NHS England has given the green light for 15 Academic Health Science Networks (AHSNs)* to operate across country, in line with plans laid out in Sir David Nicholson's 2011 Innovation Health and Wealth (IHW) report.
The purpose of AHSNs is to provide a platform on which the National Health Service and academia can work together with industry to identify the most promising innovations and help them to quickly become established in practice.
According to IHW, AHSNs will present "a unique opportunity to align education, clinical research, informatics, innovation, training and education and healthcare delivery" with the goal of improving patient and population health outcomes "by translating research into practice and developing and implementing integrated health care systems".
ABPI chief executive Stephen Whitehead said he is "delighted" with the confirmation of the new AHSNs. "In the UK, patients still have to wait too long to access NICE recommended medicines on the NHS, but AHSNs will help speed this process up and help break down barriers to people getting innovative new treatments".
"For the first time we will have a systematic network whose sole objective is to get the best ideas and treatments spread across the NHS as quickly and widely as possible," he said, and stressed this is "good news for patients and will also create a fertile environment for scientists and life science companies to research and develop new life changing medicines".
Indeed, Nicholas Edwards, of Oxford AHSN, recently told the Guardian that there seems to be "a lot of enthusiasm" among the life science industry for AHSNs – "they are looking for a better understanding of NHS needs, partnerships to trial and refine commercial innovation and fair access to the NHS as purchasers" he said.
But Miles Ayling, director of innovation at NHS England, told the paper that the relationship between industry and AHSNs "must be built on trust not transaction. Their combined objective must be to accelerate uptake and use of new ideas where that delivers improved outcomes for patients and value for money."
NHS England has reportedly put up £70 million for the 15 Networks to share during their first year of operation, but eventually they should become self-sufficient, reports the Health Services Journal.
The AHSNs are licensed by NHS England in a process it says is designed to "ensure accountability for funding whilst maintaining the AHSNs with the freedom to establish as self-sustaining organisations".
*The 15 AHSN are: East Midlands; Eastern; Greater Manchester; North East and North Cumbria; North West Coast; Imperial College Health Partners; Oxford; South London; South West Peninsula; Kent, Surrey and Sussex; UCL Partners; Wessex; West Midlands; West of England; and Yorkshire and Humber.