The UK government announced in November 2022 that it would be introducing a “Vaccine Taskforce style approach” to some of the biggest health challenges facing the UK. Pledging over £113 million towards research, the government has identified 4 healthcare “missions”: cancer, obesity, mental health, and addiction. The hope is that this will “unlock the next generation of medicines and diagnostics to save lives, transform patient care, and ensure UK patients are the first to benefit”.  

Following vaccine success 

The announcement on 28th November identified the “Vaccine Taskforce model” as the driver behind one of the “most successful vaccine roll outs in the world”. Through this approach the government aims to “harness world-leading research expertise, remove unnecessary bureaucracy, strengthen partnerships, and support the new healthcare challenges”.  

Furthermore, it is hoped that addressing these challenges will “save the NHS and the economy billions of pounds”. The government estimation is that obesity costs the NHS £6.1 billion a year and “poor mental health” costs the economy £118 billion a year. The decision builds on the earlier Life Sciences Vision.  

Life Sciences Vision 

Launched in July 2021 under the supervision of former Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, the Life Sciences Vision was “co-developed with business and experts” to promote “scientific excellence” alongside the “dynamism of industry”. It addressed 7 key “missions”: 

  • Accelerating the pace of studies into novel dementia treatment 
  • Enabling early diagnosis and treatments, including immune therapies such as cancer vaccines 
  • Sustaining the UK’s position in vaccine discovery, development, and manufacturing 
  • Treatment and prevention of cardiovascular diseases and major risk factors, including obesity 
  • Reducing mortality and morbidity from respiratory disease in the UK and globally 
  • Addressing the underlying biology of ageing 
  • Increasing the understanding of mental health conditions, including work to redefine diseases and develop tools to address them 

The model allegedly attracted £1 billion investment to the UK. This further funding is expected to gain additional investment from leading global companies.  

Funding to top priorities 

The top health priorities were identified by the NHS and will receive the following funding allocations: 

  • Cancer – £22.5 million towards immune-based cancer therapies, including cancer vaccines, as well as technologies that enable earlier and more effective diagnosis. 
  • Mental health – £40.2 million towards research to develop and introduce digital technologies, including technology to allow patients to self-monitor at home and report to doctors when in need of help. 
  • Obesity – £20 million to trial medicine delivery and technologies for patients living with obesity, particularly in deprived communities.  
  • Addiction – £30.5 million towards the acceleration of new technologies to prevent deaths from overdoses 
How will it work? 

As with the Vaccines Taskforce, the 4 missions will be chaired by an independent “expert in that field”. They will be able to supervise the accelerated “development and introduction of the latest treatments and technology into the NHS” as well as greater collaboration. The chairs will be appointed by an “expert panel dedicated to each mission”. This panel will include Kate Bingham who “headed up” the Vaccine Taskforce.  

The government emphasised its commitment to ensuring patients benefit from the latest treatments. It coincides with Innovate UK’s launch of a new £30 million fund to “advance life-changing cancer therapeutics”. This is “directly supports” the government’s cancer mission, by “combining expertise in immuno-oncology and the vaccine capabilities developed throughout the pandemic”.  

Senior figures meet 

The statement from the government indicated that on 28th November the current Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, alongside the Health and Social Care and Business Secretaries will meet with “key industry figures”. Their discussions will cover how to “deliver life-changing innovations to patients, boot NHS efficiency, and ensure the UK remains a global life sciences superpower”.  

Rishi Sunak stated that the NHS faces “real pressures”. He hopes that “outcomes for patients” will improve. Furthermore, he expects to “save the NHS millions of pounds”.  

“It is hugely welcome too that the highly successful Vaccine Taskforce, which procured millions of life-saving vaccines in record time during the pandemic, will now become a blueprint for how we harness the best talent and expertise from around the world and drive investment in research and development.” 

Steve Barclay, Health and Social Care Secretary identified the “billions of pounds each year” that are spent of treating conditions such as cancer and obesity. By “leading the way” in research he hopes to “ensure a better quality of life for patients”.  

“By harnessing the same spirit of innovation that delivered the vaccine rollout and working hand in hand with the NHS, industry, and healthcare experts we’re building a stronger, healthier NHS with record numbers of staff and record funding”.  

For more on governmental roles in vaccine delivery and how the vaccine community can work with policy makers in the future, come to the World Vaccine Congress in Washington next year.