The NHS is central to life sciences innovation

Source: NHE Jan/Feb 2019

Deborah Kobewka, managing director of Healthcare UK, lifesciences and bioeconomy in the Department for International Trade, talks us through the innovation brought about by the Life Sciences Sector Deal, and the vital role the NHS is playing in it.

In 2017, the Life Sciences Sector Deal set out how the government would implement the first phase of the Life Sciences Industrial Strategy. This deal is just one of several covering major areas of the UK economy. They are designed to help businesses create better, higher-paying jobs in every part of the UK with investment in skills, industries, and infrastructure; in turn, this will help the UK export life sciences products and services, and to attract inward investment.

The strategy sets out a series of ‘Grand Challenges’ to put the UK at the forefront of the industries of the future, directing the focus of the government and engaging the private sector to ensure we take advantage of major global trends.

The first four challenges are focused on the global trends that will transform our future: growing the artificial intelligence and data-driven economy, clean growth, future of mobility, and our ageing society.

Focusing on these challenges, the sector deal has helped us begin the largest whole genome sequencing project ever undertaken, helping to develop new tests and treatments for cancer and rare diseases. We’ve established a network of five centres of excellence in digital pathology and radiology to supercharge new diagnostic industries.

We’ve also built an impressive end-to-end national infrastructure for advanced therapies. This includes doubling capacity at the Cell and Gene Therapy Catapult Manufacturing Centre, and three new advanced therapies treatment centres. Additionally, two new innovation centres for vaccines and medicines manufacturing will be built, with the first up and running at the Oxford Science Park by 2022.

More recently, in December 2018, we launched our second Life Sciences Sector Deal. This will further our partnership with industry, universities, and charities, and demonstrates how the NHS is pivotal as a delivery partner.

The new deal specifically addresses our mission to transform the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of chronic diseases by 2030, and we are building an ecosystem that will help life sciences not only to thrive in the UK, but to set the standard for the rest of the world.

In early disease detection and genomics, we have made a major new commitment, backed by up to £79m of funding, to develop a first-of-its-kind, world-leading cohort of healthy participants that will enable research into the hidden signs of disease and the development of tools to detect and diagnose diseases earlier. This will lead to a type of ‘predictive prevention’ which will help the NHS deliver the best possible care for patients.

The programme will be led by Professor Sir John Bell and brings together the NHS, industry, and leading charities: including Cancer Research UK, the British Heart Foundation, and Alzheimer’s Research UK. With help from the Department for International Trade, it is also expected to attract significant global investment from industry.

Enabling earlier diagnosis and reducing the need for costly late-stage treatment will be facilitated by using data, artificial intelligence, and innovation. In digital technologies and data analytics, we are building a world-leading data infrastructure through a network of regional Digital Innovation Hubs – using £37.5m of funding from government, as well as industry support, to enable the safe and secure use of data to improve the way we prevent, detect, and diagnose diseases. The sector deal will also see a further £50m invested as a first step to making our digital pathology and radiology programme a truly national asset to support early improved diagnosis and deliver more efficient NHS services.

As I mentioned earlier, the government has made a world-first commitment to sequence one million whole genomes within the next five years; including 500,000 through the NHS in addition to the half a million in the UK Biobank project. Our broader aspiration is to reach five million genomic analyses in the same timeframe; this would truly make the UK the home of genomic healthcare.

Other measures include a new policy package to support uptake and adoption of innovation in the NHS and a suite of measures to make our clinical research environment faster, more efficient and streamlined, including the use of digital platforms. We have also made a commitment to innovative regulation and a new package of skills commitments between the government and industry partners. In terms of investment, there is ongoing work to deliver on our commitment to increase public and private R&D spend, reaching 2.4% of GDP by 2027, and we have introduced measures to increase the supply of capital for innovative firms through the government’s Patient Capital Review.

I’m delighted to report that industry, both UK- and overseas-based, continues to show confidence in the UK’s R&D strengths, with £1.2bn of new inward investment announced as part of the deal – including a major £1bn commitment from UCB – which will further strengthen the UK as a world-leading science base.

Between the first sector deal and the second, more than £2bn in new industry investment has been committed to the UK – much of this from overseas companies and inward investors into the UK.

This investment is key, and as such we are making the life sciences environment more attractive to inward investors and UK-based companies alike. We are improving patient access to new health tech, diagnostics, treatments, and self-management tools through a boosted Accelerated Access Collaborative, which will identify a greater number of high-potential products to get to patients faster.

We are creating greater parity between health technologies and medicines by supporting NICE to carry out more health technology appraisals, and putting in place a funding mandate for the very best innovations – meaning they will be available to patients across the NHS. We are also improving the clinical research environment by driving the speed and efficiency of research and building on UK strengths in innovative and novel clinical trials. This includes plans for the NIHR Clinical Research Network to establish five purpose-designed centres dedicated to late-phase commercial research.

Throughout 2017 and 2018, the Department for International Trade and Healthcare UK have been actively working with companies and the Office for Life Sciences to secure and enhance investments and commitments by UK and global industry, and to promote new opportunities arising through the Life Sciences Industrial Strategy and Sector Deals to the world.

We will continue to work with the sector to make the landscape easier for new and established investors to navigate, and to continue export promotion and the development of the UK’s independent trade policy.


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