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UK funding for medical breakthrough research critical to enabling innovation to flourish, says expert

The UK government has announced an £86 million funding package for SMEs to develop and test new technology within the NHS. The innovations could include technology to help patients manage a condition at home instead of a hospital, or the development of new medicine.

The announcement takes forward the recommendations from the Accelerated Access Review (AAR), which were published in October 2016. The independent review recommended the government should help speed up patient access to new technologies.

The Early Access to Medicines Scheme (EAMS) already exists in the UK to fast-track new drugs on the market, but drugs companies cannot charge for the use of their drugs under the scheme until they obtain a licence.

The government committed to look at ways of strengthening the EAMS when it announced the AAR. A subsequent review of EAMS, commissioned by the Office for Life Sciences, concluded that, over the longer term, the greatest opportunity for change lies within the last stage of the EAMS: patient access in the NHS.

Building on existing early access opportunities, including the EAMS, £6 million of the £86million is to be allocated over the next 3 years to help SMEs with innovative medicines and devices get the evidence they need by testing in the real world.

Life sciences expert Helen Cline of Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-Law.com, said the new funding announcement was critical to the creation of an environment in which innovation can flourish in the NHS.  

“Collecting real world evidence to understand and demonstrate the value of medical technologies using new digital tools and a more transparent reporting of outcomes will all help to inform reimbursement and adoption decisions, ” Cline said.

“This package will assist SMEs to test medical innovations in the real world. It will sit alongside the NHS test bed programme which is supporting real world testing of ‘combinatorial innovation’” Cline said.

However, Cline said making the most of the funding would still be a challenge for SMEs.

“Smaller organisations face significant challenges in accessing and utilising health data generated in the real world," Cline said. "Not least, exploiting the value will require, integrated data systems, data analytical skills and the setting up of appropriate data governance structures.”

The remaining funding is split into three further packages. A total of £39m will go to the Academic Health Science Networks, enabling them to assess the benefits of new technologies and support NHS uptake of those that deliver real benefits to patients according to the local need. A further £35m is earmarked as a digital health technology catalyst for innovators, and will match-fund the development of digital technologies for use by patients and the NHS.

The final £6m will be invested in a pathway transformation fund to help NHS organisations integrate new technologies into everyday practices. 

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