Manufacturers and insurers may have missed Prince Harry's news on Monday in the general excitement surrounding the Government's Industrial Strategy, announced on the same day.
A key plank of the Strategy involves engagement with life sciences via a "sector deal". Will the union between Government and industry prove happy and long-lasting?
The Government unveiled its Industrial Strategy on 27 November 2017. It adopts many of the recommendations set out in the life sciences industry's own report to the Government, published in August. Taken together, the Government's document and the industry report present a vision of an optimistic future. Manufacturers and their insurers tempted to explore the opportunities on offer should do so with an appreciation of the risks involved.
Key themes emerging from the Industrial Strategy and the industry's report include: embracing challenges presented by an ageing population, harnessing technology to develop new clinical platforms, and collaboration between industry and the NHS.
An ageing population
Society is changing. These days, royal brides become princesses in their late 30s; consumers snap up lifestyle devices that provide clinical data; and people expect to remain active well beyond the lifespan of previous generations. The Government sees these challenges as opportunities. Industry should too, whilst considering the risks. The general trend in recent years has been for consumers and patients to demand ever more of medical devices. Whereas a hip replacement was once designed for little more than a walk to the local shops, now bespoke implants are intended for marathon runners and ballet dancers. The flip side of this demand is raised consumer expectations. When bringing new devices to market, manufacturers should ensure that surgeons explain the risks, benefits, and limitations of new products to their patients.
Whilst social media coalesced around the #royalwedding, the Government was promoting the UK's potential as a hub for bringing new technology into the clinical sphere. Robotic operating theatres, algorithms, and artificial intelligence have all been identified as having the potential to improve patient outcomes. Producers of new technology should not lose sight of the fact that there will remain the potential for human error, and robots cannot be sued. It will be important for manufacturers to work with clinicians to identify where human decision making is required and who is ultimately responsible for decisions assisted by new technology.
A much loved British institution, which commands respect beyond these shores, was basking in attention on Monday. The NHS is unique amongst healthcare providers in its scope and potential for harnessing data taken from a wide and diverse population. The Government wants companies to see the potential in using the NHS as a means to test products, so that they are developed and put through clinical trials here and then sold overseas. In taking this opportunity, manufacturers should scrutinise the detail of their contracts with the NHS. If companies do not have control over key aspects of clinical trials, for example patient selection, then the liability wording in the clinical trial agreement should reflect this.
Some in the industry may have viewed the Government's initiative and industry report with a degree of cynicism. After all, there is a reason why the industry report noted that UK funds "… do not normally invest in … life sciences in the UK, due to relatively high levels of risk … and poor return on investments in the 1990s." That sums up the past. However, the future looks bright for life sciences. The 1990s saw many an annus horribilis as some high-profile litigation rocked the industry. In recent years, though, the sector has bounced back. Carefully managed, there can be a happy ever after for any royal couple - or manufacturer of life sciences products.