Innovation, innovation, innovation

Hilary Burton

8 December 2014

The more I think about it, the more I see championing ‘health innovation’ as a unifying factor across different sectors. Naturally a cornerstone of the PHG Foundation’s vision for the UK, it is also shared by the Government, researchers and commercial companies alike.

It was thus with great interest that I recently read of a number of new initiatives to support health innovation: from a new £63 million commercial package by multinational MSD (Merck) to expand research in oncology and dementia and create a new intellectual property licensing hub in London, a £21 million investment by BD (Becton, Dickinson and Company) to build a new medical technology production line, and a £31 million allocation to Government-funded bodies Innovate UK and the Medical Research Council (MRC) in the latest rounds of the Biomedical Catalyst funding programme.

However, it was the Government’s plans to conduct a review of how novel medicines, medical devices and diagnostics are developed and moved into the National Health Service (NHS) that has really peaked my interest.

The Innovative Medicines and MedTech Review will consider how to accelerate patient access to ‘cost-effective and innovative’ treatments and tests, on the basis of ‘ground-breaking developments in genomics and digital technology’, including precision (personalised) medicine. The review will include consideration of how commercial developers, charities and patient groups can work with regulators and evaluation bodies to improve data supply and speed assessment of and access to cutting-edge treatments, as well as other ways to speed the uptake of innovations into clinical practice.

Minister for Life Sciences George Freeman said: “by revolutionising the way in which we look at getting medicines and devices into the NHS we will make sure that this country is the best place in the world for 21st Century medical innovation”. Wholly supporting this position, it is my hope that funding will extend beyond clinical trials or translational research, and be specifically channelled to policy development. It is my view that allocating money in this way will serve to underpin the evaluation and adoption of potentially cost-effective and valuable new developments into clinical practice.

In some cases, such as new medicines and devices, the basic mechanisms are already in place and all that is required is attention on facilitating early patient access in appropriate circumstances – and speeding up the evaluation process. For new diagnostics, including some forms of genomic testing, a more comprehensive approach is needed to include proportionate evaluation criteria; the UKGTN has a well-developed methodology for the evaluation of genetic tests for rare conditions, but as genome sequencing moves towards routine clinical practice, new approaches will also be required.

In addition, a holistic approach is needed to ensure adoption; during the early stages of development of a potentially valuable new biomedical technology, consideration must be given to the potential social and clinical impacts it will have, allowing time for the development of appropriate public policy and workforce planning. Once a medical innovation is shown to be beneficial, consideration must also be given to the needs of health service commissioners and practitioners, including development of clinical guidelines for use and integration with existing service pathways.

To paraphrase that famous quote, it appears that ‘innovation, innovation, innovation’ in bioscience and healthcare is set to receive the attention it has long deserved – moving to the top of the political agenda. It remains to be seen whether the sectors also unify on prioritising the evaluation and implementation side of this endeavour, which I believe is as fundamental as the impressive financial commitment announced last month.

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