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Ensuring life sciences improve local communities

Panel left to right: Michelle Mitchell OBE (CEO, Cancer Research UK), George Freeman MP (Science Minister), Dr Julia Wilson (Associate Director, Sanger Institute). Other panellists were Dr Nik Johnson (Mayor, Cambridgeshire and Peterborough),Tom Keith Roach (UK President, AstraZeneca) and chairing: Angela McFarlane (Senior Vice President, IQVIA)

This article is the second in a series of features recounting a panel Q&A session conducted on January 20th in Cambridge at the Cancer Research UK Cambridge Institute, for a full video of the event click here. For the first feature click here.

Science Minister, the Mayor, healthcare and life science system leaders take a refreshing new look at sharing opportunities across the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Region. In the second of a series of features, the Mayor of Cambridgeshire and Peterborough, joined the UK Government Science Minister and leading experts in the healthcare and life science sectors at a question-time debate panel discussion in Cambridge.

Tackling inequalities through levelling-up

Shadow Minister and local MP for Cambridge, Daniel Zeichner kicked-off a locally-focussed set of questions on how Cambridge’s status as a life sciences superpower can benefit everyone in Cambridge. Given the local focus, the Vice President, Strategic Planning, Northern Europe at human data sciences company IQVIA and panel chair, Angela McFarlane asked the Mayor of Cambridgeshire and Peterborough, Dr Nik Johnson to answer first.

As a paediatrician and champion of tackling inequality in the city and across the region, the Mayor wanted to focus his response on fairness. As someone who moved to the area from the North East of England after his wife took up a post at Addenbrookes hospital, he highlighted the problem that whilst Cambridge is a great place to stay – there are many people worried about the overheating of the local housing market. This is something that was identified in an independent economic review, the CPIER Report. Following the report’s finding that Cambridge was an unequal city, the Mayor has made it a priority to focus his attention on generating “good growth.”

Stressing his commitment to sharing opportunity and skills across the whole region, the Mayor shared that the advantages seen by the life sciences sector can benefit not only Cambridge but Peterborough, Wisbech and the Fenland areas too. He said, “it’s about levelling up and sharing prosperity.” As Mayor, he has changed the way that the Combined Authority works with a new sustainable growth ambition statement, which has a strong focus on public health improvement. Committing to work with central government and with a focus on tackling inequalities, he said there is also a need to improve local public transport and reduce the number of cars on local roads.

In a positive assessment, he said “I think there’s something that we can do which is really special.”

Supporting the Mayor’s sentiments, the Clinical Chair of Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG), Dr Gary Howsam said, “I think we have to improve the life chances, the aspirations and expectations of good health for everybody across Cambridgeshire and Peterborough.” The CCG recognises the wider determinants of health and has therefore prioritised condition management in general practice and primary care more broadly. Commenting on the future of Integrated Care Systems (ICS) to help keep people out of hospital, Dr Howsam said “I’m confident that there’s a renewed ambition for integration – but we need to think outside the traditional boundaries of where care is delivered and who’s best placed to deliver that care.”

Video of full panel event

Improving cancer survival rates in Cambridge

As one of the UK’s leading charities, Cancer Research UK (CRUK) invests significantly in Cambridge. Celebrating the “incredible talent” at the CRUK Cambridge Institute, their Chief Executive, Michelle Mitchell showcased that the centre has some of the world’s best scientists – undertaking brilliant work. When making funding decisions, CRUK must focus on where the best talent is, which is why they opened the site in Cambridge. Mitchell said that at the institute, they “provide value for people around the world, developing new tests, treatments and running incredible clinical trials.”

Given that one of the themes is making the life sciences sector relevant for the community of Cambridge, on cancer survival rates in the city, Mitchell said “there is a lot to be improved.” Working within communities, including the most deprived in the area is “absolutely critical to saving lives.”

“Interconnection between research, innovation, adoption, implementation and improvement for local populations has to be a focus,” she added.

We have got to do things differently

Coming from the NHS frontline, facing Covid and with 30 years of experience as a clinician, Dr Johnson said these inequalities made the biggest difference in terms of survival. Calling for change, the Mayor said that “we have got to do things differently.”

To enact change, the Mayor highlighted his “three C’s” to ensure greater collaboration – ‘compassion’ unlocks ‘cooperation’ for delivery in the ‘community’.

