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NHS Innovation and Life Sciences Commission: 2022 report launch

life sciences

At the launch of Curia’s NHS Innovation and Life Sciences Commission, the chairs hosted a panel discussion, in partnership with Chamber UK, to talk about the biggest issues facing the health and life science sector.

The discussion was hosted by Chairs Lord James O’Shaughnessy and Professor Mike Bewick, who were joined by a host of thought leaders in health innovation. Before taking a seat in the House of Lords and becoming one of the UK’s leading policy advisors, James was a Minister at the Department for Health and Social Care (DHSC), making a natural appointment to Co-Chair the Commission.

In the first half of the launch discussion, Lord O’Shaughnessy and Professor Bewick outlined the report and the implementable recommendations. The second invited the panellists members to answer a series of questions from online and in-person audience guests in relation to health innovation in life sciences. We’ve picked out some of the key talking points below.

Is health innovation in life sciences a central or local issue?

Devolution has arguably never been higher up on the political agenda. Recently, Sir Kier Starmer announced his plans to give local councils a significant raise in power should Labour win the next general election.

The issue of whether health innovation in the life sciences should be driven centrally or locally was asked by Christina Farrow, Deputy Director for Innovation at NHS England. Laura Lane, Vice President of Venture Science at Eli Lilly, believes that it should be a joint operation. She said:

“We need to have both. We know we need local partnerships because local organisations understand their demographic better than anyone. However, life sciences should be a national mandate that is backed by all parties and industries to enable the sector to grow.

“We currently invest less in medicine than other developed economies. 9% of the healthcare budget goes on medicines, whereas in other countries that number is at 14-18%. We also have a pricing system that caps the medicines bill but this capping has reached unsustainable levels. What this does is stifle the collaborative ecosystem that we need for this sector to grow.”

Richard Stubbs, CEO of the Yorkshire and Humber Academic Health Science Network, works at both a central and regional level. He also agrees that the future of life sciences is both a central and regional issue that needs to be tackled collaboratively. He said:

“We need to think about which functions need to be supported at national level and which functions need to be supported at local level. We shouldn’t be spending precious time going around the various parts of the NHS to seek out 200 different viewpoints, it needs to be simplified.

“We need a single version of the truth to give to innovators and an indication from the NHS whether or not they have the appetite to adopt and spread certain innovations.”

Improving the rate of adoption

Systematic issues mean that many new innovations never end up getting adopted by the NHS. The constraints in the current system mean that many innovators are now taking their medicines and drugs away from the UK, as there are fewer hurdles elsewhere.

One audience member asked the panel whether anything can be done to improve the rate of adoption in the UK. Ben Bridgewater, CEO of Health Innovation Manchester, admitted that this an issue that he has “racked his brain over” on many occasions. He added:

“We see a lot of technology, and a lot of opportunities but often it’s not entirely clear what the problem is that we’re trying to solve with this tech. It’s not often that we get presented with something that has a crisp problem statement which explains the problem, the magnitude of the problem, and the consequences/implications of the problem.

“It’s easy to get people to align a well-crafted problem statement but it’s harder to be able to provide a single solution. Once you’re done with that problem statement, it’s about changing the current processes in place and culture needs to support that.”

Professor Gillian Leng, the former CEO of NICE, also understandably has a keen interest in the topic. She spoke about three key things that need to happen for the adoption process to be speeded up:

“The first thing is that people need to be motivated. This refers to having good leadership and a clear case for why certain innovations will make a difference. The second thing is opportunity – this translates to time and capacity. Finally, you need capability – you might need training and for the more complicated technologies, a systematic approach is most definitely needed.”

Reducing health inequalities across geographies and demographic groups

The universal healthcare provided by the NHS should, in theory, mean that nobody is discriminated against when it comes to their health. However, the data shows that this isn’t the case. Laura Lane believes that the key to stamping out these inequalities begins with the design process for clinical trials:

“We have to start by looking at how we design clinical trials and deliver our research. Improving diverse participation in clinical trials is critical because we need to ensure the populations in our trials represent the patients who will receive the medicine.”

“As an example to amplify Laura’s point, black patients have a 28% higher cancer-specific mortality rate but in lung cancer trials they only make up just 4%.”

Richard Stubbs also commented that ending this inequality was a “great passion” of his. He has been championing innovators from diverse backgrounds because “lived experience informs the impact and output of a particular innovation”.

The Co-Chairs thanked the panellists and the audience for attending the exciting launch, and for the support of thought leaders throughout the 2022 programme.

Final thought

The launch event was a satisfying end to the NHS Innovation and Life Sciences Commission’s 2022 programme. The health innovation leaders provided key insights into the biggest challenges facing the NHS, and the tangible solutions that innovation can bring. From Steve Brine’s assurance that innovation is firmly on the health and social care agenda, the work of appraising the recommendations and working with relevant bodies to implement change is looking positive.

To read the report, see our publications page here.

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