Realising the Opportunities for Med-Tech in the UK

Posted on: 12/02/2018

Sue Dunkerton OBE, Director at the Knowledge Transfer Network, was delighted to be invited to chair a panel at the Genesis 2017 Medtech Boardroom.


The MedTech Boardroom, chaired by Sue Dunkerton OBE, assembled a small group of senior industry executives and decision makers to discuss strategic and operational best practice and advice to those executives developing their success strategies in the MedTech field.

The group addressed the subjects of: Translational Research, Access to Funding, Start-ups to Scale Up, NHS vs Global and the complexity of the Innovation Ecosystem. This builds on the sector being a significant part of the overall life sciences sector: 25% of the turnover; employing 40% of the people; having more than 4 times as many businesses and with strong growth potential.

In response to this forum we provide their collective insight and thoughts for the future.

Five invited speakers picked up separate messages in their opening remarks:


Liam Grover, Professor of Biomaterials Science at Birmingham University and Director of the Healthcare Technologies Research Institute linked to the University:

“Agility is needed to support SMEs to innovate in Med-Tech, having the right support available at the right time and with tools and finance to support early translation from the academic base.”


John Fisher, Professor of Medical and Biological Engineering at the University of Leeds, Director of Wellcome Trust/EPSRC Medical Engineering Centre WELMEC and Director of the MedTech Innovation and Knowledge Centre (IKC):

The Leeds City Region Science and Innovation Audit (SIA) focused on Med-Tech specifically with the message that there are global opportunities for growth but that, over the next 10 years, they will most likely be in markets that include digital technologies and combination products. John asked the question “is the UK currently configured to make the best of these opportunities” and suggested that more is needed from the public sector to help the UK realise the undoubted, once in a lifetime, commercial opportunity in a complex innovation landscape.


Richard Phillips, Director of Healthcare Policy at ABHI (Association of British Healthcare Industries):

Med-Tech needs a more visible presence with clarity from industry on the support needed to ensure good balance with that going into pharmaceuticals. Richard had a strong message on evidence, with the need for all parties to work together to define what is needed for innovative technologies and how this can be realized when Med-Tech does not follow the more usual pharma model. The point was made that the UK Government and industry need to recognise the contribution MedTech makes to UK Life Sciences and support in a similar way to the Pharmaceutical sector is supported. When comparing the UK to other countries, some UK weaknesses were identified as unnecessary repetition of the evidence case, responsibility for innovation in the NHS being unclear and further barriers which impact on SMEs in particular.


Mike Lewis, Chair of Cambridge Cognition:

Mike runs companies across the Med-Tech and digital health spectrum and he noted that, of the 27 commercial deals that he’s completed, only two were in the UK. More is needed to capitalise on the NHS as an intelligent first customer to build evidence and open up global markets. He also reinforced the view that future Med-Tech needs to incorporate digital innovation and combination products in order to be competitive globally.


Peter Whittington, Office for Life Sciences, policy lead for the Business Bank:

Government and Industry have cooperated over the last 2 years or so to develop new initiatives to address some of the challenges previously mentioned: Life Sciences Industrial Strategy and associated sector deal positioned Life Sciences well ahead competing sectors. Included in these are: the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund (ISCF – £2.7bn in total over 4 years) includes a significant level of funding for Med-Tech (Healthy Ageing, Diagnosis of chronic disease using data driven interventions); £39m for AHSNs to support adoption of innovation; Innovate UK innovation loans; support for SMEs to generate real world data (£6m); Digital Health Technology Catalyst (£35m).


These opening remarks initiated a vibrant discussion on everything from innovation support through scale-up to reimbursement issues. Points are summarised below:


Early Stage Support for innovation in Med-Tech

The Biomedical Catalyst has been a success for biotechs and pharma and is available for Med-Tech. The new programme, specifically targeted to Digital Health, should be a real opportunity. For less digital Med-Tech, awareness raising of the ongoing Biomedical Catalyst is needed as well as ensuring businesses are Catalyst-ready. Businesses need to focus their plans on global markets to attract the investors, with the view that money is out there for good businesses with globally competitive technologies. However, this relatively positive viewpoint was balanced by the view that not enough early stage innovation funding is spent on technology that changes therapeutic pathways significantly. Direct to the consumer healthcare innovations are conspicuous by their absence.


Scale-up from initial innovation towards prototype development, evidence generation and early manufacture

A question was asked about the nature of the UK offer in Med-Tech development beyond initial invention. Whilst it’s easy to be negative about specific experiences, there are examples of attempts to change the landscape with initiatives like the NHS Test Beds, the new Med-Tech and in vitro Diagnostic Cooperatives (MICs), Innovate UK innovation loans, and new money for SMEs to generate real world data.


Evidence and Adoption

Again, discussions focused on barriers to adoption which are many and well documented elsewhere. Structures to help companies get technology adopted by the NHS were highlighted, for example, the Innovation Technology Tariff, the NHS Test Beds, the NICE Meta tool and the How to guides. However, it’s clear that adoption is still a big issue for most Med-Tech companies in the UK.

Co-development of technologies with NHS partners was mentioned as being one of the keys to open NHS adoption although expectations need to be managed. The initiatives in Birmingham and Leeds, amongst others, aim to link innovators into NHS support structures and crucially initiate local relationships to build trust, robust and adoptable technologies and, critically, evidence.


The Future

Finally, discussions turned again to the future. There were two main themes; one was that combination products that invariably contain an element of digital are being supported in other countries, e.g. China, and the consensus around the table was that these must be prioritised and supported if the UK is to make an impact in Med-Tech.  Secondly, Med-Tech is a fragmented sector everywhere but a number of key initiatives are in place to support this sector in the UK, it is just that the sector is not always aware of them. KTN, ABHI and others such as AHSNs are already working together to ensure clarity of message with agile signposting to the opportunities available.



It’s clear from this discussion and from others facilitated by ABHI that there are significant barriers to the development of Med-Tech in the UK. These won’t be solved overnight or by one single organisation. The barriers have been very well articulated in this forum and elsewhere and can only be overcome through open discussion and by collaboration, which KTN offers to take forward to support change within the system.

For more on KTN’s work in health and medtech, contact Terry O’Neill or Sue Dunkerton.

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