The UK can be a centre for innovation but for this to materialise the industry must collaborate, pharma has been told.

The overriding theme at the recent ABPI conference was one of driving innovation and collaboration, both of which are viewed as critical components to the future success of the industry, the efficiency of the NHS, improving outcomes for patients and the economic growth of the UK.

Concerns about the UK as a future location for innovation have circulated for some time but according to the speakers at the conference the problem isn’t actually a lack of innovation.

“We have great creativity and I think we have lots and lots of examples of proof of concept but there is a gap between proof of concept and the tipping point of clinical mass to generate return on investment,” Mike Farrar, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, said, adding that the problem was “very poor co-ordination”. 

Indeed, the NHS is seen as a perfect place to do clinical trials and already there are almost 800 pharma trials in the system, Professor Martin Gibson, associate director for industry, National Institute for Health Research Comprehensive Clinical Research Network, said. Likewise, Professor Martin Gore, medical director at the Royal Marsden Hospital, believed the NHS should not be a barrier to innovation when it has such a strong science base and clinicians that want to do research. Meanwhile, Dr Allison Jeynes-Ellis, director of medical and innovation at the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry, said the UK had several unique selling points it should be using to push its innovation leadership status, such as the opportunities for generating real world data and the patent box and other tax initiatives.

However, there is the issue that the definition of innovation means different things to different stakeholders. And according to 81% of the audience, this variety of definitions will cause problems in the future.

Likewise, questions were raised about how the industry can afford innovation when it is an expensive and risky business. But Stephen Whitehead, chief executive of the ABPI, said the reality was “we can’t afford not to innovate… It’s expensive but it’s affordable because the alternatives are not”. Whitehead added that using innovation should be a “win, win, win” situation for the industry, NHS and patients – but that can only be achieved by working collaboratively.  

Collaboration and partnership working is becoming increasingly common and a number of examples were showcased at the conference, including the Medical Research Council/ABPI inflammatory/immunology initiative – which has 10 academic partners and four pharma companies involved – and the ESyDoc initiative, which is a chronic obstructive pulmonary disease collaboration. Meanwhile, Farrar said pharma needed to move away from pushing products into organisations that don’t necessarily need them and instead look at creating a pull environment, possibly co-ordinated by the NHS Confederation, where particular innovation and value would be married to the organisations that need it.

Simon Jose, president of the ABPI, concluded the conference saying innovation needed to be reviewed right across the value chain all the way from the bench to the patient. “There is a lot of energy and support for innovation but it has to make its way into the commercial environment and the NHS. If medicines are not adopted by the system then everything done before it is a complete waste of time – the NHS and the patients won’t see the benefits. And then that puts at risk the long term potential of finding and funding medicines for the unmet need of the future. We have a responsibility now to work with our customers and have an aligned agenda. If we can work together we can again make the UK a great place in the life sciences space.”