Part Two: Harnessing UK strengths and addressing challenges

By - World Pharmaceutical and Biotech Journal

Part Two: Harnessing UK strengths and addressing challenges

“By harnessing our world-leading science base, our globally respected regulators, and our unique single payer healthcare system we can be at the forefront of developing, trialling and launching cutting-edge technology”

Julia Dudley, Deputy Director of Innovation and Growth, Office for Life Sciences.

Continuing a discussion on the UK’s role in global life sciences hosted by IQVIA and Public Policy Projects, chair of the webinar Angela McFarlane welcomed contributions from Julia Dudley, Deputy Director of Innovation and Growth at the Office for Life Sciences, and David Peacock, Managing Director UK & Ireland at MSD.

Accelerating uptake – the perfect testbed 

Julia Dudley shared the views of Matthew Whitty and Gillian Leng on the greater need for commercial collaboration and flexibility when rolling out cutting-edge innovation (see part one here).

Progress has undoubtedly been made across the board. Acting as a central reference point, Julia provided some examples of great strides in improving patient access to innovative treatments and technologies, including faster access to approvals of new technologies, which tie in with the work of the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) and Accelerated Access Collaborative (AAC). Referencing the work of NICE that Gillian Leng had previously outlined, Julia noted they have seen “real improvements in assessment timelines and approval rates,” with the example of assessment times for new cancer drugs being over 13 months faster than they were a decade ago.

However, as we emerge from the pandemic, we must consider how to build on the momentum generated during the past year within the NHS and wider health system to create “a more resilient and pro-innovation system” which makes use of cutting-edge technology to tackle major health challenges facing the UK.

Julia identified several strategic advantages the UK can capitalise upon to develop and launch innovation. “By harnessing our world-leading science base, our globally respected regulators and our unique single-payer healthcare system, we can be at the forefront of developing, trialing and launching cutting-edge technology. ”

Crucially, Julia emphasised the need to consider the offer presented by the UK “in the round,” meaning cross-working between government, the health system, academia and the life sciences sector. All of this will be for the benefit of UK patients.

So what next? Julia and her team are looking at where we need to go further to improve the uptake of health innovations as part of the government’s Plan for Growth, addressing system barriers to adoption, and “embedding lessons learnt from the pandemic into business as usual. ” 

Work is already underway to bolster the clinical research ecosystem through plans set out in the future of clinical research delivery plans set out by DHSC in March. According to Julia, by capitalising on this vision, we’ll be able to maximise the full potential of cutting-edge technologies, pairing investment and clinical research with health data. Other ties include a bolstered approach to genomics and the forward-thinking regulatory environment touched upon by other speakers.

Requesting audience thoughts on what they would like to see on health innovation, Julia was asked why, despite the ambitions and work already going on, is the UK slower to adopt health innovations than other countries. While differences in healthcare systems between countries – from commissioning and disease prevalence to population demographics – make direct comparison very difficult, Julia defended the UK’s position, stressing that "speed of uptake is not the only measure of quality of care." Nonetheless, there are areas to improve and, alongside initiatives from the MedTech Funding Mandate to the Medicines and Medical Devices Bill, the government is developing better systems to measure what 'good looks like' and to roll-out innovation faster.

The second audience poll gave an interesting perspective on what delegates view as the most valuable ways the UK can bolster the adoption and spread of proven, cost-effective innovations. The results can be found below.

No shortage of potential

So what will it take to “unleash the potential of the UK,” and will the UK be able to “legitimately claim itself as a life sciences superpower? ”

David Peacock, Managing Director UK & Ireland at MSD, believes there is no shortage of potential for the UK. Tremendous foundational assets such as the calibre of science, a strong tradition in biological and chemical research and a well-integrated national health service mean the building blocks are there for what the UK can become.

Sadly, ambition and foundations are not enough, with the boardrooms of global innovators remaining sceptical. This is due in part to the reality that the UK represents a small and declining segment of the world pharmaceuticals market. David made it clear that the impact of Brexit and rising global competition are serious threats that need to be acknowledged, leaving no room for complacency.

