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BSI policy work update

Parliament is in recess between the end of July and early September but rest assured that the BSI is not and has continued with its ambitious policy and public affairs programme.


In July, the Government published its Life Sciences Vision document which aims to provide a mission orientated plan for delivering scientific excellence over the next decade. It uses lessons learned from the UK science sector’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic to meet bold ambitions that will deliver life-changing innovations in patient care. The Vision aims to bring together the NHS, industry, academia and medical research charities to set their sights on seven critical healthcare missions that have been identified. Immunology is set to play a big part in meeting these challenges, with missions including ‘sustaining the UK’s position in vaccine discovery, development and manufacturing’ and ‘enabling early diagnosis and treatments, including immune therapies such as cancer vaccines’. Another mission, ‘mental health: redefining the problem and using novel approaches to identify new therapeutic and technological opportunities’ will bring together a consortium of academic investigators and industry, which will ‘[leverage] the UK’s investment and world-leading expertise in immunology’.

The BSI has written to the Science Minister, Amanda Solloway MP (Con, Derby North), offering our assistance in the development of the delivery plan and specific programmes through which these missions will be brought to bear, in order to ensure that decisions about immunology will be made with immunologists at the table. The plan for delivery will be set out by the Government after the Spending Review which is expected at the end of October and will likely establish departmental spending levels for the remaining years of the current Parliament.

 

Immunology research and COVID-19

The BSI is working with Jim Shannon MP (DUP, Strangford), the DUP Health Spokesperson, who led a Westminster Hall debate on ‘immunology research and COVID-19’ which was held at 13:30 on Thursday 9 September. The topic for this Westminster Hall debate was selected by the Backbench Business Committee, a panel of MPs responsible for determining the business of the House of Commons on a set number of days per year that are not reserved for Government business. These debates are a great opportunity to raise the profile of an issue, both among backbench MPs, but also to the Minister who will have to come to the debate and give an official response at the end of the debate, which customarily indicates the Government’s position and the actions it is and is planning to take.

At time of writing, the BSI is compiling a briefing for MPs which will champion the successes that the immunology sector has delivered during the COVID-19 BSI policy work update pandemic and the role that it has played in ensuring that we can begin the journey back to ‘life as normal’. It will also discuss the infrastructure and funding put into place that has created conditions allowing immunology research to flourish, and the importance of continuing this model into the future both for COVID-19 and future pandemic preparedness, as well as thinking about the possibility of replicating it to address other pressing public health issues, such as antimicrobial resistance (AMR) and ageing.

The BSI is compiling a briefing for MPs which will champion the successes that the immunology sector has delivered during the COVID-19 pandemic and the role that it has played in ensuring that we can begin the journey back to “life as normal”.

Parliamentary questions

Our outreach to parliamentarians through our parliamentary questions programme continued into July, before Parliament rose for the summer recess, with questions to Ministers in the Department of Health and Social Care. Topics included asking what plans are in place for evaluating the immunological effects of any prospective COVID-19 vaccine booster programme and asking about the long-term immune monitoring of people who have received heterologous vaccine doses. The Minister for COVID-19 and Vaccine Deployment, Nadhim Zahawi MP (Con, Stratford-on-Avon) responded to say that any future vaccine booster programme would have plans developed to evaluate its effect, and that the National Institute for Health Research has commissioned the National Immunisation Schedule Evaluation Consortium to undertake the Com-CoV trial which is gathering data on the long-term immune response of using different COVID-19 vaccines for the first and second doses. We will continue to use parliamentary questions as a method to scrutinise Government decision making and bring certain issues to the attention of the responsible Ministers when Parliament returns for the autumn.

 

Matthew Gibbard
BSI Policy & Public Affairs Manager