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Accelerating Innovation into Irish healthcare

Whether working as medical representatives, as healthcare professionals, or any part of the health system, healthcare today is being impacted by seismic changes in affordability, demographics and technical innovation. The pace of innovation is dizzying, just as the economics in providing safe, quality-based care, are challenged by an ageing population and the rise of chronic illness.

U.S. per capita healthcare spend is already 18%. Across Europe, its 7%-10%, both growing ahead of inflation. Health spend devours budgetary space for other societal benefits e.g. education, welfare, infrastructure. Whilst pharma argues that drug costs are a fraction of total healthcare spend and that access should improve, drug spend is rising and a target for political action.

At time of writing, President Trump is threatening to import drugs from Canada. Such a move in Pharma’s citadel, the home of free pricing, DTC advertising and Washington’s biggest lobby group, would be shocking. It’s also politically expedient.

Mr Trump opines, the US market should enjoy prices Pharma happily agrees to elsewhere. At first glance, perhaps not unreasonable? Such a move, however, would perilously impact the US stock market, the global pharmaceutical industry (predominantly American) and damage US investment at a time, when a trade war with China is ongoing and the President seeks re-election. The rhetoric, however, is a warning shot that one should not assume the future must mirror the past.

Perhaps it’s time for national “group think”. As Government is Pharma’s biggest customer everywhere, should some government priorities not be Pharma’s too?

Pharma could work to deliver more productivity from the drugs we already have. Real world evidence is not new. It needs to be systemic within our health system, not just quoted as elements in pharmacoeconomic modelling.

Adherence by patients (how people consume medicine) is known to be as low as 50%, to oral or injected therapies prescribed to prevent or treat ongoing illness.

Patients change dosage, skip treatment, forget, stop, restart, ignore. We are human, leading busy lives, prone to emotional, financial and social concerns. We may experience side-effects; decide we are cured, choose to stop taking our medicine ourselves.

Could pharma provide better solutions to maximise the value of the spend we already make? Examples could be patient-centric collaborations ensuring medicines are used as prescribed, non-responders are identified faster, older cheaper alternatives are prioritised first and data gathered for real world analysis to support what works well and address what does not.

I’m delighted to support HealthBeacon. The company develops smart tools to manage medication. Such solutions help patients adhere properly to their biologic. The smart sharps platform records the moment of injection disposal, creating a real-world picture of injection adherence, which patient and doctor can use to derive the best outcome from treatment. Such real-world evidence improves the potential for biologics in clinical practice and makes the budget go further. Pharma has been the first to support this approach.

This week, two new treatments were announced as curing Ebola in infected patients. This is the culmination of extraordinary collaboration by governments, industry, NGO’s and healthcare professionals. There are other abundant opportunities requiring such shared pursuit - microbial resistance, obesity, illicit drug use, modern lifestyles driving chronic disease and ageing.

Ireland’s pharma, medtech and food industries are world leaders. But many of the people working in these sectors are siloed, unaware of their counterparts, in other companies addressing the same problems, but from a different perspective.

In considering future innovation models, Health Innovation Hub Ireland (HIH) is a start. It’s getting industry and the health system to work together in fostering innovation “in” and “out”. HIH supports smaller companies assess products and services for use in healthcare. The HIH ambition can be replicated by those working across industries in health, aligning, around shared goals for better care and better value.

As citizens, improving local healthcare delivery and quality is in our national interests. It is a major export opportunity, a driver of innovation and a direct investment in our competitiveness.

Everyone working in Pharma should ask themselves, “how many people do I know who could collaborate for better health from the food, digital and medical technology sectors? Have you considered how to make aspects of health you are familiar with better, more available and cheaper? How could the medicines you support be rationally used, to best effect and at lowest cost? Are you a catalyst to support new collaborations across industrial sectors? How can you help?

Probably worth consi