NJ
Dr Julia Wilson (Associate Director, Sanger Institute), Dr Nik Johnson (Mayor, Cambridgeshire and Peterborough),Tom Keith Roach (UK President, AstraZeneca)

Mayor of Cambridgeshire and Peterborough explains his “three C’s”

Reflecting on how the pandemic has changed communities, the Minister reflected that because of the pandemic, people turned away from “the slavery of the daily commute.” Calling for the country to seize this opportunity to improve the public’s interactions with their communities, he said, “Hearing the bird song as a result of working from home…I think there’s a lifestyle change that can help ease congestion, pollution and maximise health.”

Supporting the Cambridge Science Cluster:

Linking them together, Angela McFarlane asked the following three questions:

• South Cambridgeshire District Councillor, Corinne Garvie who asked how we encourage life sciences companies to move into the area

•  Marketing Manager at Bidwells, Amy Mason asked what support the Government is committing to the growth of life sciences across the Oxford-Cambridge (OxCam) Arc

• Investment Lead at the Office for Life Sciences asked how central government should support life science clusters.

Recognising the scale of the problem, the Mayor said that the Cambridgeshire Combined Authority had commissioned an independent report in 2020 with Cambridge University Health Partners to set shared ambitions and a vision for life sciences in the region. Commending the work, he said “I think we’re beginning to show some real alignment” but added there was a need to do more work to ensure alignment. He stressed his work to try and attract inward investment into Cambridgeshire by using the services of Growth Works, which has an inward investment team. Enthusiastically, he said that “we’ve got to make this [Cambridgeshire and Peterborough] a great place to live and work.” To do this, he said that they need to enhance connectivity, improve skills and develop the local housing stock. By developing a sense of identity, he feels the combined authority can make people who live and work in Cambridge “proud.”

As a leading light in the Cambridgeshire life sciences cluster, Associate Director of the Wellcome Sanger Institute, Dr Julia Wilson called for investment in effective and sustainable transport, stating that it is easier to get to the European continent than it is to travel from one side of the OxCam Arc to the other. The Minister’s vision involved fast rail link stations along the new OxCam route with incubators and 5G connected business hubs.

The Minister said there is no challenge in encouraging life science businesses into Cambridge, but “the challenge is to get them going into Peterborough, Wisbech, Cromer, Great Yarmouth and Thetford – into areas where we’ve got deprivation, drugs, human trafficking and crime – with fast rail and good connectivity – we can do it!”

Cambridge is a brilliant place for science

Championing the life sciences sector in Cambridge, UK President of AstraZeneca, Tom Keith-Roach highlighted that Cambridge is a brilliant place to do science, placing the city at the heart of a national ecosystem. Innovation in data, technology and healthcare delivery is situated in Dorset, in Wales and across the country. By opening up collaborations through the new ICS organisation, AstraZeneca is hopeful that they can “benefit patients and address healthcare inequality, making Cambridge an even more attractive place for life science companies to come.”

Supporting the points raised by the Mayor and AstraZeneca, Dr Julia Wilson said that there is a shared ambition in the region, but in the UK, regions shouldn’t need to compete for funding. Dr Wilson called for the UK Government to present the whole life sciences sector globally and commit to 2.4 per cent of GDP to be spent on R&D by 2027.

“You got it!” acclaimed the Minister, in support of Dr Wilson’s call.

On investment in talent, Dr Wilson said “We need investment in the talent pipeline, we need high-quality science education and it’s not just scientists…it’s the technicians, the ancillary staff, the support staff too.” Explaining the breadth of talent in Cambridge, she said there is a need to invest in t-levels and degree level apprentices too.

Final thought

There was real optimism from the panel, a sense of passion that is rare to find at a panel discussion. There was even agreement between the political parties – even harder in this polarised political world right now.

Cambridge is on a mission, it has a plan and the Mayor is keen to ensure that this vision becomes a reality. By sharing the opportunities that the life sciences sector can bring to the wider region, more people will benefit from opportunity and Cambridge will be able to better manage the consequences of growth. Health outcomes will increase and inequalities will reduce. Delivery is key.

The Government must prioritise both infrastructure spend and their commitment to reach 2.7 per cent of GDP spent on R&D by 2027. The pandemic may have delayed a lot of decisions and the political uncertainty at Westminster is certainly not helping, but the panel highlighted just how much you can do at a local level to continue to make change happen.

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