KTN, Asthma UK and Innovate UK - collaborating to develop low-cost, accurate asthma diagnostic tools

Posted on: 09/02/2018

How the KTN worked closely with Asthma UK in bringing key stakeholders and funding bodies together to support and fund this field.

The Knowledge Transfer Network (KTN) helps businesses get the best out of creativity, ideas and the latest discoveries, driving them towards commercialisation, to strengthen the UK economy and improve people’s lives. This collaboration example demonstrates how the KTN Health Team put their ambition to accelerate innovation into practice.


KTN as leaders in collaboration

Professor Mehdi Tavakoli (Knowledge Transfer Manager for Infrastructure, Med Tech & Therapies) has worked in healthcare innovation and new product developments for over 20 years. Over the years Mehdi has been involved in a number of key developments across a range of medical and implantable devices. His main responsibilities within the KTN include supporting innovations in the healthcare sector and product commercialisation by facilitating new collaboration opportunities, troubleshooting and tackling key barriers to innovations and product developments.


The unmet need of asthma diagnosis

There are 5.4 million people with asthma in the UK while asthma prevalence globally is expected to rise to 400 million by 2025. Current diagnosis of asthma primarily relies on clinical history and a trial of treatment, neither of which can accurately distinguish between different types of asthma. This is highly inefficient given that around 40 percent of people with asthma do not respond to initial treatment. The three-year European Asthma Research and Innovation Partnership (EARIP), set out a roadmap for breakthrough areas in asthma research, ranked the need for better asthma diagnostics tools as a top priority within the asthma research roadmap.

After watching Ms Kay Boycott, the Chief Executive of Asthma UK on Sky News, describing lack of sufficient innovation in asthma diagnosis and the inability to diagnose children under 5, Mehdi identified a collaborative opportunity involving KTN and proactively approached Asthma UK to propose and run a clinician/academic led joint event attracting industry address this key area. Key organisations including the NHS England, the National Institute of Health Research, Association of British Pharmaceutical Industry and Innovate UK were invited to present and support broader discussion at a series of workshops.


Bringing together diverse audiences for the first time

Working closely together, KTN and Asthma UK attracted over 80 experts from a diverse range of backgrounds for a first-of-its-kind event to crack the challenge of developing accurate, low-cost asthma diagnostic tools. The event, held on 17 July 2017, was attended by world-class academics, leading small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs), major pharmaceutical companies and representatives from UK-wide funding organisations.

This day-long event was a rare opportunity to gain insights from leaders in innovation, healthcare and academia, including Dr Louise Wood, Director of Science, Research and Evidence at the Department of Health, and Prof Sue Hill, Chief Scientist for NHS England and global asthma expert Professor Sven-Erik Dahlén, Karolinska Institutet of Sweden. Presentations were followed by an exciting panel discussion was chaired by Prof Tavakoli, while the four workshops resulted in some concrete ideas for next steps. Slides from the presentations and notes from the workshop can be found here. The event informed Asthma UK’s recent report, Diagnosing asthma: a 21st century challenge. The report makes a series of recommendations for how the challenges of asthma diagnosis can be met.


Creating joint funding for asthma diagnosis R&D

Following the impact of this sold out event, Mehdi continued discussions with Dr Samantha Walker, Deputy Chief Executive at Asthma UK to identify potential co-funders for asthma diagnostics research and development. Following an introduction to Dr Kath McKay, Interim Deputy Director of Health & Care at Innovate UK, a joint funding opportunity was agreed. A funding competition inviting applications of up to £250,000 opened in January and emphasised the academia-industry-clinician collaboration. Details of how to apply to this funding competition can be found using the following link: Asthma UK-Innovate UK 2018 Project Grants – diagnostics themed call which is currently open for applications (the call closes on 27th March 2018).


What next?

Knowledge Transfer Network is promoting this call and hopes companies as well as clinicians/academics will apply for this competition.


Since the establishment of Medical Devices Faraday Partnerships in September 2002 and then KTN, Prof Tavakoli has organised and led many successful clinicians/industry collaboration events with key stakeholders and funding organisations, addressing unmet clinical needs in many clinical areas. He is keen to work and support other, similar events with clinicians, academics, industry and charities.


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