The government has announced new funding of up to £86 million for UK firms to develop medical breakthroughs.
The package will allow small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) to develop and test new technologies in the NHS. This could include innovations such as digital technologies to help patients manage their conditions from home instead of a hospital, or to develop new medicines.
Access to this funding will also speed up the time it takes to get new technologies from the lab to patients in the NHS.
The announcement is the first step in taking forward the Accelerated Access Review (AAR) – an independently chaired review, which made recommendations to government on speeding up patient access to new technologies.
Technologies that have previously received support are already bringing benefits to patients. For example, MyCOPD is an online system that helps people with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) better manage their condition. It has helped over 32,000 patients by helping them improve their breathing, manage flare-ups and track medicine use. This reduces reliance on GP and hospital appointments.
Health Minister Lord O’Shaughnessy said: "The government’s ambition is that NHS patients get world-leading, life-changing treatments as fast as possible. That can’t happen unless we support medical innovation and tear down the barriers – like speed to market and access to funding – that can get in the way, especially for SMEs. Our investment in innovation shows how much we value the UK life sciences sector."
The funding is split into 4 packages. These include:
- £39 million of funding to the Academic Health Science Networks (ASHNs), enabling them to assess the benefits of new technologies and support NHS uptake of those that deliver real benefits to patients according to the local need
- £35 million Digital Health Technology Catalyst for innovators – this will match-fund the development of digital technologies for use by patients and the NHS
- up to £6 million over the next 3 years to help SMEs with innovative medicines and devices get the evidence they need by testing in the real world, building on existing opportunities such as the Early Access to Medicine Scheme (EAMS)
- £6 million Pathway Transformation Fund, which will help NHS organisations integrate new technologies into everyday practices - this will help overcome more practical obstacles such as training staff on how to use new equipment
Business Minister Lord Prior said: "The government has an important role to play in driving innovation that will increase economic growth and support businesses across the country. Through this funding we will quicken the pace of scientific discovery and innovation in the UK. Our Industrial Strategy will boost our status a global hub for life sciences."
Association of British Healthcare Industries (ABHI) CEO Peter Ellingworth said: "ABHI welcomes the announcement as a further commitment to supporting the UK medical technology sector. These additional funding initiatives will complement work already in place on Innovation Tariff, NICE processes and horizon scanning as part of the overall Accelerated Access Review. The measures could significantly enhance the UK as a destination of choice for MedTech companies, in turn, benefiting patients, the health system and the wider economy."
Ben Moody, Head of Health and Social Care at techUK, said: "The UK is a world leader in health tech but we must not be complacent. The Digital Health Technology Catalyst will be a great boost for innovators in the sector. The announcement also recognises that the resources needed to generate evidence to show that a technology is worth reimbursing can be prohibitively difficult for SMEs - so the fund to support evidence generation for innovative devices is particularly welcome."
BIA CEO, Steve Bates, said: "These new building blocks for the UK life science innovation ecosystem will help UK small companies get their innovations into the NHS more quickly to benefit patients - something the BIA has long campaigned for. It will make the UK a more attractive location for starting and scaling life science businesses. Enabling smaller companies to access the Early Access to Medicines Scheme will be particularly helpful for small UK biotech companies."
British In Vitro Diagnostics Association (BIVDA) Chief Executive, Doris-Ann Williams MBE, said: "BIVDA very much welcomes the government’s announcement about funding towards practical support for the introduction of new medical technologies into the NHS. It is a constant source of frustration that implementation of new tests takes years to achieve. It means that not only are people not benefiting from improved diagnosis and disease management but also that the NHS is losing the chance to gain cost efficiencies along clinical pathways. We would like to congratulate the Department of Health and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy on pulling together these funding streams ahead of the Industrial Strategy to show practical support of their intent to foster healthy and vibrant Life Sciences industries in the UK."
The chances of survival increase significantly if cancer is detected and treated at an early stage. Expanding research in the early detection field offers the potential for transformational improvements in patient outcomes and is essential in making progress towards our vision of 3 in 4 people surviving cancer by 2034.
Cancer Research UK are convening a new Early Detection Research Committee that will award funding for research into the early detection of cancer. They say: "We’re challenging the research community to focus efforts, drawing together disparate activity across many areas of cancer research and across disciplines – including biomedical sciences, physical sciences, engineering, mathematics and industry – to bring in new thinking and build novel early detection research projects.
"The Early Detection Research Committee will consider early detection research as investigations that enable the detection of cancer, or pre-cancerous states, at the earliest possible time point at which an intervention might be made. Our ambition is to build to an annual investment of £20 million in this area by 2021."
