Clinical & Regulatory

Clinical & Regulatory

A collaborative and ethical health tech ecosystem will thrive post-Brexit



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Tina Woods,  Chair of the AXA Health Tech & You Awards Expert Group and CEO & Founder of Collider Health, and Jasmine Eskenzi, Content & Ecosystem Manager at Collider Health report on the launch of the Awards and what medtech KOLs are making of the Brexit threat – and beyond

Teamwork makes the dream work – that was the message from some of the brightest minds in health tech who gathered to discuss the opportunities ahead for the UK post-Brexit at the recent AXA Health Tech & You Partnership Launch. A green light was given on the future of the health tech sector, but success will come to those who develop ethical solutions that consumers can trust.  New technologies need to be life-enhancing, tackle health inequalities, deliver real value across the customer value chain, and be transparent, especially in the age of AI.

How Europe sees the UK

Sylvie Donnasson, Consortium Partner of the eHealth Hub, an EU-funded initiative providing long-term support to the health ecosystem through business model and commercialisation development and regulatory guidance, presented her perspective on how Europe sees us:

‘In the UK, you are leading the way in Europe, as you have many great initiatives in healthcare… the NHS is one of the leading healthcare organisations in the world. We don’t know what will happen in the future, but we know agreements will continue to exist within the different countries and Britain will continue to lead innovation across the world whether you are in the EU or not’.

Donnasson works closely with the European Commission, investors, start-ups, and established organisations across Europe. In her view the UK is leading in many areas by virtue of its strong start-up ecosystem; it also has an AI strategy for the NHS, a new mental health data hub, and a Code of Conduct for data-driven health and care technology.

Mike Short, Chief Scientific Advisor at the Department for International Trade, adds, ‘the post-Brexit world won’t stop our collaboration with the EU.  The pharmaceutical industry will witness many more US-UK collaborations and in med tech, it is clear that many US companies want to work with the UK. I don’t think we will shut ourselves off, we will continue with collaboration’.

Critical factors for success in European collaborations include data interoperability and an ethical approach.  To accelerate these collaborations, education and accessibility are essential, with ‘online solutions and education being essential to ensure that the reach is as large as possible’ according to Donnasson.

The case for more agile regulation

The health tech ecosystem is expanding, fast. New apps, products and technologies are being pushed out constantly. How will regulation keep up? Mike Short explains that, ‘in the interest of safety and effective healthcare, we shall continue to regulate in the same ways, it is all about consistency and economies of scale’.

Julie Bretland, CEO of Our Mobile Health, argues for more collaboration and engagement. ‘In the UK, we are already seeing this collaboration, we have Public Health England, MHRA, NHS, NICE – all of these organisations are working together and the innovation coming from outside the NHS is working its way in.’ she says.

Reema Patel, Programme Manager, Ada Lovelace Institute sums up: ‘We have a range of healthcare regulators in the UK and the EU – there will not be one single organisation to shape, determine or dominate the space – which is a great thing. People are engaged with their health care data as there are major ramifications for people if there is a misuse of data. This is an area where there will always be a push for ethical enforcement. Public sector organisations will collaborate to ensure transparency.’

Ethics at scale within health tech

But who owns and regulates ethics?  Whoever it is, responsibility cannot rest with the tech giants.  In response to the recent announcement that Facebook is investing £6 million to create an independent ethics research center for artificial intelligence (AI) with the Technical University of Munich (TUM),  Elin Haf Davies, CEO and Founder of Aparito Health, summed it up by saying, “it is like the tobacco industry looking for the cure for lung cancer”. Davies fears that the health tech space will not self-regulate sufficiently and that patients and their personal data will subsequently suffer; regulators therefore would need to clamp down across the board to ensure a widespread enforcement of ethics with the protection of trust and the individual at the core.

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Whoever it is, responsibility should not rest with the tech giants.  In response to the recent announcement that Facebook is investing £6 million to create an independent ethics research centre for artificial intelligence (AI) with the Technical University of Munich (TUM), Elin Haf Davies, CEO and Founder of Aparito Health, summed it up by saying, ‘it is like the tobacco industry looking for the cure for lung cancer’. Haf Davies fears that the health tech space will not have sufficient regulation, and patients and their personal data will subsequently suffer; regulators therefore need to clamp down on ethics through collaborating with all organisations across the board to ensure widespread enforcement of ethics with the protection of the individual at the core.

Nuno Godinho, CTO at Empericus agrees and adds: ‘It is like we are going on an aeroplane and building the plane in flight – including the engine – there is a lot that we still have to discover in flight. It is therefore about the community getting together and having a common goal for the outcome. It is about what we want to achieve in an ethical way and then everything else will fall into place. We need doctors, patients and technologists in the room and then we will have a great conversation.’

Arup Paul, Deputy Chief Medical Director, AXA PPP Healthcare, concludes that the Beauchamp-Childress medical ethics he learned at medical school are as relevant now as it was then but ‘need to be translated for modern times’.  He adds, ‘we must ensure that we are working with companies that share the vision to not cause harm and genuinely wish to put the patient first, that adoption rate will then make the product succeed, then this will set a standard’.

Moving forward – a collaborative effort

So how do we move forward to ensure that health tech continues to develop in an ethical manner? Is it the responsibility of Government? Tech Companies? Or the individual?

We need to take a proactive responsibility for our own health, working alongside organisations like the NHS, argues Julie Bretland: ‘the NHS Long Term Plan makes the case for far more attention on preventative health, yet we are not so good at taking responsibility early as people feel that they have the NHS to fall back on – it is about a collaborative mindset for people to take their health into their own hands and follow a healthy lifestyle…’

Nuno Godinho adds that with GDPR, we are seeing a shift of power back into the hands of the individual, enabling them to manage their data and decide who to share it with. ‘Everybody should take control of their own personal medical records and they can then use technology to improve their health. We need to see how we can move forward in a transparent, trustworthy, ethical way’.

The message was loud and clear:  government needs to be proactive and collaborate with tech companies; stakeholders need to be transparent with how they are using patient data; and individuals need to take more responsibility for their personal data and health. If these conditions are met we could witness a truly transformative and pioneering health tech ecosystem develop in Britain, working with partners around the world, in the years to come.

The AXA Health Tech & You Awards celebrates entrepreneurs who are providing the most valuable, trusted innovations for consumers in the marketplace. Now in its fifth year, the AXA Health Tech & You Awards has created two categories in 2019 to recognise entrepreneurs in both early-stage start-ups and later stage businesses who are changing the way people think about their health, while helping to solve the big problems in healthcare. The deadline for entries is 15 February 2019.  Click here for details how to enter.

About the author

With well over 100 years experience between us, we've been around the editorial and medical blocks a few times. But we're still as keen as any young pup to root out what's new and inspiring.

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