Next-generation life changing technologies

The UK has unrivalled expertise in delivering the most modern models of care in the world’s oldest and largest universal healthcare system, and is a genuine global leader in digital health innovation, allowing for regulation and validation at scale. The UK is a forward-thinking country and a top three global life sciences hub with a track record of scientific breakthroughs spanning decades. A working partnership approach between industry sectors and government is fueling billions of pounds of funding to deliver the next generation of life changing treatments and technologies. 

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One of the biggest driving forces for companies coming into the UK is the National Health Service (NHS). The NHS serves a population of over 66 million people and seeks the best innovations and solutions from around the world. The NHS is known as the world’s largest integrated healthcare system and it operates across the UK via NHS Scotland, NHS Wales, NHS Northern Ireland and NHS England, with NHS England covering nearly 85% of the population. 

Opportunities in healthtech

The UK is a digital powerhouse, as proven by the number of confirmed unicorns across various industries, including healthtech. The UK’s strength is enabled by an ecosystem of institutions and incubators, funding, policy and programmes that all blend data, digital innovation and the healthcare sector. The close proximity, collaboration and sharing of knowledge between the healthcare stakeholders make it possible for the UK to nurture digital health innovation. 

Examples in the UK healthtech landscape resulting from the push to innovation include: 

NHS Digital Academy - set up to train and develop a new generation of digital leaders who can drive the tech transformation of the NHS. The NHS Digital Academy benefits from a world class partnership between Imperial College London, the University of Edinburgh and Harvard Medical School.

The National Institute for Health Data Science (HDR UK) - HDR UK is uniting health data assets across the UK to make health data research and innovation happen at scale.

The Alan Turing Institute - the UK’s National Institute for Data Science and Artificial Intelligence,  whose research is tackling some of the biggest challenges in science, society and the economy.

Some of the recent UK policy changes that have come along in the field of digital health include the founding of NHSX in April 2019 and the launch of the NHS Long Term Plan in January 2019. The NHS Long Term Plan sets out the key ambitions for the service over the next 10 years, and was published in reaction to a slowdown in funding growth whilst demand for services (and their costs) was growing rapidly. The Plan lays a strong emphasis on developing digital services, so that within five years all patients will have the right to access GP consultations via telephone or online. 

Structural challenges such as an aging population, funding and workforce pressure have spurred the need for a new service model in the UK healthcare sector, with a larger focus on prevention and embracing technology. NHSX is set to drive digital transformation and lead IT policy across the NHS by bringing together teams from the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC), NHS England and NHS Improvement into one central unit. 

Foreign companies can tap into the rich ecosystem of partnership and research collaborations in UK healthcare. Key stakeholders and initiatives in UK healthcare for foreign healthtech companies to keep in mind when looking to expand to the UK include: 

The National Institute of Health and Care Excellence (NICE) - NICE produces evidence-based guidance and advice for health, public health and social care practitioners.

NHS Innovation Accelerator (NIA) supports uptake and spread of proven, impactful innovations across England’s NHS, benefitting patients, populations and NHS staff. NIA’s services are delivered in partnership with NHS England and England’s 15 Academic Health Science Networks (AHSNs).

Accelerated Access Collaborative (AAC) brings together industry, government, regulators, patients and the NHS to remove barriers and accelerate the introduction of ground-breaking new treatments and diagnostics that can transform care. The AAC supports all types of innovations: medicines, diagnostics, devices, digital products, pathway changes and new workforce models. The AAC supports the ambition to make the NHS one of the most pro-innovation health systems in the world.

The Artificial Intelligence (AI) Award is run by the AAC in partnership with NHSX and the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR). It will make £140m available over four years (2020-2024) to accelerate the testing and evaluation of the most promising AI technologies that meet the strategic aims set out in the NHS Long Term Plan. The AI Award is part of £250m in funding given by the Department for Health and Social Care to NHSX to establish an AI lab aimed at improving the health and lives of patients.


HealthTech Connect is an online database of devices, diagnostics and digital health technologies that are intended for use in the NHS or wider UK health and care system. When a technology gets onto the HealthTech Connect-platform, innovators will have their innovations viewed by buyers in the system. 

England’s 15 Academic Health Science Networks (AHSNs)
For a foreign company looking to access the UK healthcare, navigating the ecosystem and its multitude of organisations can be an overwhelming task. Finding the right regional cluster is often the necessary first step, and this is where the role of England’s AHSNs weighs in. 

England has 15 AHSNs: they are centred on regions each serving a population of 3 to 5 million people. The AHSNs combine local healthcare providers, universities and clinical research, and they take the lead in their regions to promote speedier adoption and diffusion of innovation to meet health priorities. England’s AHSNs function as door openers to local healthcare and can signpost innovators to regional experts, as well as the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) infrastructure. 

The NHS is a multi-layered organisation and it is imperative for companies to identify the best entry route. A good starting point for foreign companies is looking at innovation supports (e.g. Innovate UK), as well as applying for NHS innovation accelerators and NHS testbeds. 
 

UK-wide initiatives and organisations in HealthTech include:

Northern Ireland’s encompass. Encompass is a Health and Social Care (HSC) sector-wide initiative that will introduce a digital integrated care record to Northern Ireland. This will support the Health and Social Care NI vision to transform health and social care in order to improve patient safety and health outcomes.

The Association of British HealthTech Industries (ABHI). ABHI is the UK’s leading industry association for health technology. 

