Last Word

23.09.19

Haseeb Ahmad: ‘We all have a role to play in getting innovations quicker’

Haseeb Ahmad, president of the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI), sits down with National Health Executive as part of our Last Word Q&A series.

Would you talk us through your career in healthcare?

My parents both worked in the NHS on the frontline. My mum was a GP, and my dad was a nephrologist in inner city Liverpool – he actually co-invented the world’s first portable dialysis machine, so I was always really interested in healthcare from a young age.

But, I actually went and did a business degree and when I left university I had a choice – either joining the NHS in a graduate role, or joining the pharma industry.

READ MORE: ABPI President: Collaboration key to getting new medicines to patients

Interestingly, speaking to my father, he was something of a mentor, he was actually a really strong champion and advocate of the industry and what it can mean in terms of having an impact. So I joined the industry as a graduate, started in a customer-facing role as a sales person.

From there I worked my way up, spending most of my career in marketing, working in four different countries and in various different roles. It’s been quite a diverse career.

What is the biggest change you’ve seen in the health and care sector?

Two big changes I would say.

I think it’s a correct statement to say, today, when you look at the advances of science, there has never been a better time to be a patient. There are some really exciting technologies coming through the pipeline from various different life sciences companies.

I think it’s also correct to say, in many ways, from a funding perspective, there’s never been a worse time for healthcare. So those two things have been the biggest changes, and it’s accelerated in the last five years. The speed of innovation has really increased but the downward pressure on the system has become really quite acute.

Describe your proudest moment working in/alongside the NHS?

I’ve had many proud moments with the NHS, and I have to say not just through my role in industry. I’ve also had many proud moments as a patient, and as a son of a father who’s had to rely on the healthcare service.

Within the industry, we’ve worked really collaboratively with the NHS so that UK patients become some of the first in the world to receive access to a new gene therapy; a potentially preventative therapy targeting blindness in a very rare group of patients with a genetic mutation. To bring that type of treatment to patients requires a level of collaboration on a scale we’ve never quite seen before.

Bringing those really transformative, advanced therapies to market have probably been my most exciting and proudest moments.

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What would you say is the biggest challenge facing the NHS right now?

Funding is both our biggest challenge and an opportunity.

I think the positives it has brought is there is a real recognition from all sides that we need to collaborate more. Whether you are on the NHS side, or working for NICE or a pharmaceutical company, the answer to most of the problems are ‘We should probably get into a room and talk about this issue’.

Just today I was talking about the Accelerated Access Collaborative. It’s almost unprecedented the amount of collaboration going on between the NHS and industry, so I welcome that.

It’s only if you get people in the tent today, talking about the issues, that you can solve it.

Finally, what does the future hold, both for yourself and for healthcare more generally?

I’m very optimistic about the future.

I think, whatever lens you apply, one thing is very clear. It has really catalysed people - we have an industrial strategy for the life sciences industry, a 10-year plan for the NHS, a recent funding settlement with treasury for the NHS which recognises the challenges that are there.

There is also recognition from all that collaboration is going to be key. I think if we can collaborate, we can solve the challenges we face.

There’s one truism I think, if you look at all actors in the system, one thing we can align around is we all have a role to play in getting innovations quicker. If we can focus on that, the future’s bright.

Featured in the September/October issue of NHE magazine

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Haseeb Ahmad, president of the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI), sits down with National Health Executive as part of our Last Word Q&A series. Would you talk us th... more > more last word articles >

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