BELS, Brexit, NICE

As we enter the summer (at least in the Northern Hemisphere!) after the annual BIO meeting in San Francisco and ahead of the impending Brexit vote, we wanted to send out greetings to the BELS community.  We are now actively commencing the BELS membership drive so please do visit our membership pages and join this formidable community.  Membership can bring a whole host of benefits including keeping you up to speed with UK developments, building bridges to leading UK assets, and being part of an exclusive, influential network managed by a trusted intermediary.  My last blog back in April emphasised what a treasure trove The BELS List represents.  It is truly a unique and powerful resource which justifies membership, be it as an individual Primary Member or with organisational support as an Affiliate.

On the news front, I highlight a few noteworthy developments of late.

  • Nearly a year into its existence, the NHS Innovation Accelerator programme is helping to bring in a stream of new innovative technologies and services to the NHS as it seeks to create the conditions and culture changes needed for faster adoption. Further, a recently announced Innovation and Technology Tariff category is to allow NHS England to ‘bulk buy’ innovations nationally instead of locally and guarantee automatic reimbursement when an approved innovation is used.
  • AstraZeneca announced a broad initiative to embed genomics across its R&D platform with a goal of sequencing two million genomes at its in-house Centre for Genomics Research.
  • A trio of Oxford spinouts raised almost £37 million in a record round of fundraising for UK academic spinouts with OxStem, EvOx and Vaccitech all receiving money from Oxford Sciences, a £300 million fund set up last year with backing from several high-profile City investors.
  • Neil Woodford has invested a further £12 million in Imperial Innovations, upping his stake to 21%.
  • NHS England announced a £15 million investment to support a range of measures aiming to speed up the detection of cancer, including the creation of a National Diagnostics Capacity Fund to test initiatives to increase capacity and productivity of diagnostic services.
  • And Jim O’Neill unveiled his final AMR plan of attack with recommendations that pharma firms are given a $1 billion bonus for each new antibiotic they discover as part of an attack on antimicrobial resistance.

Brexit continues to dominate the airwaves in the UK.  While BELS will not make any political pronouncements as a general ethos and we all have our own opinions on the matter, it is important to note that the industry itself in the UK and the broader scientific community seem pretty much aligned against Brexit, warning that it would bring uncertainty to the sector.  No matter which side of the argument on which one sits, inherent difficulties with this debate involve many unknowns and speculations wrought by the fact this would be the first time that a member state would have left the EU.  The June 23 vote promises to be momentous no matter which way it goes.

Finally, on another sensitive subject, NICE has come into the spotlight once again as it takes on the mantle previously held by the Cancer Drugs Fund.  NICE suffers often from a perspective that it turns down so many products that it is an enemy of innovation. However, Nice’s official statistics tell a different story.

  • From March 2000 to the end of April 2016, NICE published 217 single technology appraisals and 172 multiple technology appraisals; 389 appraisals in total, containing 654 individual recommendations.
  • Overall, 81% of decisions made by NICE were ´recommended’ or ´optimised´.
  • On the cancer front, since 2000, when it started to produce cancer guidance, NICE has published 192 individual recommendations on cancer drugs in 140 technology appraisals.
  • Overall, 64% of all recommendations stated that the NHS should use these drugs in line with their marketing authorisation (‘recommended’), or in specific circumstances (‘optimised recommendation’, i.e., targeting treatments so patients who could clearly benefit can gain access to treatment).
  • Since March 2000, NICE has made 7 optimised recommendations for the use of anti-cancer drugs.
  • As we go to press with this blog, NICE just rushed through Bristol-Myers Squibb’s advanced melanoma immunotherapy combo Opdivo and Yervoy, an approval that was one of the fastest in NHS history.

While no agency can be perfect in everyone’s eyes, health technology assessments are here to stay in a world struggling to afford modern healthcare and NICE is very much seen as a source of best practice by many parts of the world which look to it for guidance.  NICE is thus, in some quarters, viewed as a UK asset.  The hope is that this will continue and that further dialogue will help to fine tune its processes and results.  Innovation is key to improving healthcare but cost will always be a factor and justification is therefore a mandatory consideration.

In closing, I hope you’ll heed the call to arms to join BELS now.  BELS encourages and enables the extraordinary British-trained talent base at home and abroad to strengthen connections to mutually benefit themselves, their organisations, and this important sector.  For this is very much a two-way street. The success of our expats and other overseas alumni reflects well on the UK, and equally, the strength of the UK health and life sciences can reflect well on our expats. With your support and involvement, BELS will better connect all parts of our great United Kingdom of Life Scientists so that together we can achieve more.

Best wishes for a great start to summer (in the Northern Hemisphere!)

Nigel Gaymond

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