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Clusters

UK a global leader in medtech

Employing over 130,000 people, the UK medtech sector has a large turnover (£26.5 bn), counting over 4,000 companies currently working in the segment, making the UK a strong global competitor. The distribution of employment in the UK medtech industry shows that workforce and expertise are concentrated around specific areas across the country. Foreign companies coming into the UK will be able to tap into the regional support available across the country. 


Key trends affecting the sector include:

  • Continued growth for the UK 

  • diagnostic sector, whose revenue for 2020 surpassed £9.8 bn.

  • Greater focus on In Vitro Diagnostics, cardiology and diagnostic imaging. 

  • Upswing in solutions that respond to the underlying societal changes in the UK including ageing society, rise in chronic conditions, and growing concerns over future epidemics. 

The support infrastructure available to companies include:

11 NHS/academic centres focused on translational medicine and evidence generation for MedTech (NIHR Medtech and In Vitro Diagnostics Centres).

 

7 Health Data Research Hubs: collaborations of NHS, academia, patient, charity and industry partners including Roche, AstraZenenca, IBM, Microsoft, IQVIA and NWEH. 

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Turnover of the UK medtech sector. 

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More than 4,000 
businesses are active in the UK medtech sector. 

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The UK medtech sector 
employs more than 130,000 people.

Regional strengths
The UK boasts local strengths and capabilities relating to the Medical and Health technologies industry. 

 

England

The medtech sector in England covers a wide range of technologies, serves global markets and accounts for around 40% of Life Sciences employment in England. England is home to around 1,250 medtech companies employing 23,000 people, with a combined turnover of £16.8bn.

The AHSNs have established a MedTech Innovation National Network (INN) to enhance the awareness and support given to the medtech sector in England, specifically within physical devices and in vitro diagnostics. 

NIHR MedTech and In Vitro diagnostics – Co-operatives (MICs) act as a centre of expertise, bringing together patients, clinicians, researchers, commissioners and industry to support the development and evaluation of medtech products in a clinical setting.

SBRI Healthcare – fully funded by NHS England and acts as an enabler for the NHS to access new innovations in their early stages of maturity, to help solve identified healthcare challenges and unmet needs.

Northern Ireland
Northern Ireland has a long history in medtech innovation. Ulster University and Queens University Belfast have both developed world-class innovation. Northern Ireland’s economy is supported by Invest Northern Ireland, the region’s economic development agency, which invests over £100m into local companies annually. 


Central to this ecosystem is the Health Innovation Research Alliance Northern Ireland (HIRANI), which is an alliance of universities, health organisations (NHS) and industry bodies. Some of Northern Ireland’s notable research centres include:

  • Northern Ireland Connected Health Innovation Centre (CHIC).

  • Nanotechnology and Integrated Bioengineering Centre (NIBEC).

  • Ulster University’s Cognitive Analytics Research Lab (CARL).


Northern Ireland has over 240 healthcare and life sciences companies in the region. The joined-up approach of the Northern Ireland ecosystem enables easy access to all stakeholders, resulting in a resilient and agile supply chain. Over 8,800 people are directly employed in Life and Health Sciences companies, contributing to over £1bn worth of exports annually from Northern Ireland. This pool of talent is here to stay, with over 4,500 students in L&HS related studies across Northern Ireland. 

Scotland
With over 9,000 people employed in the sector, Scotland offers a diverse and supportive supplier community consisting of over 150 supply chain companies. With its variety of grants and financial incentives, Scotland has a rich life sciences ecosystem with plenty of opportunities for investors. Investors are given easy access to clinical skills expertise, disease networks, clinical trials and the innovation ecosystem across Scotland, including the NHS, Scotland’s single healthcare provider. Direct links to NHS Scotland and Chief Scientist Office are available at NHS Research Scotland. 


Scotland has also a steady pipeline of students and graduates. 21,410 students graduated with degrees in biological sciences, subjects allied to medicine, and engineering and technology in 2018, safeguarding the continuity and growth of the region’s MedTech sector. Centres of excellence and accelerators include:

  • The Digital Health & Care Innovation Centre.

  • Precision Medicine Scotland Innovation Centre (PMS-IC).

  • Medical Device Manufacturing Centre. 

Wales
Businesses looking to start-up or locate in Wales can benefit from a wide range of relocation incentives from a number of agencies including the Welsh Government. Angels Invest Wales is part of the Development Bank of Wales, with an established network of over 1,000 investors, helps to match businesses with potential investors.  

Local accelerators include:

Accelerate is led by Life Sciences Hub Wales, in collaboration with local universities. The £24m programme offers access to the academic expertise, in-depth understanding of the life science ecosystem, and cutting-edge facilities that innovators and entrepreneurs need to get their idea off the ground. 

Health Technology Wales is a national body working to promote the use of health-technologies that offer the most benefit for the people of Wales. 

Clinical Innovation Accelerator is a joint venture between Cardiff University and Cardiff and Vale University Health Board that aims to accelerate the translation of clinical innovation into improvements in health and clinical services. 

Wales is at the forefront of eHealth research and maximises the use of routine data for research. NHS Wales permits access to anonymised healthcare data for the whole population in one database and allows clinical trials to access three million people with a single co-ordinated permission process. Welsh universities are home to 12,000 life sciences students and take part in a wide range of research and technology projects, offering meaningful partnering opportunities for life sciences businesses. 

Welsh centres of excellence include world-class research institutes:

  • Centre for NanoHealth.

  • Centre of Excellence in Mobile and Emerging Technologies (CEMET)