In conversation: Prof George Hanna and Neelam Patel on our new Diagnostics Growth Hub
MedCity is working with a range of partners to launch a new Diagnostics Growth Hub, a one stop shop for diagnostics companies to be able to access all the support they need to flourish.
Neelam Patel (CEO of MedCity) and Professor George Hanna (Clinical Lead at the NIHR London In Vitro Diagnostics Co-operative, and Head of the Department of Surgery and Cancer at Imperial College London) are key collaborators helping to develop the scheme. They spoke about their hopes for the Hub and how it could hold the key to speeding up innovation in diagnostics across the region.
Why is MedCity creating the Diagnostics Growth Hub and who else is involved?
Neelam: Innovation is often the product of collaboration between multiple players – industry, academia, NHS clinicians, the healthcare system, investors, and many others. It can be quite challenging for businesses to navigate that complicated landscape. That slows innovation down – which ultimately impacts patients and costs companies money.
At MedCity we try to simplify the landscape as much as we can, and we’re in a unique position to be able to convene and connect these complicated routes.
The Diagnostics Growth Hub is a great example of that. We’ve brought together a range of world-leading organisations with excellence in academic and clinical research and evaluation, as well as commercial experience. We also have representation from patients and the public via a health charity. The NIHR London In Vitro Diagnostics Co-operative is also an important partner and where Professor Hanna, our clinical lead comes in…
Professor Hanna: The London IVD Co-operative aims to align capabilities and generate evidence in in-vitro diagnostics across London. As a partner in the Hub, we are interested in exploring the best ways to position technologies in the diagnostic pathway, and ensuring that the patient is at the heart of what we do.
How will the Growth Hub work in practice?
Neelam: There are already organisations in place to help support companies developing diagnostics solutions, but what the Hub will do is bring these together and offer a bespoke package of support to any diagnostics company nationally and internationally in a coordinated way.
When a company approaches the Hub, they can expect to know very quickly whether partners in the Hub have the capacity and capability to collaborate with them to advance their innovation development. This can reduce the time the company may take in finding the right research partner and ensures that the right collaboration can be formed to yield positive outcomes.
Sometimes companies fail because they don’t have the right funding at the right time. MedCity can offer that additional support in terms of access to angel or venture capital investment, and then, as they grow, help provide other levels of support, for instance in infrastructure development.
Professor Hanna: SMEs are probably most in need of this kind of approach, although in reality, any diagnostics company will benefit from their product being looked at in this much detail. And the earlier the engagement, the more likely there is scope for change, influencing commercialisation of a technology that the company might not have even thought of, for example deploying their technology in a different clinical domain or leveraging on existing platforms and capabilities. Whatever the size of the company, they will benefit from being given advice on areas where their solution might be better utilised. And, of course, this will also mean better outcomes for patients and for the healthcare systems.
Neelam: At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, a lot of effort was put into diagnostics, in particular PCR (polymerase chain reaction) testing. We set up the London Testing Alliance and found that by bringing together London’s academic institutions, along with the private laboratories that served hospitals, we were able to create capacity for over 20,000 PCR tests per day.
Individually, each institution wouldn’t have been able to meet the demand, but forming the Testing Alliance meant that, collectively, we were able to create the London Lighthouse Lab that could do it.
The project brought together huge capability and expertise, and formed a unit that operationalised a massive task in a really effective way. We felt that this spirit of collaboration and capability should be ‘business as usual’ in how our ecosystem should operate. We are trying to harness what we’ve built already with the Testing Alliance, to take it a step further and meet the demand from industry and the needs of the healthcare system.
Professor Hanna: The COVID-19 pandemic provided real evidence of how important diagnostics is, and how, really, we could have been in a better position to deal with the pandemic. As a clinician, I often see wonderful technologies that are not being utilised properly, or at other times, gaps with no technologies to fill.
The need for diagnostics around infection prevention and control has been highlighted because we’re in a national emergency, but it’s actually even more of an issue in areas like cancer, where late diagnoses is the main reason for poor outcomes. In oesophageal cancer, for example, sadly around 70% of patients we see are diagnosed too late. For these patients, the only care we can offer is palliative.
What do you hope the Diagnostics Growth Hub can achieve?
Professor Hanna: London is renowned for its collection of world-class universities, clinical and research facilities, and as a hub for talented entrepreneurs to congregate. There is huge potential to bring expertise and talents together to work in a more streamlined way. Companies currently go to multiple different places for advice and data on clinical aspects, health, economics, human factors, laboratory validation… With the Hub, we can provide a ‘one stop shop’, with all the expertise in one place, and the opportunity to gain multi-dimensional evidence, in a shorter period of time, and in a very lean way. Building a strong evidence base behind a new product or technology is vital, and the Hub will really enable that, generating the data required to understand the value, limitations and the best location of a technology in patient care.
In the UK overall we have all the components to be truly world-leading in diagnostics. We have one solid organisational structure in the NHS, we have some of the best minds in academia and patient care. We just need these to be aligned and hopefully this initiative is one way to achieve this.
Neelam: Absolutely, and we also hope the Diagnostics Growth Hub will speed up how companies access that support and prevent the stopping and starting we often see in the development pathway. If companies can access a package of service and support in one place, then they will know sooner if there are issues with evaluation or adoption, or if they need to go down a different route.
What learning is being carried forward from the Testing Alliance?
Neelam: The key thing is that we are taking a very practical hands-on ‘working group’ approach. It’s not top-down decision-making and bureaucracy. The biggest thing we learned from the Testing Alliance is how much we can achieve through genuine organic collaboration.
Professor Hanna: I agree – and this is something we’ve learned through London IVD too – it’s so important if you want to work across boundaries and with multiple institutions. I hope that kind of success is something we can replicate again.
Stay tuned for more news on the Diagnostics Growth Hub. We are currently piloting the model and we will share more information on how to access this expertise when it is ready to scale up.
We are also currently developing our next Collaborate to Innovate programme, focusing on diagnostics. If you are an SME in this space, we would appreciate it if you could fill out this short survey. This will help us to design the programme to meet your needs.