In conversation: MedCity and The PSC on the new MedCity Diagnostics Growth Hub
The PSC is a team of consultants who work exclusively in public services, and partner with teams across healthcare, central government, education and beyond. They were involved in helping us design our new MedCity Diagnostics Growth Hub – a powerful new consortium that aims to help companies who are developing healthcare diagnostics. Through the Hub we’re providing a ‘one stop shop’ to accelerate companies’ route to commercialisation and enable delivery of innovative solutions into the NHS and wider healthcare system.
(Look out for a feature in our September newsletter on how one company cemented a collaboration through the Hub).
We invited Jonathan Chappell – a partner at the PSC – to join our CEO Neelam Patel, for a conversation about the development of the Growth Hub, London’s position as a hotbed for innovation, and the key to advances in data and AI for healthcare.
Q. The PSC have been involved in workshops and working with MedCity to help inform our new Diagnostics Growth Hub – can you tell us a bit about that?
Given the sort of work we do at the PSC, we’ve been at the intersection between different parts of the system in London for a while now. We’ve been admiring what MedCity do from afar, but when we had an opportunity to find out what MedCity were planning with the Diagnostics Growth Hub, we were really excited to work together more closely.
A lot of the work we’re focused on is partnership working – helping the NHS, academia and industry come together and do things differently. The Diagnostics Growth Hub is a different model that encourages just that – it’s a new approach to partnership and innovation, which is exactly what we need.
What we felt we needed with the Diagnostics Growth Hub was a demand-led initiative, with sustainability at its heart, so we wanted to tackle this in a different way. We were keen to have some consultancy brains involved, that bring an understanding of the complexity of the organisations and the relationships at play. That capability from the PSC was really important to forming the bedrock of the business model and translate the demand to a quality service.
Q. What were some of your impressions of the workshops that informed the design of the Hub?
Quite often when an initiative like this is being born, someone either has a good idea (but no real coalition behind it), or they have a coalition formed (but don’t really have a clear idea of what they want to achieve). One of the things that struck me during the early discussions on the Hub, was that both had been curated together. A diverse group of partners had been convened, and there was a real synergy with what the different stakeholders wanted to achieve. There was no ‘forming and norming’ of the group – they were already very well aligned.
Yes, one of the reasons we were able to accelerate this was the work we did on forming the Testing Alliance in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. That work led us to understand that there is a need for a service offering to tackle demand in diagnostic development, and meant that we had already formed a broad coalition with that aim at its heart. With both the Testing Alliance and Diagnostics Growth Hub it’s been clear that, as a cluster organisation, we’re in a good position to tackle these issues. We already have autonomy to convene on neutral ground, and we’re able to act in a nimble and non-bureaucratic way for the benefit of the ecosystem.
Q. How does this fit into the gaps and barriers you see in the ecosystem more broadly?
If you look at the barriers and challenges to innovation in diagnostics – but also lots of other areas – the size and complexity of the system is a big issue. If an innovator has a good idea, we need to be able to foster and nurture them, and help them to start to test the idea.
Particularly in London, there are such a range of highly capable organisations and institutions. Bringing them together in a way that allows them to have a different sort of conversation about their role as enablers of innovation is really powerful.
Q. You touched on London’s makeup – how important is the richness of institutions in London to the ecosystem, and to the Diagnostics Growth Hub in particular?
London has such a unique combination of factors that play into the ecosystem. The strength and calibre of research institutions, with breadth and depth across all areas of health and life sciences. The strong – and growing – industry and startup presence. And the scale and diversity of health services and patient population. For the Growth Hub, being able to bring that world-class expertise together in a way that isn’t top-down, but takes into account their individual strengths is crucial.
The strength of our institutions in London is certainly something that is a powerful success factor. Each member of the Hub’s consortium has individual expertise and is a centre of excellence in its own right.
For example, the NIHR London In Vitro Diagnostics Co-operative is a world leader in methodologies for assessing and developing safe, effective healthcare products. Imperial College is home to the Brain and Behaviour Lab, which combines machine learning approaches with neuroscience to develop novel AI enabled technology; while Health Services Laboratories, an NHS/private sector joint venture, has clinical laboratory expertise from a UK and global perspective. These are just a handful of examples of our partner capabilities, and that individual excellence is really amplified when we bring all of the partners together through the Hub.
One thing I remember Professor Hanna (the Clinical Lead for the Hub) saying, when we spoke about our plans for the Hub in the early stages, is that collaboration increases capacity and capability. I think this is absolutely right. We’re seeing universities that are already world-leading, being able to share learning and access different opportunities, which only increases capability across the whole region.
It’s also worth saying that we don’t have to be London-centric at all, and we’d really like to engage more broadly in this endeavour. As we scale the Hub up, we will be reaching out more broadly nationally and internationally.
Q. The PSC has been working on a number of data and artificial intelligence (AI) projects recently. How well do these conversations about the Hub reflect the needs of innovators in this area in particular?
One of the major challenges to innovation in AI is that, increasingly, the innovations requires both broad, deep data sets and strong skills in a range of areas. The challenge here is as much about bringing disciplines and data together as it is about sourcing individuals with those distinct skills. Then, with AI in particular, there’s a requirement to keep that data as live as possible, and to keep checking and evaluating to make sure that biases don’t creep in. And another is that sometimes things work in the lab in theory, but don’t necessarily play out in the same way in the real world.
The scale and breadth of expertise that something like the Diagnostics Growth Hub is able to bring certainly helps to meet these particular challenges.
Yes, and as it happens the Diagnostics Growth Hub has just been chosen to be an expert evaluator for the NHSX AI in Health and Care Award. We, as a consortium, will be one of a panel of expert evaluators, which will then enable us to work with some of the AI award recipients that come through the program to help accelerate their development and national adoption into the NHS.
Q. What potential is there for the Diagnostics Growth Hub to be used as a model for national adoption?
London is by no means the only part of the country that could benefit from this approach, and there is a clear need, as we’ve spoken about. I think there is certainly potential for the model to scale nationally in a way that formalises some areas and deliberately leaves other areas more fluid, to allow for the more organic aspects.
It’s certainly something that we see happening. Our role, as a cluster organisation, is to provide the ‘skin’ on a seamless service offer and the ‘glue’ for all the partners to work together in a way that still allows for them to retain their autonomy. There are other cluster organisations, for example the Northern Health Science Alliance, who we work with regularly, that fulfil a similar role. My view is that the premise of retaining autonomy for partners, while providing a glue that keeps everyone aligned with the philosophy of collaboration, is key, and something that can be replicated anywhere.
Q. Can you both leave us with your vision for the future of diagnostics, and how the Diagnostics Growth Hub plays its part?
Fundamentally diagnostics is such an important segment of life sciences, and early diagnosis is pivotal to patients’ treatment. Any time we see an opportunity to provide a vehicle for faster innovation and diagnostic development – through good evaluation by credible organisations – that is what we should be doing. I liken it to some retail models of working like Amazon or Shopify – this is a service offering that is so clearly needed by innovators, so why wouldn’t we offer it?
When I talk to clinical colleagues about the revolutions that we’re on the cusp of – for example, in personalised and precision medicine – it’s clear that diagnostics is a critical component. It’s easy to underestimate sometimes the size of the impact that innovation in diagnostics can have on care for patients more broadly, because the more accurately and quickly you can get to a good diagnostic picture the more you can target treatments and the better your research can be. So, as Neelam says, facilitating innovation in this area is crucial, and the potential impact the Hub can have is very exciting.
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