Health December 20, 2019
Rethinking collaboration: Delivering the life sciences industrial strategy

By David Duffy - Accountable Care Journal

The UK is at the forefront of the global biomedical science and health revolution. This was made clear in abundance at the 2019 Public Policy Projects’ Annual Conference. The panel discussion, led by Professor Sir Robert Lechler, President of the Academy of Medical Sciences, highlighted the state of current research and explored the future potential of the UK research landscape to continue to deliver excellence.

Tamsin Berry, Director of the Office for Life Sciences, reflected on the current status of the sector, stating: “We are very lucky to have a government that cares about life sciences to such an extent. ”

Before outlining the challenges ahead, Sir Robert opened the discussion by showcasing the strong foundations of “terrific” UK research that has facilitated this revolution. While boasting some of the best academic institutions in the world, the UK’s life sciences sector has been one of the primary areas to benefit from hubs of knowledge.

Despite recent announcements indicating the Government’s intention to increase investment, the UK remains a long way behind other nations in terms of funding.

“We need to get to three per cent at least,” said Sir Robert, “this will allow us to capitalise on the opportunity we have. ” While current government commitments have pledged a 2.4 per cent increase in funding, the UK is at risk of losing its academic advantage if it fails to future-proof this investment.

Fortunately, at present, the life science pipeline is very fertile in terms of novel therapies and the UK has an extremely diverse funding base with which to act upon. So long as policymakers deliver on some of the ambitious targets for life science funding, the UK is set to be in good stead.

It’s all about partnership

Sir Robert is far from the first to highlight the importance of partnerships in extracting improved patient outcomes from the UK’s life sciences sector, nor was he the only speaker at the 2019 conference to focus on it. Hilary Hutton-Squire, General Manager UK & Ireland at Gilead Sciences, impressed upon delegates the importance of delivering and sustaining collaboration to capitalise truly on the opportunities presented by the UK’s excelling life sciences sector.

“As soon as leaders start talking about collaboration and the benefits it can bring, it filters through every level of the system in a positive way” 

- Hilary Hutton-Squire, General Manager UK & Ireland at Gilead Sciences

“If you look at what we're all trying to do, which is to take healthcare research and innovation and actually get it to patients in a way that helps them in the maximum possible way, all of that relies on partnership,” said Hilary. Further to this, Hilary praised the way Baroness Dido Harding spoke earlier at the conference, where she outlined her commitment to healthcare collaboration, and called upon other leaders to promote the issue. “As soon as leaders start talking about collaboration and the benefits it can bring, it filters through every level of the system in a positive way,” she said.

The primary risk, as Hilary astutely noted, is ensuring that sophisticated partnerships are not overcomplicated. Put simply, this involves all interested parties sharing what they can contribute and establishing where they need support from others. These ground-level principles of partnership need to be fostered across the health service and industry at every level of seniority, as the panel identified.

Patient driven research

Dr Larissa Kerecuk, Rare Disease Lead at Birmingham Women’s and Children’s Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, demonstrated the extent to which simple collaboration can improve patient outcomes. Last year, Dr Kerecuk and her team began developing the UK’s first rare disease register, gathering records on thousands of different patients. When approached by pharmaceutical companies looking for trial patients for a new kidney disease medicine, she was able to present 32 viable candidates instantaneously from the register.

While the NHS industrial link is important, it is certainly not the only type of partnership that requires attention. As someone who manages a large research institution at King’s College London, Sir Robert Lechler was perfectly placed to highlight two key forms of partnership that he is keen to see develop across the system. Firstly, that universities should continue to partner with other universities.

Sir Robert cited the “slightly adolescent habit” of academic institutions competing against one another as a needless obstacle to collaboration. Ultimately, he said, the only thing better than a world class educational institution is a combination of more than one. “In this case, two plus two equals five. ”

The second type of partnership exists between universities and NHS partners, the Academic Health Sciences Network model. “If we get these relationships intimately working, then I think that's going to maximise our impact and deliver far better outcomes for patients,” said Sir Robert.

Securing the future of the sector

Any doubts surrounding the importance of partnerships to the future of life sciences were dispelled by Sir Robert’s overview of the vibrant sector. Future-proofing development not only requires guaranteed investment but also a robust, partnership-based approach to working which must be fostered across the NHS, industry and academia.

As Tamsin Berry noted in her concluding remarks, “it's all very well saying we want to be the best healthcare system in the world, and we want to be the most innovation-friendly healthcare system in the world, but the innovations must work for patients. ” While no harm is done by highlighting the UK’s status as a world leader in research, as happened throughout the PPP Conference, it is meaningless if patient outcomes do not improve.

Watch the full session here 

Calls to action

  • We must future-proof our science base with further investment from government, in addition to commitments that have already been made.
  • We must foster partnership-based working from the ground up between industry, academia and healthcare providers.
  • Partnerships must resist the risk of overcomplication as multiple parties are involved.