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ABHI at 30 Guest Blogs. Developing HealthTech – A Supportive Research Landscape

The past 30 years have seen enormous gains in health outcomes and life expectancy, but this in itself poses challenges. While advances in treatments help us to live longer, the resulting ageing population are now living with an increased burden of chronic disease and multimorbidity, which in turn has put extra pressure on our National Health Service.

In addition, the financial crisis of the past decade has resulted in NHS budgets and services becoming increasingly stretched. While this may appear bleak, the UK is in a uniquely fortunate position to tackle this. For our NHS may be facing challenges, but it is also our greatest asset. It offers the most integrated healthcare system in the world and hosts some of the most influential clinicians, academics and experts who are working at the forefront of their medical fields. This makes the NHS a truly unique environment to generate ideas for new medical technologies and treatment approaches and then to test them in the clinical setting, generating the evidence required for wide use in the health and care system.

As Health and Social Care Secretary Matthew Hancock MP explains in his article, the NHS holds vast amounts of data that, if utilised effectively, can increase efficiencies and drive down costs, as well as bring benefits for the very patients it serves. And it is an immensely valuable resource for researchers, who require well-characterised cohorts of patients to carry out the studies that will lead to the next generation of treatments, and health technologies. In order to accelerate the time it takes for new drugs, HealthTech and diagnostics to translate from conception through to adoption in the NHS, the Government set up the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR). Established 12 years ago, the NIHR is the nation’s largest public funder of health and social care research. The Department of Health and Social Care invests over £0.5bn every year through the NIHR specifically to foster collaboration amongst academics, clinicians, the life sciences industry and charities. This investment funds a broad range of research and development expertise embedded in the country’s leading universities and hospitals. This expertise is available for companies and charities – including accessing early feedback from clinicians, receiving support to generate the evidence required to get a health product to market, and working with biomedical engineers, statisticians, and specialists in a vast range of therapeutic areas. This broad range of disciplines is particularly important for the HealthTech sector and the NIHR brings this knowhow together in some of the country’s leading research facilities to support the development pathway for new technologies and diagnostics.

In fact, the example of using AI to detect eye disease that the Health and Social Care Secretary mentions in his article was supported by the NIHR through the Moorfields Biomedical Research Centre and involved a collaboration between researchers from Moorfields and the AI company DeepMind Health.

I have no doubt that it is our NHS, combined with this world-leading expertise of the UK’s academic and clinical researchers, that contribute to securing our position as a global hub for life sciences and in particular HealthTech companies. The recent Strength and Opportunity report published by the Office for Life Sciences revealed that there are now 5,649 life sciences businesses with a presence in the UK – a figure that continues to grow year-on-year.

At a time when the UK faces political and economic uncertainty, the life sciences sector has shown its unity and pledged a commitment through the publication of the Life Sciences Industrial Strategy (LSIS). The industry-led strategy sets out recommendations on how to address key challenges and proposes plans to secure the long-term success of the sector. The ABHI have been a key contributor to the strategy and its ongoing implementation, with Peter Ellingworth, ABHI CEO, sitting on Sir John Bell’s LSIS Board, the LSIS Implementation Board and the Life Sciences Council.

In direct response to the LSIS, the Government published its ‘Sector Deal’ which pledges £500 million of Government investment, backed by an investment commitment from 25 organisations across the sector, in order to build on the sector’s strengths, secure more jobs and drive innovation. The intention is for this investment to foster a collaborative research environment that leads to improved diagnosis of illnesses, new and more effective treatments, and improved standards of patient care. The Sector deal highlights HealthTech as a key priority and includes the pledge of £350m investment into the Leeds City Region to build on its opportunities as a leading MedTech hub. This investment and commitment sends a clear message – the UK life sciences research is very much open for business. At the NIHR we are continuing to see very positive levels of engagement from companies looking to carry out their research in the UK and from inventors and SMEs looking to progress their innovative healthcare technologies. We are looking forward to playing our part in the continuing growth and success of the UK’s life sciences sector.

If you are interested in finding out how the NIHR can support your company, please contact the NIHR Office for Clinical Research Infrastructure: nocri@nihr.ac.uk

Matthew Hallsworth, Head of External Relations, NIHR Office for Clinical Research Infrastructure