No matter how healthcare evolves through new technology, treatment and ideas, the patient remains the constant – the drive behind the efforts of the millions involved in the sector. Everyone, whether they are clinicians, researchers or technicians in a lab, know they cannot succeed without always thinking about what will benefit the patient.

Life sciences businesses and their healthcare partners are exploring how patient needs can be put more firmly at the centre of drug development. There’s no silver bullet solution but it’s clear that the patient voice needs to be considered throughout the research and clinical trialling process.

Direct engagement with patients is one option, but we believe that encouraging greater and more active collaboration between the academics, businesses and clinicians – the ‘ABCs’ – involved in drug development is key to meeting the government’s aim of improving patient outcomes.

There needs to be regular and consistent dialogue through the development lifecycle, from the academic spearheading research to those leading clinical trials to the doctor directly treating the patient and back. In Cambridge, this collaborative approach was at the heart of our masterplanning for the new hospitals and research facilities at the Cambridge Biomedical Campus (CBC) and we are now beginning to see the benefits. Other healthcare centres across the country should take note and use this as a blueprint for success.

Easy as ABC

The power of good design to support patient comfort and recovery is well acknowledged. Already, hospitals and healthcare facilities are being built with patient needs in mind, whether through letting in greater daylight or improved soundproofing. The new Royal Papworth Hospital, opening at CBC in autumn 2018, is a case in point where all patient bedrooms will offer outside views. It will also be one of the first UK hospitals to have a tunnel connecting it to another medical facility, Addenbrooke’s Hospital, to improve patients’ experience of medical transfers and aid infection control.

We need to take this approach a step further. Beyond individual buildings, major medical hubs must be planned and designed with the patient front and centre of the decision-making process. We believe this means creating spaces where collaboration between academics, businesses and clinicians is at the fore. It’s about making sure that qualitative and quantitative data about drug trialling can be shared as easily and as quickly as possible and acted upon.

At CBC, the co-location of clinicians, businesses and academics means conversations can happen face-to-face, capturing those nuanced insights that might otherwise be missed. The campus is already home to 17,250 healthcare professionals and researchers drawn from the NHS, University of Cambridge and major pharmaceutical companies like AstraZeneca and GlaxoSmithKline. By 2021, this number will reach 21,000. GlaxoSmithKline’s trials unit and Addenbrooke’s Hospital already work together on carefully controlled early clinical trials (‘proof of concept studies’) to evaluate potential new medicines. The value of this personal interaction cannot be underestimated. Greater collaboration and dialogue is an aspiration for many, but busy diaries and lengthy train journeys can too often get in the way.

At a time when data from Deloitte shows that the average cost of bringing a new drug to market is £1.2 billion, with an average failure rate of up to 90 percent, it is important to remember that sometimes improving patient outcomes simply means making sure the development process is viable and able to deliver its full potential.

Alongside the personal insights that the ABC approach helps to capture, more and earlier conversations between the clinicians dealing with the complex biology of human disease day-to-day, and companies with the capabilities needed to apply this knowledge to drug development, is vital to advancing research. These partnerships will make development better, faster and cheaper, giving patients access to more and improved treatments.

Build it and they will come?

Creating spaces where pharmaceutical and biomedical businesses, researchers and clinicians can co-locate on one site is only one half of the puzzle. Across the country there are too many hubs and science parks where interaction between partners is an ambition, but not a reality. So, how do you encourage conversations that can ultimately lead to better patient outcomes?

At CBC, the focus is on the spaces between the institutions on site to draw people out and get them talking. More than £1.5 million is being invested in public art on the campus as part of a ‘landscape-first’ approach to development, including work by internationally-renowned concept artist Ryan Gander. Housed within new green spaces and gardens threaded throughout the campus, his artwork will create inviting places where people from different disciplines and different institutions can meet and share ideas – discussing how patients felt about a recent trial or perhaps a new idea that could lead to the next breakthrough in oncology, benefiting thousands of people around the world. Of course, introducing a calm space at the heart of the campus in itself promotes patient wellbeing, as well as providing a relaxing space for their families, nurses and doctors.

Even if the spaces are there, you also need the right culture to support dialogue and partnership. Organisations on site are promoting agile and responsive working and cross-sector interactions. The new Royal Papworth Hospital will embrace hotdesking to break down barriers between teams and, by extension, encourage them to adopt the same approach with external partners. The hospital’s tunnel to Addenbrooke’s will benefit patients, doctors and nurses moving between the two, but it also represents the hospital’s connectivity with the other institutions, academic research units and businesses on site – those with whom it shares a common goal: better patient outcomes.

More broadly, the campus is working to create a united identity on site, whether through joint community events and initiatives or simply regular meetings of the various teams responsible for keeping the place running.

Benefits – for patients and industry

Investing in healthcare hubs that bring patients, doctors, pharmaceutical and biomedical development teams and early-stage researchers together will encourage the dialogue needed to deliver faster and better outcomes for patients. This interaction will benefit not only patients but businesses too, improving the viability of the drug development process and public engagement with the industry.

Enabling collaboration between the ABCs responsible for healthcare research and delivery will not solve global healthcare challenges overnight, but it is an important step forward to ensuring that the patient voice is heard and respected across the development lifecycle. At the Cambridge Biomedical Campus, this principle is already paying dividends and our partners can only see further opportunities to work together to bring greater benefits to the patient. Patient centricity needs to be built into the very foundations of our work, buildings and environment too.

By Andrew Blevins and Andrew Carrington of Liberty Property Trust and Countryside Properties, joint developers of Cambridge Biomedical Campus