SVitamin pillstate-of-the-art medicines will be fast-tracked to patients thanks to the Early Access to Medicines Scheme.

The scheme will make the UK one of the best countries in the world to capitalise on breakthroughs in medical care.

The Government is determined to strengthen Britain's science, research and development industry to as part of its long term economic plan. Severely ill patients with life-threatening and seriously debilitating conditions will be offered the lifeline of trying ground-breaking new medicines years before they would normally reach them.

The Early Access to Medicines scheme will see doctors working with patients to make innovative drugs available as soon the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency - the UK's regulator - has signalled that the benefits outweigh the risks following an initial scientific assessment.

The scheme is an important addition to the pharmaceutical sector, providing a platform for drugs to be brought to patients at a much faster rate than ever before. The companies will be able to gain experience of their medicines being used in the NHS and work closely with regulators to look at the value of the drugs, gaining guidance and advice much earlier in the regulatory process.

Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt said: “Making Britain the best place in the world for science, research and development is a central part of our long term economic plan. This ground-breaking scheme will provide cutting edge medicines earlier, give hope to patients and their families and save lives. And as part of our strategy for Life Sciences it will create more jobs and opportunities for people, helping secure a better future for our country.

Alongside the Early Access to Medicines scheme, the Department of Health has launched a bank of nearly 75,000 medical research volunteers to make it much easier for researchers to recruit people with specific conditions and a family history of conditions into research and trials.

The BioResource project, funded by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) and led from Addenbrookes Hospital in Cambridge, will focus on heart disease, dementia, infections and rare diseases and was developed as part of the UK's commitment to life sciences. It could speed-up the development of new treatments and attract international investment as a result of companies having access to a growing bank of tens of thousands of volunteers from across the country who are keen to help medical research.

Hunt added: “Most people are only too happy to altruistically volunteer for medical research if it helps save lives and by linking them with researchers faster, NIHR BioResource will help increase the number of discoveries about diseases and how we can treat them.

The pioneering Early Access to Medicines scheme will be funded by pharmaceutical companies which develop innovative treatments, meaning patients will benefit from world-class breakthroughs at no cost to the NHS.

Once drug manufacturers have received a scientific opinion from the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency, doctors will work with patients to prescribe the drugs when appropriate.

In return, the companies will be able to gain experience of their medicines being used in the NHS and work closely with regulators to look at the value of the drugs, gaining guidance and advice much earlier in the regulatory process.

As a result, the process of patient access will be speeded up and new drugs could be made available to patients months or sometimes years before the treatment is licensed.
Companies are expected to invest more in the UK as a result because of their increased confidence that they can work with doctors and patients to get experience of the new medicines and bring drugs to patients quicker. We expect charities and small businesses to also work together to develop new approaches to treating rare and life threatening diseases, which could include cancer, muscular dystrophy and dementia.

Harpal Kumar, Chief Executive of Cancer Research UK, said: “Time is of the essence for many cancer patients, particularly those with more advanced disease. It can mean the difference between life and death. Therefore this scheme, which has at its heart the potential to bring promising new medicines to patients faster, is to be warmly welcomed. The scheme should also make it more attractive for life sciences companies to conduct their development activities in the UK, which will bring a multitude of benefits to the population.”