United Kingdom Report

A new era for national healthcare



Jason Brannan looks at the major changes that have taken place in the United Kingdom’s healthcare sector over the past year and outlines the significance of this new era of healthcare for the United Kingdom and the world.

The United Kingdom’s healthcare sector has seen major structural changes over the past 12 months, and with many new organisations being established it signals a new era for healthcare in the UK.

Many of the changes seen in 2013 have been driven by radical government policies outlined in 2011, which placed innovation and early technology adoption at the heart of healthcare delivery in the UK.

The drivers for change are consistent across the globe – the aging demographic, expanding populations, growth in long-term chronic disease, enhanced patient expectations, and of course, the need to contain costs at a time when global economies continue to face huge pressures.

The UK Government signalled its commitment to the Life Sciences sector with the simultaneous launch of three major strategies in December 2011. 1. The Prime Minister’s Life Science Prospectus, ‘Investing in UK Health and Life Sciences’; 2.

The NHS Chief Executive’s ‘Innovation, Health and Wealth’ strategy; and 3. The joint Business, Innovation and Skills Department and Department of Health’s ‘Strategy for Life Sciences’.

The main thrust of the initiatives announced was to open up business and universities to more collaboration, to invest in the best UK ideas at an early stage and, central to the strategies, to open up the National Health Service (NHS) to new innovations and new clinical trials.

In 2013, these policies are now being borne out by the advent of new initiatives and organisations developed specifically to ensure this commitment to the sector harvests real results – and ultimately benefits patients as well as wider society.

Healthcare delivery

One early initiative within the Innovation, Health & Wealth Strategy was the creation of 15 Academic Health Science Networks (AHSNs) across the UK – the first phase of which went live in April 2013. Academic Health Science Networks are charged with bringing together the NHS, academia, industry and other major stakeholders to improve the identification, uptake and spread of innovation in the NHS.

The networks represent a cultural shift in the NHS, with a recognition that service delivery can only be transformed through the rapid adoption of new technologies and that this requires the strategic participation of the UK Life Sciences business community – the focus being on improving the UK’s health and wealth. The AHSNs each bring together in a formal partnership, with their own a governance structure, NHS hospital and NHS community organisations covering around three to five million people, to accelerate innovation adoption.

Effective partnership with the business community will be key to the success of AHSNs and regional Medilink organisations will provide an important conduit for business engagement.

The main thrust of AHSNs will be developing links across disciplines and establishments and engagement with industry in a way that has not taken place previously. There are six key functions of AHSNs: l Research participation l Translating research and learning into practice l Education and training l Service improvement l Information l Wealth creation

The distinct difference with the AHSNs is that they are being instigated from the top down. For the first time, CEOs within not only industry but the NHS and academia are leading the change. This approach represents a cultural shift within the NHS, recognising industry as natural partners to improve the health and wealth of the UK.

Clinical needs

Another major initiative to launch in 2013 is the NHS National Institute for Health Research-funded (NIHR) Health Technology Co-operatives (HTCs). The eight HTCs across the UK are newly created centres based at NHS organisations to act as centres of expertise that focus on clinical areas or themes of high morbidity and the unmet needs of NHS patients. Working collaboratively with industry, they develop new medical devices, healthcare technologies or technologydependent interventions, which improve treatment and quality of life for patients. The HTCs are another important step in NHS organisations as they are able to work with industry to create genuinely innovative technologies for areas of unmet clinical need. The aims of the NIHR Healthcare Technology Co-operatives are to: l act as a catalyst for NHS “pull” for the development of new medical devices, healthcare technologies and technology-dependent interventions l focus on clinical areas and/or themes of high morbidity which have high potential for improving quality of life of NHS patients and improving the effectiveness of healthcare services that support them l work collaboratively with patients and patient groups, charities, industry and academics. Two pilot HTCs were funded in 2008 by the NIHR (Devices for Dignity HTC; Bowel Function HTC). Building on the pilot scheme, the NIHR announced the designation and funding for eight new HTCs that were launched on 1 January 2013. The specific conditions being covered by the HTCs are: l Chronic gastrointestinal (GI) disease l Brain injury l Cardiovascular disease l Devices for Dignity l Wound prevention and treatment l Colorectal therapies l Mental health and neurodevelopmental disorders l Trauma management

Primary care

The biggest change in service delivery this year has been the shift in responsibility of primary care from Strategic Health Authorities and Primary Care Trusts. This change came about from the UK Government’s White Paper, ‘Equity and Excellence: Liberating the NHS’ which outlined radical reform to the way healthcare is delivered in the UK; one of the central principles being that community based General Practitioners (GPs) will take responsibility for budgets and commissioning (through Clinical Commissioning Groups - CCGs). Four hundred GP consortia drawn from some 35,000 GPs have assumed commissioning responsibility from the Strategic Health Authorities and 152 Primary Care Trusts, which have been disbanded. This has been overseen by an independent NHS Commissioning Board, which will review progress regarding health outcomes and allocation of NHS

Exporting expertise

The Government’s international agency, UK Trade and Investment (UKTI), signalled its commitment to Life Sciences with the launch of Healthcare UK, a joint initiative between the Department of Health, NHS Commissioning Board and UKTI, at the Arab Health Congress in Dubai in January 2013.

Launched by health minister Earl Howe, Healthcare UK will help international customers from both the public and private sectors access the UK’s healthcare expertise and aims to boost the value of the UK’s trade in healthcare products and services. Healthcare UK will draw on an in-depth knowledge of the UK’s health sector and utilise UKTI’s network of professional advisers in nearly 100 countries. The focus here will be on the delivery of high-quality healthcare in countries where populations are growing rapidly.

