Health care innovation: why a global perspective is key

Charlie Davie, UCLPartners’ Managing Director, reflects on the opportunities to improve patient care presented by the recent visit by three Israeli start-ups to build access to the NHS market.

The challenges we face in the health and care system in the UK are global challenges – an ageing population, the increasing prevalence of multiple long-term conditions, and the financial difficulties in sustaining upward pressures on health care spend are issues faced by health systems across the world.

While solutions to these global challenges need to work in each local context, these solutions could be found from abroad as well as closer to home. In the UK, we are well positioned to do this, under the direction of a life sciences strategy that sets out how we can work better with partners to make a strong life sciences sector.

But often, innovators and companies from abroad with products and services that could help tackle these challenges and benefit patients find it difficult to access the NHS market. Knowing who to speak to and where to start can be a challenge for innovators based in the UK, let alone those based overseas.

As part of the DigitalHealth.London programme – a collaboration delivered by the three London Academic Health Science Networks (AHSNs) and MedCity – we’ve been exploring how we can ensure that the best and most relevant health tech products from across the world are available to our NHS partners.

Israel – a country that has demonstrated very advanced health tech capabilities and now runs a paperless health service – seemed a good place to start. Working in partnership with the UK Israel Tech Hub and IBM Alpha Zone and with support from the philanthropist David Dangoor, we are supporting promising Israeli health tech start-ups. Solutions they have offered include an online tool for diagnosing ADHD, an algorithmic tool based on your individual gut microbiome to identify foods that balance blood sugar levels, and a video and image database of surgery that links to the patient’s record. Leaders of the most recent cohort of companies visited London earlier this month, using the time to make connections with NHS organisations, develop networks, and immerse themselves in the complexities of NHS structure and procurement.

The most tangible measure of success for the programme will, of course, be whether any of the products are adopted by the NHS – and inevitably, this will take some time. But the clear mood music from the visit was that forging these connections and building these kinds of international networks bring huge potential, not just for the companies that take part in such programmes, but for other healthtech entrepreneurs in the Israeli start-up sector and for the NHS, which gets exposed to a wider range of potentially beneficial products that could improve patient care and increase efficiency.

Of course, Israel is only one of many advanced health care systems across the globe. We know that there are others out there, for example in Scandinavia and in the US, who are already looking outward and making connections with us at UCLPartners and others across the AHSN Network.

The question is how we can build on progress so far to develop a global network of people with the ambition, ability and tenacity to take the best solutions from the global community and apply them for local benefit. Doing so requires insight into the challenges facing the UK health system, understanding of the healthtech market and the ability to open doors to health and care commissioners and providers.
Of course, homegrown innovators and companies are a big part of the solution too – and at UCLPartners and across the AHSN Network we focus the lion’s share of our efforts on supporting UK-based innovators and companies with products that could benefit patients.

But in those instances where a health challenge has been identified and we can’t find a solution locally, it is right to look more widely, and be curious about how other systems have overcome similar – sometimes identical – problems to ours.

Global health challenges require global solutions, and part of the way to achieve this is by creating a network of innovation that is truly international.