2008 Life & Health Sciences Report
Over the past five years, Northern Ireland industry, academia and government have made significant commitment to the development of life sciences capabilities. According to Invest NI data, in excess of $160 million has been budgeted for infrastructure enhancement, collaborative research, new product development and staff development initiatives.
This illustrates the local stakeholders’ determination to maximise the opportunities deriving from a long history of technological innovation, backed by a highly educated, young workforce and an internationally recognised research base.
The business sector counts approximately 60 companies, offering a very diverse range of products, services and capabilities. Data from Invest NI and DETI suggests that the industry, as a whole, has a combined turnover of around £310m and employs approximately 4,000 people. This tends to be a high value-added sector and export-oriented, with around 80% of sales generated from external markets.
The academic sector offers a strong science base, both in life sciences and related sectors, through its two world class universities and the six regional Colleges of Further & Higher Education. Examples are the nanotechnology and advanced materials research institute (that includes NIBEC and the Centre for Advanced Cardiovascular Research), the Biomedical Sciences Research Institute, the Centre for Cancer Research and Cell Biology, the Northern Ireland Clinical Cancer Centre and the McClay Research Centre for Pharmaceutical Sciences.
In addition to its intrinsic clinical practice expertise, the clinical sector is placing an increasing focus on clinical research and development (also known as translational medicine) and commercialisation of innovation arising from its activities. its strengths lie in the seven recognised research groups and the Northern Ireland Clinical Research Network that includes HSC Innovations.
Home based care opportunities
The Life and Health Sciences Horizon Panel recommends that Northern Ireland becomes the first UK region committed to the early adoption of a telehealth system within the Health and Social Care practice. This means establishing a strong local capability across the telehealth continuum, and deploy this locally to achieve whole connectivity between the health sector and the home within 15-20 years.
The home based care market encompasses a wide range of products and services. The underpinning technologies and systems necessary to deliver those services can be sub-divided into four key domains along the telehealth continuum, as summarised in the diagram opposite. The overall aim of the model proposed for Northern Ireland is to join-up local capability across all four of these domains in an integrated manner and in a real clinical setting. The panel concluded that to maximise the market opportunity in this area, telehealth technology should be implemented within our own health system. This would allow the DHSSPS to benefit from savings achieved from the delivery of health services in this manner, whilst improving patient care. At the same time, it would create an attractive Whole System Integration Test Bed for local and international technology providers, who could use Northern Ireland as a gateway to UK and European home care export markets.
Personalised medicine opportunities
As the market intelligence indicates, in the longer term this sector has the potential to transform the way medicine is delivered. Many nations have identified the opportunities offered by this high risk – high reward sector, and investment in research and commercialisation in this space has intensified in recent years.
The Life and Health Sciences Horizon Panel has identified an opportunity for Northern Ireland to carve out a share of this growing market, by becoming a centre for Integrated Research & Development in Personalised Medicine. This would fuel the development of Personalised Medicine in Northern Ireland, and place the local cluster on the international map in this highly dynamic sector. The competitive advantage would be conferred by the integrated nature of the services provided, harnessing academic scientific expertise, clinical data and practice and a focus on commercialisable outputs.
The panel believes that the sector could be stimulated locally by creating the environment for the initiation of commercially-targeted R&D projects, focussing funding and support towards applied research not elsewhere funded and the gap between initial Proof of Concept and Phase II Clinical trials. Being open to the full spectrum of the personalised medicine technologies and practices, is expected to stimulate interest from across the sector and allow the most economically valuable proposals to emerge.
Key stakeholder inputs & outputs
- A commitment to a connected health’ agenda and establishment of NI as a test-bed for associated technology
- A commitment to a joined up approach to the market opportunity
- Embrace an attitude of change
- Stimulate indigenous companies
- Create a knowledge base from which export potential can be exploited
- Attract FDI companies interested in using NI as a gateway to UK and European markets
- Demonstration of the government’s commitment to smarter working practices to improve patient care
- Social studies
- ICT capability
- Curricula for new disciplines in eHealth
- Graduates to fulfil a new model of health delivery
- Growing reputation in the Connected Health field
- An investment in new technologies
- A long-term contractual commitment to the public sector
- An opportunity to participate in a locally significant market
- Potential to export proven technology and know-how to US and European markets
- A commitment to changing working practices
- Adjusting reward structures
- A new model of healthcare management
- Improved health and quality of life for relevant patient groups through enhanced independent living
- Improved work practices for health professionals
- Realisation of cost-savings which can be redistributed towards other priority areas, thus increasing productivity levels
The health technologies and life sciences sector has the potential to become a major contributor to Northern Ireland’s knowledge based economy. There are however number of prerequisites to successfully realising the market opportunities identified by the Horizon Panel.