UK, Nation of Inventions Exploited by Others

Patent Burglary

My main concern as an Innovation Professional in the MedTech sector in the UK goes beyond the priority areas in the Life Sciences Industry Strategy papers of the moment. It is that:

  • UK is historically not good at getting new Life Sciences technologies to patients

This is illustrated in various ways, for instance the clear evidence in the Universities world rankings:

  • Academically UK has three Universities in the Top Ten [Times Higher Education]
  • For innovation, which measures what technologies get to market amongst other measures, UK has no Universities in the Top Ten and only FIVE in the Top 100 [Reuters]

As a leader of innovation in an SME (JRI Orthopaedics and Ortheia) I do have other lesser concerns about: Grant funding (we have had £12M worth of grants in the last 3 years from UK and EU) – I believe that this will be continued to be supported in some form; Trade – I believe that there are benefits to both UK and Europe to maintain free trade (or near to it) in the high-value MedTech sector; Regulatory – I believe UK has pulled more than its own weight in Europe and, with the drive to global harmonisation, that we will have a common regulatory framework (or near to it); Access to best talent – I believe it is in everyone’s interest to allow experienced, talented professionals to move freely.

What to do: we need to raise our game in Innovation from where we have been over the past few decades. In the Life Sciences Sector, I see the main ways of addressing this is as:

  1. Recognising that SMEs do more innovation (i.e. actually getting more new treatments to patients than Universities and the Multi-nationals as measured by patents granted). Universities have no innate access to market and Multi-nationals prefer the less riskier route of acquiring innovation than developing it themselves
  2. While the NHS is in an unprecedented global position to act as an early adopter of new treatments, in practice this proves to be difficult – especially for SMEs. This needs to improve.
  3. There is a culture in the UK of funding University-based research believing that this will lead to new treatments with little extra effort – I have been told “don’t worry about getting investment funding after grants, if it is good they will queue up to take it on.” Clearly this is not the case. We need a model more like those used in the USA
  4. Investment in MedTech, while JRI has built a strong network of investors for own on new MedTech, we are still dependent on the investment environment in the UK being favourable – we need to continue with schemes likes EIS and SEIS as well as finding ways of making long-term (so called ‘patient’) investment attractive – essential in a sector with long regulatory lead times
  5. Role of Charities and Patients – one of the many lessons from the USA is the power of pressure groups with direct interests in new treatments for specific diseases and conditions. They do have the benefit of scale in the USA, but it is not uncommon there for Medical Charities and the patients they represent to invest directly in companies developing the treatments they desire

Prof Edward Draper