Healthcare UK has been set up to provide a one-stop-shop for governments and healthcare providers looking to access NHS expertise and in turn develop their own systems. Initially, it aims to address this in five main areas – primary care, medical education and training, digital healthcare, infrastructure (PPPs) and health systems development. The most predominant is that of the delivery of health systems and services. Healthcare UK was also launched to the South American market this year at the Hospitalar International Fair in Sao Paulo, Brazil, by Kenneth Clarke, Government Minister.

The launch coincided with the largest ever trade mission of British healthcare companies to Brazil. Working in partnership with UKTI, Medilink has been developing links with the Gulf States for a number of years, where there has been heavy and sustained investment in health delivery and management systems. Medilink continues to reach out to potential academic, clinical and industrial collaborators in the Middle East, to establish partnership and exploit development opportunities.

The road ahead

The last 12 months has seen the introduction of a number of new organisations and structures in the UK Healthcare system. These have been developed in response to the submission of transformational healthcare policies from the UK Government, focused on improving the health and wealth of the nation.

With these new structures now firmly in place, the UK will be better placed to confront the challenges which affect healthcare systems worldwide: containing rising costs of healthcare delivery whilst meeting increased expectations of patients. Resolving the perennial problem of ‘more for less’.

These new strategies, which crucially place clinical research, innovation and early technology adoption at the heart of the NHS, provide an optimistic outlook for the future of the UK Healthcare system and the drive for improved health and wealth.

The Author
Jason Brannan is PR & Communications director of Medilink in Yorkshire. He also leads on communications for Medilink in the UK. Medilink www.medilinkuk.com


Businesses, universities get seed funding

Earlier this year the the UK’s Technology Strategy Board (TSB) and the Medical Research Council announced they would provide £47.2 million (US$76.3 million) to UK businesses and universities, through their jointly managed Biomedical Catalyst programme. The funding addresses the need for new and effective healthcare solutions for the growing and ageing UK population.

The awards were made to 43 small and medium-sized businesses (SMEs) and seven universities, as part of the £180 million Biomedical Catalyst programme. This is a key part of the Government’s Strategy for UK Life Sciences. The scheme supports the translation of an idea from concept to commercialisation and a number of the projects being given funds in this initiative involve late-stage human trials of new healthcare solutions.

The total value of the projects in this second round, including private matched investment from the businesses, amounts to more than £78 million. Among the projects that won funding are: a novel drug for treating multiple sclerosis; the world’s first clinical trial of a stem cell-based voice box transplant; an innovative low-cost implantable blood pump for advanced heart failure; gene therapy for a genetic visual disorder; and a new therapeutic approach to controlling the immune system in infectious disease. Speaking at the funding event, David Willetts, the Minister for Universities and Science, said: “The Biomedical Catalyst is making a real impact by making sure that our innovative businesses in the UK are able to develop new products for the healthcare industry. Many great innovations often fall into the ‘valley of death’ between the creation of an idea and the market place.

The Catalyst is helping the UK to bridge that gap, so that the best new ideas in healthcare can be transformed into innovative products and services.” Iain Gray, Chief Executive of the Technology Strategy Board, said: “The Biomedical Catalyst scheme is demonstrating the enormous scope for innovation in healthcare. New and innovative approaches to the challenges facing the health services in this country will help ensure that it meets the needs of UK citizens in the decades to come.”

Professor Sir John Savill, Chief Executive of the MRC, said: “The awards bring the total invested through the Biomedical Catalyst so far to almost £100m. This substantial support will bring academic researchers together with UK SMEs to work towards a common goal – improving the health of the nation and changing lives through medical research.”

The programme is already delivering results. With support from the Biomedical Catalyst, companies who were successful in securing awards in Round 1 have been able to attract further significant funding from the private sector. London based Bio- Moti, who secured a Feasibility Award in Round 1 for their work on ovarian cancer treatments, announced an initial private finance round of £150,000 under the Seed Enterprise Investment Scheme (SEIS). Glide Pharma secured an additional £14m in a round led by Invesco Perpetual following their Early Stage Award for work on a treatment for osteoporosis.

Some of the projects funded include:

Business-led projects

- Indigix Ltd (an Imperial College London spin out) will be using their Feasibility Award of £150,000 (project value of £200,000) to develop a new dimmer-switch like drug for the immune system which has the potential to treat life threatening infectious diarrhoeal diseases. The drug reduces the cytokine response just like a dimmer switch reduces the brightness of a bulb enabling the reduction of cytokines to levels that are helpful rather than harmful to the human body.

- Advanced heart failure is a large and growing healthcare challenge. Calon Cardio- Technology Ltd will be collaborating with Swansea University on the development of an innovative low-cost implantable blood pump to treat this condition using an Early Stage Award of £1.7m (project value of £2.6m).

- A £1.3m (project value of £1.9m) Late Stage Award will enable the first clinical studies of a novel drug for the treatment of Multiple Sclerosis to be conducted by Canbex Therapeutics Ltd working in partnership with University College London and Queen Mary University London. The drug was originally discovered from research conducted at UCL and this project builds on work conducted with a Wellcome Trust Translational Award leveraging additional investment by UCL Business.

Academic-led projects

- Professor Martin Birchall and colleagues at the UCL Ear Institute have been awarded £2.8m through the Biomedical Catalyst to allow them to carry out the world’s first clinical trial of a stem cell based voice box transplant. The ultimate goal is to produce a safe and effective therapy suitable for routine NHS use, resulting in improved quality of life for patients and carers.

- Researchers at the UCL Institute of Ophthalmology have been awarded £2.1m to conduct the first ever clinical trial of a gene therapy for cone cells, to treat a severe visual disorder called achromatopsia. If successful, the trial could not only lead to an effective new treatment for this condition, but also pave the way for gene therapy as a treatment for a wide range of sight problems.

 Date of upload: 20th Nov 2013


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