Transitioning Academic Research into Industry

14th August, 2019

By Dr Chloe Moss, Analyst, Health Enterprise East

Originally published by Med-Tech Innovation News

Back to School

The NHS is crying out for innovation: Matt Hancock has rarely missed an opportunity to highlight the ever-growing demand for advances in medical technology, and this need for innovation in healthcare is also referenced in the NHS Long-Term Plan. Thankfully, in the UK we have world-class researchers working on some of the latest technology innovations to help improve and transform the NHS. Unfortunately, too many of these potentially transformative ideas wither on the vine, as innovators fall at one of the many hurdles in translating a medtech solution from bench to bedside.

Think like a business, not an academic

Adopting a business mindset that hones in on the true value a new product is critical to large-scale adoption. This means innovators going beyond simply highlighting the technical advances offered by their new product, and instead providing data on the wider commercial value of that technology, such as the size of the market, the cost-benefit of the solution as well as any hidden costs (e.g. will staff need to be re-trained before using a new medtech device? Are there storage and maintenance considerations?). This approach will ensure academics are well-placed to make a commercial case for adoption to NHS procurement teams.

Moreover, healthcare systems increasingly insist on health economics data to evidence an innovation’s clinical effectiveness and associated cost-savings. Undertaking a careful assessment of economic factors during early-stage development, will help inform both innovators and future customers what the potential impact of the product is, based on empirical data and statistics.

Tapping into industry expertise

Academics can be reluctant to engage with industry about their innovations, with many concerned that they could lose control over their projects. This is a common misconception. The reality is that early engagement with ‘industry’ – which includes a wide range of private companies as well as the technology transfer organisations and other not-for-profit agencies, specifically designed to support innovators – can be extremely helpful not only when developing a clear commercial strategy and business plan, but also when seeking new funding channels. Dialogue with industry could also help secure early buy-in from industry champions and provide insights from experts on navigating regulatory requirements.

Securing funding

‘Going it alone’, when it comes to funding, can be tricky. There are a wide range of publicly funded grants available, but it can be difficult to work out which funding source is most appropriate. Many funding schemes, such as those offered by the Medical Research Council (MRC), are increasingly placing emphasis on translational research, including funding streams which fund drug discovery clinical trials.

Government-funded initiatives are also accelerating innovation by funding and facilitating cross-disciplinary development. The National Institute for Health Research (NIHR), for example, has substantial funding from the government’s Department of Health and Social Care, and alongside the Academic Health Science Network (AHSN), has access to funds to help innovators develop technologies to improve NHS services outside of the traditional hospital environment.

How to find the perfect partner

If you are working in a university, an excellent first port of call is the University Technology Transfer Office (TTO). TTOs are designed to facilitate scientific translation and advise on intellectual property and spin-out options. If you are a clinician then there are R&D offices and commercial units within most hospital trusts. Similarly, innovation hubs such as Health Enterprise East work alongside clinicians and their academic partners to develop their innovations into tangible medtech solutions.

Another useful route is via the Academic Health Science Networks (AHSNs), which specialise in bridging the gap between academics, clinicians and industry for market-ready innovations. AHSNs can help signpost innovators towards the most appropriate industry leads for the project and offer guidance on funding sources.

From academia to innovation

Academic research lies at the forefront of delivering innovation, but without an understanding of the innovation pathway and of the wider resources available, turning medtech ideas into practical solutions can be challenging. The key here is to collaborate with the industry, and to start those discussions as early as possible during product development to ensure you can navigate the path to success.

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