Dr Arash Tahbaz says partnerships across industry, charities, academia and the NHS will be the driving force of the next wave of health innovation

At Lilly, we believe this is one of the most important moments in the history of life sciences in the UK. It is certainly one of the most important moments in our 85 years operating here. So what exactly is so significant about this moment? The country is witnessing two simultaneous and extraordinary changes.

First, we are living in a time of unprecedented scientific discovery. We are finding answers to medical problems that we did not think were possible just a few decades ago. Importantly, the UK is leading this golden age of development, from personalised medicines to digital health.

Conversely, Brexit presents us with a different kind of change, one commonly associated with uncertainty and volatility. Occurring at a time in which the UK leads the world in life sciences, our position in that world is about to change dramatically. The UK cannot assume that it will maintain its position as a global leader in life sciences when it leaves the European Union – we have to act to maintain this and we have to act now.

Partnerships as a solution

If we are to continue to be one of the most exciting places in the world to develop healthcare innovations, we need to improve the way core elements of healthcare work together. It will be imperative that the industry, academia, patient groups and the NHS join forces in a way that has not been seen before.

Last September, at NHS Expo, we launched a report on partnership working, The Next Wave of Health Innovation: Powered by Partnerships. This report spells out a number of tangible, pragmatic and deliverable recommendations for how we can improve cross-sector collaboration and, ultimately, ensure UK patients continue to benefit from pioneering innovation in the life sciences.

Partnerships in discovery

Partnerships underpin success throughout the discovery process, and with Brexit on the horizon we need to make collaboration more of a priority than ever before.

The Brexit situation also presents a number of unknowns that the life sciences sector needs to be prepared for. We need to maintain the attractiveness of the UK as a place to harness clinical science progression. Although we are leaving the EU, the UK must align itself with the EU clinical trial regulations and continue to access EU clinical research programmes to ensure we can collaborate across the EU to reach new medical milestones. It goes without saying that we can achieve so much more when we pool our expertise, resources and talent. It is vital that medicines can continue to be brought to patients as rapidly as possible through a streamlined and efficient regulation process.

Building on the Local Health and Care Record Exemplars (LHCREs) and Digital Innovation Hubs (DIHs), the government should look to ensure that data is collected consistently, and joined up at a local level. This will improve the quality and accessibility of anonymised NHS data, and support the system in the delivery of integrated care.

The way that data is collected should be standardised. The OMOP model, a common data model enabling the comparison of data collected in different formats, should be promoted across the NHS to ensure alignment with the standard data model being rolled out across Europe by the IMI. This will enhance the ability to compare clinical outcomes across multi-country cohorts, supporting the UK’s ability to participate in global research collaborations.

Partnerships in knowledge

A major issue was highlighted in a 2015 survey of 2,000 consultants by the Royal College of Physicians, which revealed most physicians feel that they do not have the time to participate in research projects, despite many expressing the desire to do so. It is vital that we continue to attract, retain and develop one of the best clinical science workforces in the world. In order to achieve this, we need to give NHS clinicians the chance to get more involved in research. NHS clinicians should be empowered to bring their insights and real-world experience from the ward. To enable this to happen, we need to protect the time of clinicians who want to contribute to research activities, and we need to do it today. NHS Trusts should ensure that all available funding is pursued to support these clinicians to participate in research projects.

Partnership and patients

Patients are at the core of everything we all do. Innovation is not just relevant to how a medicine or a technology is developed, it is about the entire patient journey. Those of us who invent medicines need to work even more closely with those who prescribe them and patient groups. As an industry we have a role to play in ensuring the bright ideas of the laboratory work just as well in the real world. This means that we need to work together to ensure the patient pathway is the best it can be. If we get it right, we can improve patient care, save more NHS money, and increase uptake of innovation across the health service.

At Lilly, we are working closely with Cambridge University Foundation Trust to improve the way it identifies patients with psoriatic arthritis. By working together to improve referrals between dermatology and rheumatology departments, we are helping to support better identification of patients with psoriatic arthritis, with the aim of enhancing patient care, improving outcomes, and reducing hospital spend through earlier intervention.

We have also worked with the NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde Health Board to reduce the risk of future hypoglycaemic episodes in patients with diabetes. We achieved this by improving planning for the patient’s discharge and funding a specialist nurse to work with patients back in the community. This has reduced the length of hospital stays in the region, which is a great result for patients and for the NHS and a testament to what effective joint working can do.

At the heart of improving patient care is ensuring the best medicines are accessible to all patients. Initiatives such as the Accelerated Access Collaborative (AAC) are paramount to overcoming hurdles to uptake of new therapies. However, we now need further cross-sector collaborative initiatives and agreements within the UK access environment, to effectively serve patients and ensure they benefit fully from the nation’s investment and commitment to innovation. The ambitions of the Life Sciences Industrial Strategy and initiatives such as the Voluntary Scheme for Branded Medicines Pricing and Access (VPAS), are shared by all. Delivery is now key. A collaborative NHS-Industry Council could be the answer.


Lilly strongly believes that by developing partnerships across industry, charities, academia and the NHS we can maintain and build the UK’s leadership position in life sciences, whilst making a tangible difference to the lives of patients across the country by not only driving innovation, but by implementing it. The UK is one of the most exciting places in the world to deliver new medicines. The challenge for all of us is to keep it this way.

Dr Arash Tahbaz is Senior Medical Director, UK, Ireland and the Nordics at Lilly. The Next Wave of Health Innovation: Powered by Partnerships report is available at (https://accountablecarejournal.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/09/H_Lilly_PPP_Report_ONLINE.pdf)