UK heath technology sector set for rise in investors

London Tech Week conference hears how the UK's health tech and life science sectors could be on the brink of some serious investment

The UK ranks behind only the US and Germany when it comes to the number of life science projects utilising foreign direct investment. PA
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Britain's health technology and life sciences companies could be poised for an investment boost, a major tech conference in London has been told.

Michael White, a manager with the life science and healthcare section of HSBC Innovation Banking, said the UK “has so many of the fundamentals that the hotbed of innovation that is United States has”.

“It has world-class universities,” he told the London Tech Week conference.

“There’s also a very tight ecosystem of entrepreneurs here. It just needs that access to capital and I think that is so important.

“But I think the capital is coming.”

At least some of the money is already here. The UK ranks behind only the US and Germany when it comes to the number of life science projects utilising foreign direct investment, according to the London School of Economics.

While the capital is coming, the National Health Service is making efforts to become the best customer it can be for innovative health technology.

The NHS received £152.6 billion in funding last year and at least part of that goes towards health technologies and life science innovations.

“The opportunities to innovate within the NHS are huge. We are doing well, but we’ve got much further to go,” said Lily Tang, Director of Digital Investment Strategy at the NHS Transformation Directorate.

Ms Tang acknowledged that the NHS needed to do more to signal to entrepreneurs what needs fixing in its digital landscape – in other words, recognising where the demand is, so entrepreneurs can work on solutions – but also by making the commissioning process for those solutions a lot smoother.

“We are doing much more around demand signalling – really bring to light what the unmet needs are within the NHS and where investors can realise an opportunity to solve the right problems in the first place,” she said.

“We want to make it [the commissioning landscape] a lot more seamless and to do that we are going to clarify exactly how we can commission digital heath technologies within the NHS.

“We will streamline that process. And then support for implementation.”

Know your market

Nonetheless, foreign entrepreneurs coming into the UK's health tech space need to know the NHS processes, Sam Barrell, deputy chief executive at the Francis Crick Institute, told London Tech Week.

“You need to get to know the health and research landscape, both in the NHS, but also in the commercial division,” she said.

“You need to understand where the NHS commissioning is done – what is an integrated care system? What is an integrated care body? What’s the difference between NHS commissioning and local authority commissioning? What is Nice [the National Institute for Clinical Excellence]?”

Ms Barrell added that innovators thinking of approaching the NHS with a product, needed to bear in mind not just quality, but also the “economic proposition”.

“The money in the NHS is tight – you don’t want to add in an extra cost pressure to the care pathway.”

However, for the ambitious health technology entrepreneur or life science innovator wanting to sell their products and services in to the NHS, the good news is that there is an abundance of help.

“There’s lots of bodies out there to help you,” Ms Barrell said.

“There’s also lots of academic health science networks throughout the country that are really good at what they do. There’s lots out there for you to access for support. Even though initially it may feel a bit complex.

“Get to know the landscape and understand the system, otherwise you’re going to struggle to navigate it. You need to think about what your route to market is and what your value proposition is – don’t forget about the economic benefit as well as the quality.”

The final piece of advice from Ms Barrell was essentially that it will all be worth it in the end – those who successfully sell into the NHS can be assured that their product or service is among the best in the world.

“The good news about the UK’s health and research landscape is that although there may be high regulatory hurdles and it may be complex, it is very well recognised internationally,” she said.

“So, if you get regulatory approval that’s really like getting the gold standard, so it’s worth the effort.”

Updated: June 12, 2023, 6:17 PM