Some of the world’s best ideas come from partnerships – real innovation rarely emerges from one person or entity and this principal is certainly no different when it comes to drug discovery and patient care.

There’s no denying that technological innovation has a pivotal role to play if our healthcare systems are to continue improving outcomes for patients with better clinical care and treatments. However, with the current level of limited resources, the NHS cannot achieve this alone and without real data from patients to work with, neither can the life science industry. Part of the solution is perhaps more industry collaboration.

Collective thinking, collective approach

Despite the common goal to provide optimised healthcare and catalyse drug discovery, the NHS and life science industry face very different challenges, whether that’s cultural differences, conflicting priorities, adoption of new innovations at scale and pace, lack of financial resources or legacy systems. This is why system-wide technological innovation and collaboration is crucial to make use of each parties’ expertise. It will help to better understand and define the needs of patients, transform current operating and business models within our healthcare system, overcome challenges and develop breakthroughs in drug discovery and disease prevention.

The life sciences industry and NHS need to work more collaboratively to pair their strengths to deliver better patient outcomes. For example, drawing on the expertise from pharmaceuticals and health-techs in clinical artificial intelligence technology (Clinical AI) and using their extensive market knowledge, with ethically-sourced, anonymised patient data from the NHS, can rapidly help with improving patient care. With clinical AI and machine learning capabilities, pharmaceutical companies can analyse these rich datasets at a far quicker rate than by manual processes and identify patterns within certain populations and genotypes. This enables research based on information about genetic variation from a huge wealth of patients, and the development of targeted therapies for the NHS, faster than ever before.

Mutual benefits in patient data

One area where collaboration with the NHS can see huge benefits is accessing patient data. This ‘real world data’, when applied in collaboration with pharmaceutical research, can contribute towards a better understanding of the mechanism of disease,  improve efficacy knowledge for current therapies to assess how patients are responding to certain treatments and what can be done to improve pathways of care. This understanding is important to accelerate the discovery and development of new medicines, treatments and improve our current understanding and identification of disease but also drive cost savings and operational efficiencies.

Anonymous patient data is particularly invaluable given the NHS’s coverage of the UK. Gaining access to these rich data sources including information on prescriptions, diagnoses, pathology and outcomes, combined with the technology innovations of industry partners, such as AI, can help rapidly uncover patterns and a hidden collective context in the data and provide actionable research insights.

Collaborating with NHS Trusts in this way under strategic research agreements (SRAs) or commercial frameworks has multiple benefits. Under these agreements, pharmaceuticals and health-tech industries are empowered to operate collaboratively whilst complying to industry regulations and information security protocols to maintain patient anonymity. This way, all processes involved are actioned in a controlled and compliant way that ultimately benefits patients and clinicians.

Driving cultural change in the NHS

Whilst it’s clear that anonymous patient data provided by the NHS can radically change the way health systems provide care and the life sciences industry carry out drug research, it’s important to remember the relationship is not purely transactional and data-driven. The life sciences industry has huge potential to bring to the NHS, the cutting edge of innovation and clinical care.

Industry has a role to play in educating and providing high quality information around speciality and more complex medicines to the NHS, from their research. Keeping healthcare staff updated with the latest innovations and working together to trial new ways of providing care, such as remote patient monitoring, can be invaluable for the NHS in improving outcomes in key care pathways. By collaborating with the NHS to trial new technologies and medicines, the NHS can work with the pharma industry as trusted partners and embrace digital health solutions more confidently.

It’s time to see more collaboration in developing optimal services to help fight disease, manage symptoms and help patients normalise their lives. By establishing partnerships that work towards a common goal, the NHS and life science industry can build better relationships and shift current and often inaccurate mutual perceptions each industry has of each other. More importantly, only by combining the best of both the NHS and the leading capabilities of the life science industry can we truly begin to overcome the exponentially rising healthcare challenges society is facing.

Nick Scott-Ram is chief of Strategic Development at Sensyne Health