UK leads Europe in Phase I and Phase II trials, ABPI findings show

The ABPI has found that the UK is leading the rest of Europe in early-stage clinical trials and makes suggestions on how the country can maintain this position.

Clinical trials

The Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI) has announced that the UK is leading the rest of Europe in early-stage clinical research. The findings are part of the ABPI’s second annual report on the state of clinical trials in the UK. The report looks at the research environment and compares how the UK performed against other countries in Europe and in other key countries in the world.

The data shows that the UK was leading the rest of Europe in the number of Phase I and Phase II clinical trials. However, the association highlights that as a result of many trials being paused earlier this year due to COVID-19, this position is precarious and the UK needs a strategy to restart non-COVID-19 research safely and sustainably.

According to the report, cancer remains the top area for UK clinical trials, with 226 trials taking place in 2018. Research on the immune system comes next with 94 trials.

Moving into later stage Phase III clinical trials, the UK ranked third in Europe behind Germany and Spain and fourth globally behind the US. While this is an improvement on the previous fifth-place ranking, there is an ambition to improve further to meet government targets for the UK to become a leader in life sciences. 

The report found that the US continued to lead globally in clinical trials for all phases of research.

The findings also show the benefits to the UK National Health Service (NHS) through significant funding from life science companies. The report reveals:

  • The total estimated cost saving to the NHS from commercial clinical trials was £28.6 million, where trial drugs were used in place of standard
  • The pharmaceutical industry invested £4.5 billion in UK R&D in 2018
  • In the UK in 2018, the life sciences industry employed over 240,000 people across 5,870 businesses, generating a turnover of £73.8 billion.

The report found that as of 9 September 2020, data from the UK National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Clinical Research Network has shown non-COVID studies are restarting, with 45 percent of studies open to recruitment and 36 percent of those recruiting since 1 June. The report notes increasing concern across the research and healthcare sector around the UK’s progress on the restart, particularly with the second wave of COVID-19 threatening further disruption.

The ABPI is calling for the UK government to create a strategic plan for the safe and sustainable restart of non-COVID clinical research, recognising winter challenges and the potential for future waves.

Chief Executive of the ABPI Richard Torbett said: “The UK performs very well on the world stage in clinical trials, but COVID-19 is presenting us with many challenges. It is crucial that the government has a plan for the safe and sustainable restart of non-COVID trials, recognising the extra pressures the NHS is facing. By embracing new and innovative approaches in research we have the opportunity to transform how clinical trials are conducted in the UK and maximise the benefits for the NHS, patients and the economy.”

The report makes recommendations on how the UK can transform the clinical research environment, with the first recommendation that the UK government should take urgent action to plan and implement the sustainable restart of non-COVID-19 clinical research at pace and scale. The second is to transform the UK clinical research environment with investment to increase levels of research beyond pre-COVID levels, by increasing investment for the NIHR, Health Research Authority (HRA), Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) and other organisations which drive and facilitate clinical research across the UK. The third suggestion is for the research community to continue working with the government, funders and public, to tackle issues around diversity and inclusion, ensuring all patients across the UK have the opportunity to be involved and engaged with research. Finally, the last recommendation is to make research and innovation central to the UK’s trade strategy. The UK government must provide clear guidance on the operational environment at the end of the UK’s transition period with the EU, to ensure sponsors can continue conducting their clinical trials in the UK and beyond, with minimal disruption.

The ABPI says the UK government must also agree a deal with the EU that establishes close co-operation on research and innovation, to ensure the UK has the best opportunity to collaborate and lead internationally with other regulators.