Brexit has forced “unproductive investment” on many companies. Beyond this distraction, David argued that it has introduced significant and continued uncertainty – the “kryptonite to people that are making long-term investments. ” Therefore, it is absolutely critical to build back trust, with government addressing the uncertainty created by political events.

Furthermore, David noted that the pandemic has turned populations all over the world to the attention of the work that the life sciences sector does: not just in terms of patients’ lives but also to the wider economy. From this, China, the USA, Japan and countries in Europe are actively revising their offerings to attract and retain their respective life sciences sectors. Expanding on Angela’s point about the landscape becoming increasingly competitive, David advised that the UK needs to avoid simply “drowning out in its own echo-chamber about how good things are. ” Competition around us is nimble.

Yet again, hope shone through with the UK’s strength of assets. How will it grow investment over time? According to David, this will be done by demonstrating in practice that we can join together all of the elements of the innovation value chain. A true end-to-end approach, from discovery to development, to licensing, to the assessment of the technologies, to uptake and then once again back to discovery, really completing a virtuous circle. ” Not many countries can do this, due to fragmentation in care provision and industry.

MSD have made significant new investments in the UK, most recently the £1 billion MSD London Discovery Research Centre. When asked whether he believes the UK government actually understands how competitive the global research and launch market is when seeking to attract MSD investment, David acknowledged that the government does realise the competitiveness in the world. However, what he doesn’t hear as much is that the government understands that it is all elements of the life sciences value chain that matter. There is a lot of focus on investment being brought into early-stage SMEs, but this is insufficient and lacks a focus on manufacturing. Manufacturing is at the forefront of all of our minds due, in part, to resilience concerns arising from the pandemic. This is the same around the world, but the UK is only coming to this realisation now rather than it being a part of previous life sciences strategies. Hopefully, as the UK emerges from the pandemic, its life sciences offering will become fully integrated.

Angela McFarlane presented the final audience poll, asking the same question to the audience as she did at the start. Given the breadth of expertise brought forward in each presentation and discussion, optimism was found to have moved in the right direction. The full results can be found below.

Timing is everything – but flexibility, collaboration and investment are vital too

Having taken many questions throughout the dialogues, the webinar concluded in a brief question and answer segment which opened the floor to participant questions.

The first was directed at Gillian Leng, with a question around what role NICE sees itself playing in the development of agile, innovative regulation working with the MHRA. Gillian Leng views NICE’s role certainly as an important one, hence their new strategy is being underpinned by flexibility so they can work upstream, use more data and make contingent approvals.

When asked what NICE’s role working with the new streamlined MHRA process means for companies moving through regulations, Gillian Leng stressed the alignment between NICE and the MHRA is vital in this regard. She also emphasised the need to share data “so we’re aware of what’s coming down the track and information doesn’t have to be submitted in duplicate. ”

When asked for her perspective on what she’d like to see from industry to help support NICE, Gillian Leng identified practical areas to focus on, including submissions, timelines, clarity of processes, as well as establishing a regular industry forum. NICE hopes to have the first of these in September.

Matthew Whitty responded to this question with further reference to the coming wave three of RUPs, with aims to have the selection process agreed by Q3 2021 with the selected products being launched from April 2022. When asked how NHS researchers are engaging with the new approach to Personal Public Involvement (PPI), while it’s certainly early days, Matthew was really encouraged by the engagement they’ve seen so far, particularly around research being more representative of the population and informing decisions around the safe uses of technology such as Artificial Intelligence.

The session closed on a final question related to the role diversity plays in research, with Julia Dudley asked about what the community can do to help Black and Ethnic Minority groups be included in ICS data models. With a single-payer healthcare system that has siloed data, Julia highlighted the work of NHSX in publishing a new data strategy that helps outline how researchers can access more data across the NHS. Investments are also being made in find, recruit and follow-up services, with £20 million being invested to help researchers access the correct population data needed.

Angela McFarlane concluded the discussion by praising the work being done by the speakers, with the hope that it provided insights to delegates on the shared vision to unleash the potential of global Britain for life sciences through policies that are allowing for greater leadership, access and uptake.

A full recording of the session can be accessed here.

Click to read part one of the session.

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