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Plans to ring fence the NHS budget are questioned by experts

Medilink West Midlands : 24 September, 2010  (Special Report)
Ring fencing the NHS budget makes political, not business sense, argued Dr Alan Davies, Chief Medical Officer of General Electric Healthcare, Europe, Middle East and Africa, at the inaugural Innovative Healthcare Meeting held recently at the Birmingham Conservatoire which brought together NHS executives, business leaders, scientists, policy makers and financial advisors looking to build new partnerships to support innovation and improve the economics of healthcare.
The theme of the meeting, which was sponsored by Life Science industry association, MedilinkWM, was entitled ‘Drugs, Diagnostics and Delivery: from Personalised Medicine to Global Health’. The event was hosted by Science Capital, an organization that was established in Birmingham, UK, to support commercialisation of new healthcare, low carbon and information technologies being developed in the West Midlands region.

During his presentation entitled ‘Future Directions in Healthcare’ Dr Davies discussed the plans to ring fence NHS and pointed out that chronic disease will remain one of the largest global risks for the foreseeable future, and reforming and containing costs are increasingly vital.

Dr Davies maintained that a way to lower healthcare costs is to be innovative when implementing care pathways. He suggested the NHS could push towards more healthcare delivery nearer the patient's home which could achieve cost reductions of 15 percent while improving access globally and providing better care locally.

Connecting to the patient's condition, diagnosing earlier and delivering care remotely are essential for creating a more cost-effective healthcare system, declared Dr Davies.

Professor Michael Overduin, Chief Executive Officer of Science Capital, said that forging new partnerships is essential in an era of cost cutting. Prof Overduin pointed out that the UK’s West Midlands is charging ahead, with universities and NHS Trusts in Coventry and Warwick aligning with GE, one of the UK’s largest employers, to promote healthcare innovations.

According to Philip Johnson, Professor of Oncology at the University of Birmingham, the economics of drug development also needs a rethink because the industry has switched to developing targeted therapies, but the high costs involved in the UK are blocking approvals and investments in clinical trials before the true patient benefits are clear.

The fair allocation of limited research funds should be based both on predicted treatment benefits and on optimizing delivery to meet patient demands suggested Professor Richard Lilford, Director of Birmingham Clinical Research Academy.

A significant challenge for the pharmaceutical industry will be to make an economic return from the discovery and development of new anticancer drugs targeted at smaller patient populations whose cancers are driven by particular combinations of gene mutations.

During the meeting John Slack of PharMomentum pointed out current regulatory hurdles may have to be lowered to ensure that profits can be made from such drugs whilst still satisfying the cost/benefit requirements of bodies such as NICE. The new emphasis on personalised medicine and patient-focused therapies could open up opportunities for agile biotech companies that partner well, control costs and remain investment ready.

Tony Davis, Chief Executive Officer of MedilinkWM, highlighted that there are currently numerous opportunities within the West Midlands for drug development and medical diagnostics and the region offers a vibrant network of more than 440 medical and biotechnology companies. And there are more companies in the pipeline, with local teams presenting business plans to a team of legal, financial and management experts and investors from Midven and Beer and Partners.

Hundreds of researchers from across the West Midlands region are now developing new tools for earlier detection of disease and improving therapies for cancer and lung diseases. The technologies will provide better intelligence on whether diseases are forming or treatments are working, creating avenues to curtail costs, justify clinical trials and launch companies.

According to Andrew Muir, Director of Midven “the event was a great reminder that attractive investment opportunities with the potential to change people's lives for the better can arise from publicly funded basic research, and that ideas need the right environment in which to take shape and access human and financial capital”.

One of the UK’s leading haematological oncologists, Professor Charles Craddock, agreed that there is a world class infrastructure in Birmingham, including the Leukaemia Centre. Since being founded in Birmingham in 2004 the Centre has attracted nearly £12 million of pro bono drugs donated by pharmaceutical companies for clinical trials and has created almost a hundred new jobs, which makes the Centre an examplar of patient-focused care that is being rolled out across the nation.

Science Capital is planning to make the Innovative Healthcare Meeting an annual event offered in partnership with Birmingham City Council, Birmingham Science City and the Lunar Society.
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