21 Jul 2021

With the publication of a new Life Sciences Vision (LSV), the first major piece of health legislation in nine years and a new Health Secretary and NHS England Chief Executive, there are many fresh additions to the blur of change in the NHS. But what do they mean for medicines and industry’s value story?

The launch of a new life sciences strategy is an important and positive step for industry. It sets out a cross-government approach to achieving the ambition of making the UK a life sciences superpower. In contrast to the 2017 Life Sciences Industrial Strategy, the LSV is a Government publication endorsed by the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) and NHS England – the LSIS was a series of industry recommendations to the Government. The LSV also clearly states the ambition to “make the NHS the country’s most powerful driver of innovation – through the development, testing and adoption of new technologies at a population scale.”

The LSV does not sit in isolation, it is a key part of the Government’s economic recovery strategy and is closely tied to the Plan for Growth and forthcoming Innovation Strategy. It also rightly supports the Government’s ambitions in health by identifying the role of life sciences in addressing seven ‘great health challenges’ for the UK population.

These seven challenges (or ‘’silent pandemics” as the LSV calls them) are neurodegeneration; early diagnosis and treatment in cancer, including immune therapies; vaccine development and manufacturing; cardiovascular disease and obesity; respiratory disease; the underlying biology of ageing; and mental health. Also threaded through the strategy is the drive to increase research in the NHS and the harnessing of genomic and health data for this purpose.

All this is very positive. But there is always a question when reviewing new strategies – how much of it will be implemented?

Previous strategies show that whilst the Government has been able to make changes to the research and skills environment, progress on the adoption of medicines in the NHS has been slower. A government review in 2005 noted the low and slow use of medicines in the NHS, and half a dozen life science strategies later, the problem is still to be fixed.

The NHS rightly focused on pandemic recovery and record waiting lists. Companies need to clearly articulate how therapies relieve the burden on the NHS, particularly hospital-based care. 

An NHS rightly focused on pandemic recovery, record waiting lists and implementing new structural changes will need strong incentives and direction from DHSC if the NHS elements of LSV are to be achieved. Ahead of the next election, DHSC Ministers will share the NHS’s focus if the Government is to avoid the potential political backlash from up to 1 in 4 adults in England waiting for NHS treatment.

Ministers will need to set clear goals for the NHS’s implementation of the LSV. And a cross Government effort to retain the connected health and economic benefits of the LSV will be needed to ensure DHSC and NHS accountability.

For industry, there is also a role to play, and companies should consider how their value story may need to evolve.

The LSV restates the NHS Long Term Plan’s narrative of the need for prevention, population health and better management of chronic conditions, for the benefit of patients but also the sustainability of the NHS. Companies have a major role to play in this need to clearly articulate their role.

Rare disease, advanced and specialist therapies have sometimes been seen as a burden for payers focused on other bigger priorities for larger patient populations. Meanwhile, the value story from industry has often led with the patient benefit addressing unmet need. Patient benefit is of course crucial, but therapies need to more clearly and prominently explain how they relieve the patient burden on the NHS, particularly on hospital-based care. Now is the time to show how these innovations can free up vital space in acute care by preventing or reducing the number of planned or unplanned patient visits to hospital and demands on staff time.

During the pandemic we saw how local NHS clinicians were quick to adopt and switch to treatments that reduced pressure on the NHS, reworking formularies and choosing newer and sometimes more expensive treatment (even going outside of NICE guidance) because of this prioritised aspect of product value. One senior NHS hospital manager told me recently, “if a treatment can help with recovery of elective care, then you have my attention.”

Industry must maintain its advocacy with the new leaders at the top of the NHS and Government to ensure clear incentives are in place to drive the LSV. But it is also up to every company and every brand to communicate their value story more clearly to a health service under incredible pressure. To be successful in this new world, industry must be the partner of choice it always aspires to be.