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Brain tumours kill more children and adults under the age of 40 than any other cancer

The Queen’s Speech and a surprise from the PM

The Queen’s Speech and a surprise from the PM
by Hugh Adams

Delivered by Her Majesty on Tuesday and supported by a 163-page briefing document the Queen’s Speech contained more than 20 Bills and commitments to new legislation, with a strong focus on ‘levelling up’, adult education and the recovery from the pandemic.

What were the takeaways for brain tumour campaigners though?

In the briefing document Boris Johnson said: “My Government will build on the success of the vaccination programme to lead the world in life sciences, pioneering new treatments against diseases like cancer and securing jobs and investment across the country. My ministers will oversee the fastest ever increase in public funding for research…” and there is a commitment to “making the UK a global superpower, with a world leading research and development environment. Innovation is a key pillar of our approach to tackling the effects of the pandemic and levelling up the UK.”

The Government’s commitment to develop the Life Sciences as outlined in the briefing document is reproduced below, with our italics, to show points of real interest to Brain Tumour Research.

The UK has one of the world’s best research and sciences bases, including top class universities and globally renowned clinical research. To build on this, the Government has committed to bring forward a new Life Sciences strategy this summer. Furthermore, the Plan for Growth, published on 3rd March 2021, committed to build on the UK’s performance and leadership to date and create the most advanced genomic healthcare system in the world.

To continue building on this, the Government hopes to:

  • Aid the discovery of new treatments for diseases such as cancer, Alzheimer's and heart disease.
  • Deliver improved outcomes for patients across the UK and tackle health inequalities.
  • Contribute to levelling up economic opportunity and create better paid jobs for people across the UK.
  • Bolster public health resilience to ensure the UK is best prepared for any future healthcare challenges.
  • Partner with industry, the NHS and academia to ensure the UK continues to lead the world in scientific innovation, especially in cutting edge industries including genomics, early-stage diagnosis, advanced manufacturing and digital health.

Research and Development

  • The Government is committed to making the UK a global superpower, with a world leading research and development environment. Innovation is a key pillar of their approach to tackling the effects of the pandemic and levelling up the UK.
  • Its goal is to further strengthen science, research and innovation across the UK, making them central in tackling the major challenges of today and the future.
  • The Government is investing £14.9 billion in R&D in 2021-22. This investment means Government R&D spending is now at its highest level in four decades. It is committed to increasing public expenditure on R&D to £22 billion, helping to deliver on its target to increase total UK R&D investment to 2.4 per cent of GDP by 2027.
  • In the R&D Roadmap, the Government set out its priorities for boosting innovation in the economy and making the UK a world-leading place to innovate and bring new products and services to market.
  • BEIS will publish an Innovation Strategy this summer to inspire, facilitate and unleash innovation across the UK; supporting and harnessing the tremendous capability of UK innovators to boost future prosperity locally and nationwide.

Advanced Research and Invention Agency Bill

The purpose of the Bill is to:

  • Establish the Advanced Research and Invention Agency (ARIA) as a new statutory corporation to fund high-risk, high-reward R&D.
  • Give ARIA broad powers to take an innovative approach to research funding, and a mandate for higher tolerance for failure when pursuing high-risk research.
  • Define ARIA’s relationship with the Government, giving it autonomy and freedoms to manage its day-to-day affairs.
  • Support this agile operating model by freeing ARIA from some standard public sector obligations.

The main benefits of the Bill are:

  • Creating a new agency to fund high-risk, high-reward research, to enhance the UK’s R&D offer and help cement the UK’s position as a global science superpower.
  • Supporting the creation of ground-breaking technology, with the potential to produce transformational benefits to our economy and society, new technologies and new industries. For example, the US Advanced Research Projects Agency took a similar approach to funding and supported the breakthrough research that underpins the internet and the Global Positioning System (GPS).
  • Diversifying the R&D funding system and providing innovative and flexible tools to push the boundaries of science at speed, reaching an even wider range of the research community.

