Innovating Healthcare Scotland gathered a panel of experts to discuss improving innovation in healthcare and life sciences. Considering the importance of clinical trials and future industry needs, leaders offered perspectives on promoting patient participation and providing life sciences skill training.
Chamber UK’s panel discussion oriented around audience questions allowing our life sciences experts to contribute opinions on encouraging clinical trials and life sciences skills provision.
Karen Tait, Senior Director, Global Flow Cytometry and Anatomic Pathology at Q² Solutions, IQVIA asked: “How do you see Scotland being able to encourage patient participation in clinical trials, to help bring them better outcomes?”
Panel chair and Vice President, Strategic Planning, Northern Europe at IQVIA, Angela McFarlane, directed the question to Sue Webber, Conservative Member of Scottish Parliament for the Lothian region. Webber established that patients are interested. “People who live in Scotland are willing to take part in trials. I don’t think anyone in the UK will turn down an opportunity to take part in a life saving clinical trial. But we have to consider the geography of our country in comparison to south of the border, the resources are concentrated in our big cities. So when we are talking about inequalities, it is key for everyone to have the opportunity to take part in a clinical trial, irrespective of where they live in Scotland.”
To accomplish this, Webber argued, “We have to have more researchers, we have to have more people doing research in all of our 13 geographical health boards, and even in our island communities.”
She pointed out that the CSO’s budget for clinical research careers was only £700,000 in 2021, while the NIHR’s budget was over £109 million, so funding in Scotland was just 0.64% of that in England. “So until we get funding that allows us to have an equal footing, we are not going to be able to give equality and access to clinical research to save the lives that we need across Scotland,” Webber concluded.
In one of the most notable remarks of the evening, Dame Anna Dominiczak, Chief Scientist (Health) for the Scottish Government, articulated the need to make clinical trials a part of routine treatment. GPs and physicians should inform patients of the opportunity, in addition to offering options in medication and other treatments. “What we need to achieve, I believe, is a situation in which enrollment in clinical trials is part of our normal activity.”
Dominiczak suggested that this can be done through SHARE, an initiative by NHS Scotland. “This is an index of all volunteers who said that they would like to be included in clinical trials.” Based in Dundee, SHARE allows volunteers to provide their medical data to the database to check if they might be suitable for a clinical trial. According to Dominiczak: “there are 300,000 Scots there, but more can absolutely join…” because “that gives [a] searchable database for inclusion in [the] right trial for [the] right patient at the right time.”
Tom Steele, Board Chair at Scottish Ambulance Service, offered his personal experience to underline the importance of clinical trials. “In 1999, I was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukaemia,” he recounted. “I was invited to join a clinical trial, and 20 years later, I’m here to tell the tale. As someone who is now in a leadership position around innovation, let me assure you that I feel [the importance of clinical trials] very, very strongly.”
Meeting Future Life Sciences Skills Needs
Nathan Barnett from SULSA, Scottish Universities Life Sciences Alliance, asked our politician panellists: “How do we ensure that life sciences skills provision keeps pace with industry needs in the future?”
Humza Yousaf, Cabinet Secretary for Health and Social Care, insisted that “it’s a big part of our life sciences strategy.” He outlined a few main aspects of it:
- Developing the domestic pipeline through which life sciences skills are evolved.
- Recruiting internationally to employ the best experts in the field.
- Continuing to have a conversation around immigration rules to enable employment
Webber provided her perspective as the convener of Parliament’s Education, Skills, and Young People Committee. “I think it’s really important that we allow the business to work with our college leaders to allow short, sharp, micro-credential courses to upskill people that may be having to transition from one career into another,” she said.
Furthermore, she discussed providing fresh graduates with practical training lost due to the pandemic. “We also have to be mindful of those young people that have come out of school that have not had the hands-on training that would allow them to come into a laboratory.” According to Webber, “the role that colleges and universities have to play right now in facilitating our young people is critical and key.”
Chamber UK’s discussion in Scotland provided illuminating insights into medical innovation. The expert panellists highlighted the importance and the methods for promoting patient participation in clinical trials and ensuring that the country is prepared to meet future needs.