Initially, the committee’s remit will include:
- Catalytic awards to stimulate and support new lines of early detection research
- Up to £500,000
- Up to 3 years
- High-level support for ambitious research programmes to enable significant progress in early detection research
- Flexible funding to be responsive in an evolving field
- Up to £2.5m
- Up to 5 years
CRUK will fund discovery and translational research which is mindful of the clinical/population context, including, but not limited to:
- Biological research underpinning early detection and biomarker discovery/validation
- Human-based early detection discovery research
- Population risk-stratification for early detection
- Biomedical and health informatics, and systems biology for early detection
- Development and utilization of preclinical early detection model systems
- Novel early detection technology development
- Translational/clinical early detection research
A new video has been released to explain who the NIHR is and what it does. The video, which is less than one minute long, describes the NIHR ‘in a nutshell’ and features people from across the NIHR who are working towards improving the health and wealth of the nation through research.
The NIHR is asking all those funded by, supported by, working for and working with the NIHR to watch and share the video, which is available to view on NIHR’s YouTube channel NIHR TV and across the NIHR’s social media channels.
Three years after the launch of the Global Alliance for Genomics and Health (GA4GH) and six months after the first GA4GH-hosted convention of national genomics initiatives, Kathryn North (Australian Genomics) and Genomics England’s Chief Scientist, Professor Mark Caulfield recently convened representatives from 13 National Initiatives in genomic data collection to discuss areas of potential collaboration at the Wellcome Trust in London.
The goal of the meeting was to identify potential areas of collaboration, resource and expertise sharing, as well as common needs across National Initiatives that GA4GH can incorporate into its “toolbox” of data sharing standards and tools.
The meeting was attended by representatives of major population-sequencing endeavours, from: Australia, Brazil, Canada, Finland, GenomeAsia100k, Global Gene Corp (India), the Netherlands, Qatar, South Africa, Switzerland, Turkey, the USA and the UK.
The three more established projects – Genomics England, Australia and the USA gave detailed talks about progress to date and challenges they have faced. This was followed by presentations from all of the emerging projects – covering their aims, funding models, disease focus, and resources they’ve developed. There were also workshops on Data & Sharing, Regulation, and Clinical & Education, as well as a round-table discussion.
Sir John Chisholm, Executive Chair of the Genomics England Board, spoke on his vision for genomic research:
"This change is possible because we will soon be able to understand the genome, and to use it to predict outcomes.
“It’s a fantastic vision, but it’s very hard and it will take most of rest of the century to get there,” said Chisholm. He cited two challenges in particular:
1. Genomic medicine involves “colossal” amounts—millions, tens of millions, or even 100s of millions—of data points. This scale is necessary because of the low probability of making connections between the genome and human health.
Additionally, because very few associations are monogenic, combinatorial problems make unpacking the genome a very difficult and complex pursuit. In the past, scientific programs have built individual research cohorts for each study. This will not work with clinical genomic research, because no organization has enough money to fund research cohorts at this scale.
The only way to achieve cohorts of the size needed is by aligning fully consented patient data from the healthcare system with genomic data. No one country will be able to do this alone so national programs must collaborate.
Given that no one country can do it alone, nations must agree on rigorous standards and protocols, as artefacts of non-harmonized data collection processes will make it impossible to understand outcomes across a combined data set.
2. Implementing standards and protocols in routine healthcare will be difficult, Chisholm said, “but it’s something where the prize is so great, it’s worth doing.” In the four years since it was launched, Genomics England has spent considerable effort and made progress on the development of standards and protocols for data collection and getting them implemented across the UK’s National Health Service.
Now, he said, that needs to be taken to the international stage. He invited meeting attendees to “form a club” to work together to agree on standards and protocols for clinical genomic data sharing. This will allow for federated data sharing that is protective of participant confidentiality and privacy and enables “this transformation of the human experience in the 21st century.”
In closing remarks, Professor Mark Caulfieldsaid that the groups present must showcase their achievements to patients and the publicin order to promote further involvement from those communities. Doing so, he said will result in “more ‘Denmarks’ and less places where we lock data away.”
He also summarised a number of high level themes emerging from the meeting:
- In three years, the discussion has moved from a focus on future goals to examples of established infrastructure and large-scale genomic data collection in health care systems around the world
- The next step is to position healthcare against research in order to achieve the needed scale, and to move from cohorts of 1 million individuals to 5 or 10 million thanks to shared data across the globe
- This will require an ethical framework and robust guidelines for follow up
- Initiatives must engage with patient advocacy and support groups since those populations are willing to take on challenges that researchers shirk from
- Industry is vital to this endeavor, as it requires millions (or billions) of dollars
- There is a need for robust IP that allows for freedom to operate, and the ability to account for situations where the responsible act is not to protect IP but to give it away