The main elements of the Bill are:

  • Creating ARIA as a statutory corporation.
  • Providing broad functions for ARIA to conduct, support or commission research related activities, with an emphasis on doing so for the benefit of the UK.
  • Explicitly tolerating failure in pursuing ambitious research, development, and exploitation.
  • Establishing an arm’s length relationship with Government, set out in ARIA’s procedure, membership and appointments processes, with limited information and direction rights for the Secretary of State.
  • Providing powers for the Secretary of State to dissolve ARIA that can only be exercised after 10 years.

There is much to applaud here, much to ponder and much for us to plan. What has been said cannot be unsaid and we have a sense of optimism that the spirit is there for change and innovation and as campaigners we must continue to lobby for the parity of research funding that is at the core of funding new treatments for brain tumour patients.

Also announced on Tuesday was a Charities Bill with legislation to “support the voluntary sector by reducing unnecessary bureaucracy…” and a Health and Care Bill the purpose of which is to:

  • Lay the foundations for a more integrated, efficient and accountable health and care system - one which allows staff to get on with their jobs and provide the best possible treatment and care for their patients.
  • Give the NHS and local authorities the tools they need to level up health and care outcomes across the country, enabling healthier, longer and more independent lives.

A benefit of the Bill would be:

  • Delivering on the proposals put forward by the NHS in its own Long-Term Plan, while building on the lessons learned from the successful vaccine rollout.

A main element of the Bill is:

  • Driving integration of health and care through the delivery of an Integrated Care System (ICS) in every part of the country.

The briefing document for Parliamentarians that we provide in our role of providing the APPGBT’s secretariat can be read here.

Returning to the Advanced Research and Invention Agency (ARIA) you might be interested to read an opinion piece by a US based colleague Danielle Leach from the  National Brain Tumor Society (NBTS) .  ‘ Conquering cancer requires new ideas and proven strategies focuses on the US’s Advanced Research Projects Agency for Health (ARPA-H) program and this is timely following the Queens Speech for a stateside view of recent funding announcements and reaction to it.

There was a surprise mention for brain tumours at PMQ’s on Wednesday as you can see from the following exchange;

Chris Bryant (Rhondda) (Lab)

Covid has left tens of thousands of people in this country with problems that are remarkably similar to a brain injury. They are going to need long-term neurorehabilitation. When we add them to the 1.4 million people who, before covid came along, had suffered from a brain injury—from carbon monoxide poisoning, concussion in sport, stroke, a traumatic brain injury or foetal alcohol syndrome—that is a phenomenal financial and medical need. I urge the Prime Minister—there still is not anybody in this country who takes sole charge of this area of brain injury. It is a hidden pandemic, because someone cannot often see that the person across the other side of the room is affected. Maybe the Prime Minister should meet a group of us to talk about it, because it affects every single Department of Government and I really want him to take it on, so that all these people get the support that they need.

  • The Prime Minister

I am really grateful to the hon. Gentleman. I know that he was going to raise him with me yesterday and I hope that he forgives for me not allowing him to intervene, entirely inadvertently. He has raised an extremely important point. I believe that not only brain injury—he is right to raise the 1.4 million people—but brain cancer is an area that is too often neglected in our system and may fall through the cracks. I certainly undertake to get him the meeting that he needs, whether it is with me or the relevant Minister. I cannot currently promise that, but he will get the meeting he needs.

Clearly, we are on the PMs mind.

On Tuesday we are organising the Brain Tumour All Party Parliamentary Group meeting (APPGBT), we will be updating on this on our Latest News page during the week and of course in next Friday’s update.

The briefing document for Parliamentarians that we provide in our role of providing the APPGBT’s secretariat can be read here.

We will have the minutes of the meeting ready to share next Friday.

Another busy week ahead – but we wouldn’t have it any other way as there is so much to do – thank you for all your help in supporting us.

Working together we are making, and will continue to make, a difference.

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