This week saw the publication of the Life Sciences Industrial Strategy. It lays out the sector’s vision of how the UK might exploit its existing strengths in life sciences to boost economic growth and deliver benefit for patients. It emphasises five key areas for investment: science, growth, NHS, data, and skills.

Key highlights for medical research charities include:

  • The Strategy recognises charities as crucial partners in the life sciences
  • It recommends that Government should ensure the environment remains supportive of charitable contributions to the science base in universities through enhancing the Charity Research Support Fund (CRSF)
  • It calls for national registries for therapy-area-specific data across the whole of the NHS in England, and that these should be created and aligned with the relevant charity

The Strategy also proposes the establishment of a coalition of funders, including charity partners, to create the Health Advanced Research Programme (HARP) to undertake large research infrastructure projects and high risk ‘moonshot programmes’ that will help create entirely new industries in healthcare.  One of the opportunities it identifies for the programme is “Healthy Ageing”:

It is clear that one of the major challenges with healthcare systems over the next twenty years will be to better manage the healthy ageing of a large part of the population. As we move to a setting where almost 30% of the population will be over the age of 65, a wide range of engineering, digital monitoring and technology-based solutions will be required to maintain mobility, allow people to stay at home, and provide much more effective out-of-hospital care. This is the basis for an entirely new industry that could effectively use the NHS and care systems as test beds for products. A more systematic effort to create commercial products could reduce cost and improve outcomes for this population, be it through digital monitoring of disease or mobility, aids for maintaining a safe environment in the home, engineering solutions for mobility, ‘smart homes’ devices to enhance functionality in the home environment, or aids for people with musculoskeletal disorders. Therefore, there is a significant commercial opportunity; this is primarily an opportunity for digital and engineering medtech companies and could be embedded in the NHS to provide commercial evaluation capabilities.

If it is acknowledged that healthy ageing is a crucial goal and has significant opportunities associated with it commercially, we should consider our ability to build new business based on an understanding of the general processes associated with ageing. It may prove possible to intervene, not on organ-specific disease but in the general underpinning mechanisms of ageing. The UK has underperformed in developing research programmes in this area of biology but opportunities clearly exist and it is worth consideration whether programmes targeting the fundamental process of ageing such as stem cell senescence, DNA repair, telomere shortening, caloric or nutritional restriction or IRS signalling could produce whole new pharmaceutical or healthcare companies that could address this market.

Although these are a set of examples of potential HARP initiatives, the process of selecting appropriate challenges should be left to the key partners, all of whom may contribute financially. Creating an appropriate structure where partners can contribute resources to create the necessary commercial entities in the UK that will go on to dominate these fields is an essential next step of the Strategy. Different approaches to collaboration may be required for different projects.”