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19 February, 2009 - 14:48 By Tony Quested

Dr Peter Blenkinsop, Chief Executive, Health Enterprise East

"..What is probably not so well known is that our region is likely to receive approval for the establishment of what will be one of only four Academic Health Centres in the UK. This will enable the excellent medical, scientific and engineering resources which exist across the universities in our region to have even closer links with NHS researchers.."

Backgrounder:

A graduate in Biochemistry from Birmingham (BSc) and Edinburgh (PhD) universities Peter Blenkinsop spent the first 20 years of his career in the international brewing and malting industries latterly as a Divisional Director within Tate & Lyle. Peter moved to the public sector in 1992 when he took up the position of Director of Commissioning with the then Barking and Havering Family Health Services Authority.

In 1995 he was appointed to the position of Chief Executive of a newly established Business Link before taking up the position of Director of Business Development for Silsoe Research Institute one of the BBSRC Research Institutes in 1997. Peter has been Chief Executive of Health Enterprise East since it was established five years ago. HEE is one of nine regional innovation hubs, providing the specialist knowledge to identify, develop and commercialise innovations coming out of the NHS to benefit patients.

Since the start of 2005, HEE has commercialised over 45 innovations on behalf of the NHS Trusts within the East of England. Each year HEE organises an Innovation Competition, attracting entries from Trusts across the region which attracts strong sponsorship support from the commercial sector.

1) Why is Health Enterprise East so important to the long term growth and success of the East of England?

The NHS employs over 125,000 people across the East of England, many of whom have fantastic innovative ideas for improving patient care. HEE performs the crucial role of providing the professional expertise and funding needed to rapidly evaluate, protect, develop and commercialise these innovations through the global Med-Tech sectors.

Without HEE’s support many of these innovations would simply languish within Trusts and not be commercialised for the benefit of the people in our region and beyond. HEE also provides support to the MedTech sectors, and in particular SMEs, which need to access NHS expertise on a commercial basis.

2) What makes this region unique in healthcare innovation?

The region has many of the top performing Trusts in the country and whilst the reputation of Addenbrooke’s, Papworth and the N&N is well known, many of the district general hospitals such as Basildon and Thurrock punch well above their weight when it comes to being innovative. The Mental Health Partnerships and PCTs in the region have also produced many high quality innovations which address the prevention as well as the treatment of ill health.

Why is this? It is very much the result of a culture which has been supported and championed by Trust executives and managers across our region and also a reflection of the excellent ‘Leadership Programme’ which has been implemented by the Region’s SHA.

3) What leverage could the new BioMedical campus at Addenbrooke’s Hospital Campus bring to this region in terms of global cachet and commercial payback?

The new campus has the potential to further enhance the region’s global reputation for innovation. The future physical proximity of staff from Papworth and Addenbrooke’s with those at Cambridge University and the other highly renowned research bodies will enhance opportunities for collaboration which in turn will raise the global profile. However the real question is whether the region will be able to realise the full economic value of the outcomes from these collaborations by translating the innovations into high value regional manufacturing.

4) Is there a need for a MedTech campus in the East of England, possibly in Essex where worldclass specialists would appear to already be in place?

We need a more joined up approach within the region which draws upon the excellent engineering skills already existing in other sectors of the economy. The establishment of a high value Med-Tech corridor, possibly across South Essex, which attracts a number of high quality boutique manufacturing companies could address this need in the region.

If these companies could access the world-class engineering skills which exist within companies such as Ford, BAE and Olympus together with the clinical expertise within the region’s Trusts, this would enable the region to realise the added value from healthcare innovations.

5) How much potential innovation exists within NHS Trusts in the East of England and why hasn’t this been fully exploited in the past?

Prior to the start of this decade NHS resources were principally focused on treating patients. Funding was not readily available to employees to support the commercialisation of their ideas. However when the National NHS Hub network was set up under the ‘NHS Innovations’ brand, resources were made available to commercialise employees’ ideas.

This has enabled the hubs to provide the full range of professional support needed to allow quality innovations to be commercial ised for the benefit of patients. HEE currently receives over 200 new innovation disclosures each year from Trusts across our region, in addition to commercialising around 25 innovations which have been received in previous years.

6) How does medical innovation in the East of England compare with other locations worldwide?

The East of England has an excellent reputation for developing a broad range of high quality innovations which address both the treatment and prevention of medical conditions. However whilst the NHS Trusts can be compared to such hospitals as those in Boston Mass. in terms of developing high value innovations, our region lacks the surrounding networks of risk averse Med-Tech manufacturing companies which Boston has and which are needed to retain the added value.

7) Besides the work of HEE, what other institutes or bodies are making a real contribution to boosting this region’s global reputation for MedTech innovation?

The East of England has a number of organisations which make a very real impact on enhancing the region’s reputation. Many of these will be well known such as ERBI, the Medical Devices KTN and East of England International. What is probably not so well known is that our region is likely to receive approval for the establishment of what will be one of only four Academic Health Centres in the UK. This will enable the excellent medical, scientific and engineering resources which exist across the universities in our region to have even closer links with NHS researchers.

8) Do you have a sense that other countries envy East of England MedTech and healthcare innovation?

Other countries clearly recognise and often envy the joined up approach this region has shown in recent years. This was exemplified by the setting up of the first UK PanRegional Healthcare Alliance for Research and Innovation which brought together the NHS, industry, academia and regional government under the chairmanship of the regional director of public health. Quite an achievement!

This group has been highly influential and effective in shaping the Regional Healthcare Strategy, gaining support and funding for the establishment of a Regional Appraisal & Adoption Centre for Healthcare Innovations and catalysing the key regional bodies into setting up the first UK Regional SBRI Programme. This is focused on funding industry to develop technologies which can provide solutions to identified unmet clinical needs.

9) Do you think there is enough national and regional government support morally and financially for this region’s efforts in establishing a world-class cluster in BioMed and MedTech capability?

Until recently regional government has provided strong support, though this will be drastically curtailed as its future funding is reduced. This will impact on the tailored support we have offered to our region’s businesses which in the past has given them commercial advantage over businesses from outside our region.

At national level, DIUS has been and continues to be, a highly proactive supporter and funder of HEE, clearly recognising the value we deliver. In 2007/8 the DH granted £4.7m to enable the National Hub Network to support Trusts and their innovators. In return the hubs collectively commercialised 90 innovations of which the top 10 have the potential to save the NHS £170M p.a.

10) If a genie granted you three wishes to improve this region’s reputation for BioMed/MedTech capability on a world stage what would you wish for?

My three wishes are:

  • A world class Med-Tech manufacturing cluster to commercialise the innovations developed by the region’s innovators and so retain more added value in the East of England.
  • A greater longer-term financial commitment by government to support the commercialisation of innovations which recognises the timescales involved (often eight to ten years) in taking a healthcare innovation into practice.
  • A more proactive approach by both public and private sectors to adopting many of the innovations developed in this region which address the prevention of ill health. Without this I fail to see how in future we will be able to afford many of the innovations directed at treating illnesses.

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