New strategy for developing healthcare technologies

16 March 2015

The UK Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) has launched a new healthcare technologies strategy based around four grand challenges.

The Healthcare Technologies Grand Challenges  for which research funding will be made available are:

  1. Developing Future Therapies
  2. Frontiers of Physical Intervention
  3. Optimising Treatment
  4. Transforming Community Health and Care
Developing Future Therapies is about developing technologies to support new therapies with better efficacy and precision, reducing risks for patients and costs for funders. It includes developments in drug discovery (in silico, in vitro, and biomarker technologies), clinical trials and drug delivery, as well as regenerative medicine to create whole new organs. The importance of minimising costs and enabling flexible production are emphasised, allowing scaling down for individualised treatments, such as for personalised regenerative medicine, and also scaling up for mass production. The need to develop new tools for data analysis and modelling is also underlined

Frontiers of Physical Intervention is focused on enabling minimally invasive, precise surgery and other interventions to remove disease and repair damage. This includes bioelectronic devices for sensing and control and disruptive technologies for radically improved ‘implants, prostheses and assistive devices’.

Optimising Treatment centres around technologies for improving diagnostics and patient-specific prediction, and supporting evidence-based treatment choices. Examples cited include low-cost, timely diagnostic devices; new data analytics to identify and predict disease sub-groups and treatment responses from population-level information; patient-specific predictive models that can integrate medical and lifestyle data; new non-invasive sensing platforms to capture such data in real-time and automated interventions (such as controlled drug release to counteract harmful physiological states); and advanced decision-support models and tools.

Transforming Community Health and Care is specifically about the use of real-time information to support self-management of health and wellbeing, and facilitate timely interventions. This would involve integrating data from multiple sources and of different kinds to identify risks to health, empower patients to find solutions to avoid or address these risks, and help carers and health professionals to support self-care and know when medical interventions are necessary.

The four grand challenges are supported by additional strategic elements: cross-cutting research capabilities, and an impact & translation toolkit setting out specific topics and issues for researchers to consider, in order to increase the likelihood of their research generating real impact on healthcare.

The new strategy nicely encapsulates transformative new capabilities that, alongside corresponding advances in genomics and biomedical science, will underpin personalised medicine and health in the coming years and hopefully help medical care in developed countries tackle the challenges posed by demographic changes, lifestyle issues and the perennial problem of funding.

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