Mr George Freeman, Life Science Adviser to the Government and Carla Deakin, BIVDA Chair Elect, at our Conservative party conference breakfast roundtable.
On Monday we had our third and final Life Sciences UK and AMRC conference breakfast. The Conservative party conference took us to Birmingham, where we were able to sample the delights of the Balti Triangle before getting stuck into the important work of hosting a roundtable discussion.
We were lucky enough to be joined by two MPs with significant knowledge and interest in the life science sector and NHS innovation. George Freeman MP, Life Science advisor to Minister for Universities and Science brought his strong science background and experience of running a bio-tech firm. Also, John Glen MP, who has a track record of championing the importance of an innovative healthcare system in parliament, came to share his insights. There was, as always, a broad range of industry and charity representatives - we were delighted by everyone’s attendance and participation.
The two case studies presented were extremely interesting but quite different. Charles Rowett, Chief Executive of Yorkshire Cancer Research, shared with us the successes and challenges faced by helping university spin-out companies surmount the ‘valley of death’ and bring their new speech valve devices to market. While the Bradford University ‘Open Innovation’ Project has seen 12 products reach the market in China, other spin-outs have still struggled in obtaining much needed financial backing in order to commercialise their work.
The good news was that Steve Bates of the BIA and George Freeman MP were there to direct Mr Rowett to the Bio Catalyst Fund - The £180 million integrated translational funding programme jointly operated by the Medical Research Council and the Technology Strategy Board providing support for UK life science companies with innovative products. It was great to see Mr Rowett take such valuable advice away from the meeting, however, it was noted how disappointing it was that they did not know about the fund – something Mr Freeman said he would take away with him. Mr Freeman also emphasised that unfortunately devices and diagnostics often get overlooked. BIVDA representatives couldn't help but nod in agreement, and we were pleased to have the chance to turn the conversation toward diagnostics.
John Glen MP for Salisbury: 'We need to incentivise innovation and translational research from within the NHS.'
The second case study was given by Tim Pitfield, Business Director EMEA at Jansen Cilag and BIVDA executive board member. He talked about the difficulties faced in seeing uptake of the Breast Lymph Node Assay (BLNA). The BLNA is a test designed to provide an intra-operative diagnosis of the spread of meta-static breast cancer cells to the sentinel lymph nodes of a patient undergoing lumpectomy and anxillary care. The benefits are many as it promises to create a reduction in second surgeries, reduce bed stays, theatre time and waiting lists.
Despite NICE recommendations and backing from the Technology Strategy Board, the BLNA has still not been rolled out across the NHS. A significant barrier to uptake of the BLNA is the fact that in most hospitals a payment would be received for each operation undertaken. Therefore, the loss of the second operation would mean a loss of income for hospitals. Perverse incentives such as this, and the requirement of pathway redesign has meant that patients have missed out on the potential benefits of this innovative new test.
This case study led to some interesting thoughts around service redesign. Carla Deakin, Director of Market Dynamics at Abbott Diagnostics and Chair Elect of the BIVDA board, emphasised that diagnostics can and must be used to facilitate savings through service redesign - redesign which must be budgeted for! Mr Glen agreed and stated that attitudes in the NHS must shift from emphasising the annual balancing of the books toward thinking about reductions in costs over the coming ten years. As he made this point, many heads in the room were nodding in agreement, not least from representatives from the diagnostics industry.
Closing remarks from Mr Freeman acknowledged some of the difficulties faced in implementing innovation due to the fact that the person who incurs the cost doesn’t always feel the benefit of it. However there was strong agreement in the room that patients must be at the heart of innovation, the reason for it – right from research to procurement. However, Mr Freeman emphasised that innovation cannot be enforced via dictat and the focus now needs to shift to CCGs, and how patient benefit can be articulated through commissioning.
George Freeman MP remarked that the meeting had been extremely valuable with an excellent array of expertise.
BIVDA would like to extend a huge thank you to everyone who participated in our party conference discussions, to our Life Sciences UK colleagues and to Becky Purvis and Dr Martin Turner at the Association of Medical Research Charities who helped to make the meetings such a success.