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ABHI at 30 Guest Blogs. The Future is Bright - The Future is Digital

Digital healthcare holds great potential with robotics, artificial intelligence, healthcare management tools and digital monitoring devices all offering potential solutions to health challenges. The UK is powerfully positioned to lead in the discovery and evaluation of these new approaches, but if we are to accelerate the development of new medical technology, diagnostics and digital tools then we also need to support companies in accessing this expertise.

Over the past seven years, the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) has invested considerable funding and resource into setting up and maintaining MedTech specific research infrastructure within the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) to support companies with their innovation. This support can be found across the NIHR’s infrastructure; most evidently through the NIHR Medtech and In vitro diagnostic Cooperatives (MICs). The MICs have been set-up to work with industry to assess the need for a specific technology and to guide companies on evidence generation for clinical and cost effectiveness. Their ultimate goal is to accelerate innovation bringing new medical devices and diagnostics to the NHS faster.

The expertise of the MICs is focused on some key areas of unmet need:

  • Cardiovascular
  • Children and Young People
  • Community Healthcare
  • Device for Dignity (incontinence and assistive living)
  • In-vitro Diagnostics (IVDs) across all disease areas – point of care and laboratory assays
  • Neurological Disorders
  • Surgical Technologies
  • Trauma Management
  • Traumatic Brain Injury

They form centres of excellence embedded within leading NHS hospitals or universities across the country and are geared to work with innovators in the UK and internationally.

An area where the MICs have a particular strength is how they can bring multi-disciplinary teams together. These teams can include clinicians, engineers, laboratory specialists, health economists and human factors experts. The idea is to get a broader view and assessment on the need for the technology and to get a project team in place to fast-track evidence generation.

While the MICs can support with product development and evaluation, the NIHR can also help companies to access a national network of research sites to run their study. Through its Study Support Service, the NIHR Clinical Research Network (CRN) can help companies to determine if their study is compatible with UK clinical practice and advise if it can be delivered successfully in the NHS. The aim is to increase a company’s chances of delivering its study on time and meeting its recruitment target and it has an excellent record of doing this. In 2017-18, 88% of MedTech CRN-supported studies achieved their recruitment target to time; this in turn helped companies with keeping on track with their development and time-to-market timelines.

Another area where the NIHR has really made an impact for MedTech is in funding product development. This has been mainly via the NIHR Invention for Innovation (i4i) funding programme. As a translational funding scheme, i4i advances healthcare technologies, devices and interventions for increased patient benefit in areas of existing or emerging clinical need. NIHR i4i funds collaborative R&D projects in MedTech SMEs, universities and the NHS that have demonstrated proof-of-principle and have a clear pathway towards adoption and commercialisation. The aim is to de-risk projects, making them attractive to follow-on funders and investors. The expected i4i output is an advanced or clinically validated prototype medical device, technology or intervention.

The recent Strength and Opportunity report published by the Office for Life Sciences highlighted two areas of growth within the UK MedTech sector; these are Digital Health and Medical Imaging. The NIHR Infrastructure has considerable expertise and capabilities in both of these areas. For example, the NIHR Nottingham MindTech MIC has been working on the development of digital health solutions for mental health disorders, such as the Power Up app, which allows young people to support shared decision making with their therapists about their treatment. The app was also designed through an NIHR i4i grant.

The MedTech industry has long maintained issues around evaluation of novel technologies, but the NIHR’s expertise and infrastructure are helping companies overcome these hurdles. Additionally, the NIHR is working closely with the Academic Health Science Networks (AHSNs) to provide appropriate evidence to enable adoption of new technologies into the NHS.

One of the key focus areas for the MICs is to assess early on the patient pathway for a new technology and how this differs from existing management of patients within the NHS. In adopting new technologies it is often the case there is upfront additional costs for the NHS. However, by assessing the overall patient pathway and input from clinicians it is possible to carry out a health economic analysis of the total cost-effectiveness of new technologies. This is a valuable resource for the MedTech industry and is consequently a core remit of the MICs.

For further information on the NIHR and to access the NIHR Infrastructure or expertise please contact the NIHR Office for Clinical Research Infrastructure: nocri@nihr.ac.uk

Mr Ravi Chana, Senior Business Development Manager, NIHR Office for Clinical Research Infrastructure (NOCRI)