me that there is a new generation of tests which represents some of the first fruits of the long-anticipated genome revolution. Those tests could pave the way to personalised medicine and because of this, there could be—in their words—pharmaceutical-like profit margins. Fortunately, we have NICE in Britain to assess the value of these things. This is an important part of the regulatory process.

My final point concerns knowledge transfer networks. A top-class science base will remain a top-class ivory tower unless it leads to top-class products and companies. Science does not easily transform into a business. It is to the credit of the Government and my noble friend the Minister that over the years they have
 
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actively set up knowledge transfer networks to achieve this. I declare an interest as the honorary chairman of one such knowledge transfer network. Knowledge transfer networks speed up innovation, and the development of the research is not just left to chance. Healthcare workers and scientists add value to each other by each providing the answer to the others' needs. But these answers frequently lie outside a single source of knowledge; to make progress and to succeed in innovation today, you need a matrix of information. My noble friend Lady Hayman described this, speaking about IT, social science and, I think, record players.

It is collaboration between different disciplines that creates innovation. Public policy cannot create innovation in healthcare, but it can ensure that the ingredients are there. With the continuing investment in our science base, our open policy towards trade and science, our careful and thoughtful approach to commercial and ethical regulation and our understanding and encouragement of the networks by which science becomes healthcare, we can become a global hub for collaborative innovation and research and development in healthcare—a worthwhile and achievable ambition for our country.

3.53 pm

Baroness O'Cathain: My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, for introducing this debate. Even though I am not involved in the medical sector and am not a scientist, I suggest that none of us can ignore the importance of medical research. The results of medical research have a bearing on our existence from conception to death, and all life in-between. We take it pretty well for granted, and seldom give sufficient thought to the huge and continuing benefits such science-based research has brought to us all.

I admit that I was not particularly interested until a mutation in a gene changed the lives of all the members of my family. My immediate family is affected by a rare inherited familial condition known as the Li-Fraumeni syndrome. The condition greatly increases an individual's risk of developing cancer. Families with this syndrome carry a mutation in a gene for a molecule called p53, an important factor in controlling cell growth, preventing cells from multiplying if their DNA is damaged. When p53 is damaged, cells go on dividing even if their DNA is damaged, and this can result in cancer. Another version of the syndrome carries a fault in a gene called CHK2, known as "check two". I think there was a reference to this on the radio yesterday morning. This gene is thought to play a role in repairing damaged DNA.

The syndrome can be confirmed by genetic tests for individual genetic faults. Such screening is available as a result of past medical research, and further research in this area has led to programmes being put in place for people from Li-Fraumeni families. They include annual check-ups for children and breast screening from the age of 20. In addition, because of the wide range of cancers that can develop, individuals with the syndrome are urged to discuss any health problems that concern them which last longer than about three
 
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weeks. Such programmes are a direct follow-on from the original medical research that discovered the syndrome in the first place.

I have gone into a bit of detail on this as it shows just how important it is to continue to support medical research, not only to save lives but also to reduce the huge need for resources required by health providers to cope with the sufferers of this syndrome, for example, if it is not diagnosed before the cancers start multiplying. Sadly, both my young siblings died prematurely, in large measure, I feel, because they were not diagnosed early enough as being Li-Fraumeni syndrome carriers. It is almost certain that it was passed on to them from my mother, who also died of cancer at a very early age, but before genetic testing was developed. Some 40 years ago Li-Fraumeni was not widely known.

In the case of one of my nephews, however, I have great hope. The research has progressed so far that he may well avoid the fate that befell his mother, my younger sister. He was diagnosed as having Li-Fraumeni when he developed adrenal cancer at the age of three. He had a torrid time. He lost a kidney, pituitary glands and goodness knows what else. It seemed like a total catastrophe for all those who remained, but now, some 25 years on, he is a healthy Oxford graduate leading a normal life as a father. His life is very little inconvenienced other than by regular medication and regular monitoring. The offspring of my siblings are regularly checked, and the deep anxiety of their possible, if not probable, succumbing to cancer has been lifted. Without medical research, that would not have been the outcome.

Cancer affects, or will affect, each one of us, either directly or tangentially through the experiences of close family members, friends or colleagues. Indeed, we have experienced it in this House. When this debate was brought to my attention, my mind quickly turned to the importance of medical research for cancer, for obvious reasons, and the importance of saving lives. I approached Cancer Research UK for background data. That organisation and its predecessors have achieved monumental public awareness of the causes and treatment of cancer. It has certainly lifted the stigma of cancer. No longer is it referred to in whispered tones as "the big C", as it was when my mother developed cancer.

Cancer Research UK has been at the forefront of focusing on lifestyle changes that we can and must adopt to fight this dastardly disease, and that is also as the result of medical research. I will not be tempted to get into the subject of smoking. Through the activities of Cancer Research UK we are all aware that one in three people will develop cancer at some time in their lives. What we may not know is that half of all cancers are potentially preventable. Without medical research that would never have been the case. Medical research has been responsible for the development of treatments that have helped save thousands of lives, and I believe the UK is the European leader in the development of novel anti-cancer treatments.
 
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I have deliberately homed in on just one area where medical research has a huge impact, purely because I have had first-hand experience of both the benefits and the ongoing treatments. I know I have dealt with just a small part of the whole UK medical research picture, and that I have concentrated on applied research. I do not want to be seen as a blinkered, single-subject individual, and I am very aware of the major impact medical research has had on the UK economy.

For many years we prided ourselves on being the fourth largest economy in the world. Sadly we have slipped, for reasons known to all of us. However, our ranking in terms of share of citations in biological sciences and pre-clinical and health-related sciences is third in the world and first among the G8 nations. That, by any measure, is a most encouraging achievement when you consider that we have 1 per cent of the world's population. It shows that we are on the up by comparison with the slippage in overall ratings of world economic success.

In the helpful brief produced by Universities UK I was pleased to see—this has already been mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman—that the Government have taken a lead and are to create a single research budget for the Medical Research Council and the NHS R&D programme, amounting to at least £1 billion per annum. I was even more pleased to learn, as the noble Baroness has said, that a very good business friend of mine, Sir David Cooksey, has been appointed to lead a review of the issues and to advise the Government on the best design and institutional arrangements for the new merged fund. That is an excellent choice. He will certainly stop any of the nonsense that tends to creep in when new units are formed, regarding who should be top, second or, indeed, third dog. We have even been promised a date for the publication of the review—next month—and not fobbed off with "shortly", "soon", or "as quickly as possible", which is the normal response to requests for firm timetables.

Backing winners has always been a good policy. I hope that the Minister will reaffirm—I am sure that he will—that such is his policy too and that the UK Government will continue to back UK medical research so that it continues to be one of the major players in the international field of medical research.

4.01 pm


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