Last week, Health Foundry attended an event at the Translation and Innovation Hub (I-HUB) at White City Campus. This was the first in a series of events taking place across the country aimed at providing medical technology SME’s with information around support, funding and collaboration by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR). This event was organised by SEHTA.
To set the scene, Dr David Parry (CEO, SEHTA) gave an introduction to NIHR and explained its mission and strategic priorities. Their mission is to provide a health research system in which the NHS supports outstanding individuals working in world-class facilities, conducting leading-edge research focused on the needs of patients and the public. They aim to establish the NHS as an internationally recognised centre of research excellence and help commission research focused on improving health and social care.
Following this introduction, the event dived deeper into the NIHR’s role in supporting research and innovation for medical technology SME’s and discussed some of the opportunities via their funding programmes. Martin Hunt (Programme Director) explained more about the Invention for Innovation Programme (i4i) which supports the development of innovative medical technologies for patient benefit and helps technology to get significantly advanced in order to further the ability to achieve commercialisation. The i4i product development stream involves collaborative projects between at least two partners from academia, the NHS and industry. Medical technology innovators apply for funding for one to three years, through a peer review based process that includes presentation to a selection panel. The funding and business advice provided by i4i support the development of early-stage innovations, generally at proof of concept and prototype stages.
Since its inception the product development stream has identified and supported 170 projects, led by 146 principal investigators. The programme has awarded £93 million of funding since 2010.
Dr Sarah Khan, a Horizon Scanning Specialist from Royal Holloway University of London then took to the stage to present the work of the NIHR Innovation Observatory (NIHRIO). NIHRIO is an independent research team at Newcastle University and incorporated as a research programme within the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR). Through state of the art data analytics NIHRIO explores trends in health innovation across drugs, medical technologies, diagnostic tools and healthcare services. This analysis offers academia and industry unique insights for areas of development and innovation. It also supplies information to key NHS decision-makers and research funders about emerging health technologies likely to impact on the provision of health services and therefore patient care in the near future.
NIHR Innovation Observatory identifies emerging health technologies by maintaining contacts with key developers, scanning the media and collaborating with clinical and technology experts and expert groups. Identified technologies are filtered by time frame to launch in the NHS, level of innovation and/or potential for impact on patients and health services. NIHRIO provides information in the form of short technology briefings and alerts, as well as longer more in-depth reports from reviews of innovation across a patient pathway or in selected technology areas.
Dr Matthew Hallsworth (Head of External Relations, HIHR Office for Clinical Research Infrastructure (NOCRI) was next to present. He explained NOCRI works with companies to support collaboration with the expert investigators and research facilities funded by the UK Department of Health, from early-phase translational medicine through to later-phase clinical trials. Matthew highlighted how NIHR can help SME’s navigate this infrastructure, have an influential steer on tech development and, where required, form partnerships and collaborations to bring new treatments to patients faster.
Matthew highlighted a case study of the NOCRI who supported an SME (E&B Devices) to enable the development of a new method of bowel cancer screening. Through the NIHR Leeds Colorectal Therapy HTC, the company had access to leading clinical experts in the field, clinical biochemists, health economists and product design specialists. This provided invaluable advice about the technology, its clinical utility and potential cost-effectiveness as well as areas for further improvement. In 2015/16, 151 enquires were received by NOCRI by companies looking to explore collaborative opportunities and 86 projects were active as a result of NOCRI supported activities.
We then heard from Dr. Sarah Cooper (Business Development Manager) Clinical Research Network (CRN). The CRN makes it possible for patients and health professionals across England to participate in clinical research studies within the NHS. The CRN provides the infrastructure that allows high-quality clinical research funded by charities, research funders and life-sciences industry to be undertaken throughout the NHS. They work with patients and the public to make sure their needs are placed at the heart of all research, and providing opportunities for patients to gain earlier access to new and better treatments through research participation.
The CRN is made up of 15 Local Clinical Research Networks that cover the length and breadth of England. The CRN delivers research across 30 clinical specialties at a national and local level. The CRN supported delivery of 88 studies within the medtech industry in 2016/17. Sarah told us that more than 665,000 participants took part in clinical research studies supported by the network this year and nearly 35,000 participants were recruited to studies sponsored by the life sciences industry. This has meant that over the last five years, more than 150,000 participants have had the opportunity to participate in high quality life sciences industry research and access cutting edge treatments.
It was then the turn of three SME’s who had received NIHR funding and support to discuss and to share their perspective on how it has shaped their developments and also a chance to explain why the NIHR was beneficial in the success of their company.
First to speak was Swapnil Gadgil from Therapy Box. Therapy Box is an award winning app and web development company. They developed a range of assistive technology and education apps, and work with academia and industry to deliver technology solutions together. Swapnil highlighted that NIHR funding was critically important when conducting research, producing a concept and seeing the product through to an evaluation phase and ultimately into commercialisation. Swapnil said that the “NIHR wants us to succeed” and mentioned his appreciation for every faculty working together collaboratively to accomplish this overall objective of success.
Next up was Rob Dickinson from Stent Tek. Stent Tek is developing a novel catheter based system that provides a better way for patients to receive haemodialysis (HD) for kidney failure. Rob talked about some some of the main benefits working with NIHR. He described how thorough the NIHR were in completing necessary due diligence making it easier when going to Venture Capital Funds. He explained how they provide a source of non-dilutive project funds and it forces project disciplines through in a depth reporting structure. The NIHR has helped Stent Tek to obtain a grant for a UK patent and hopes in in the future will assist in supporting publications of engineering design.
Last of the SME’s to showcase their work and involvement with the NIHR was Cassandra Baiano from Healum. Healum create digital solutions that enable healthcare professionals to empower, support and motivate their patients to make healthier choices in order to tackle chronic diseases. Cassandra was keen to emphasise the NIHR’s role in their success. She mentioned the benefit of early feedback being a key influence along with the connections to key players working within the industry. She also gave some tips for future SME’s in a similar position by recommending them to clarify any questions and ask for exactly what they want. She said “NHS procurement is simply complex and it's important to understand the order of events and know what your ideal site may look like”.
The insights from all three case studies were incredibly valuable for any SME thinking about applying for any of the NIHR funding programmes. The event came to a conclusion with a series of roundtable discussions, 1:1 sessions with programme managers and a chance to network. This event was incredibly useful to understand more around the support the NIHR can give SME’s, from the advice they dispense around formulating research plans and finding collaborators to establishing connections with relevant contacts within NIHR and organisations that support medtech SME’s. Watch out for the next event on this roadshow and be sure to stay connected so you don’t miss any future opportunities!
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