Innovation & Entrepreneurship

Innovation & Entrepreneurship

A northern powerhouse: spreading innovation, improving health and stimulating economic growth


Dr Neville Young, Director of Enterprise and Innovation, Yorkshire & Humber AHSN details the Academic Health Science Network’s achievements and goals


Innovation doesn’t just happen in the NHS, it’s part of a long (often too long) process and gaining access to the NHS and social care market can be a difficult and daunting prospect for businesses.

In January this year, NHS England published its Long-Term Plan, which sets out how the NHS can respond to advances in medicine and changes in health and society needs so that in 10 years’ time we have a service fit for the future. This has a clear emphasis on research and innovation for patient benefit and highlights investment in the latest technology, digital health and cutting-edge treatments. Coupled with early detection and a renewed focus on prevention the plan aims to stop an estimated 85,000 premature deaths every year.

It’s accepted that the adoption of health innovation and increased use of technology is vital if the NHS is to continue to deliver sustainable services in the face of growing demands. The UK has an increasingly ageing population and so we need to come up with ideas and improvements that enable people to maintain their independence for as long as possible. More and more people are living with long-term conditions and again we need to be creative in supporting people to self-manage their care and reduce the need for increasingly regular visits to healthcare professionals.

There’s no shortage of great ideas, both in the NHS and in industry but all too often we don’t make it easy for these ideas to be heard or find support so that they can reach their potential and spread to other organisations. We also have a wealth of talent and ideas within the UK’s strong life science industry. To create a sustainable NHS for the future we need to harness and build on this expertise so that health care delivery keeps pace with the way that the world is changing.

The Yorkshire & Humber AHSN is one of 15 AHSNs set up by NHS England in 2013 and relicensed in April 2018 to operate as the key innovation arm of the NHS. For the last six years, we’ve been heavily involved in helping the region’s health and care sector and industry colleagues to work together to harness that innovation to improve patient care.

What we’re doing to help

We help NHS organisations to identify unmet needs and build links with companies who have high-quality innovations that can be used to improve outcomes for patients.

The AHSN Network’s Innovation Exchange is enabling us to act as a broker between businesses and the NHS to simplify the process for both parties.

Funded by the Office for Life Sciences, the Innovation Exchange identifies, selects and supports the adoption of innovations with the potential to stimulate the economy and transform patients’ lives.

Another part of our role is to spread and embed innovations that have been identified as beneficial for the NHS through national programmes such as SBRI Healthcare, the NHS Innovation Accelerator (NIA) and the Innovation Technology Payment (ITP). The Government is providing £2 million to give more patients access to proven innovations through the Accelerated Access Collaborative (AAC). We are delivering all these programmes in Yorkshire and Humber.

Seven innovative technology areas were identified by the AAC that improve patients’ lives but are not currently available to everyone who could benefit. This first batch of ‘rapid uptake’ products includes a range of treatments for conditions identified as clinical priorities within the Long-Term Plan such as cancer, heart disease and multiple sclerosis.

We know that the Yorkshire and Humber region is a hotbed of digital innovation and an ideal place to start and grow a business; where entrepreneurial innovators are not only leading the way in digital healthcare technology, they’re also generating economic growth and creating employment opportunities

For example:

Why design more than matters in medtech – KOLs discuss the future

In this next article, McKinsey & Co’s Thomas Nilsson and Benedict Sheppard speak with three leaders about how the discipline is improving medical products and driving innovation.


  • 22 per cent of the UK’s digital health sector workforce is based in Leeds alone. (Source: Leeds Inclusive Growth Strategy)
  • We have three times as many students in life sciences, medicine and allied subjects as Oxford and Cambridge combined. (Source: Benchmarking the Life Sciences Sector in the UK, Smart Specialisation Hub report)
  • Since 2004, the area has secured over £580m grants for medical, biotechnology and biological science research. (Source: Benchmarking the Life Sciences Sector in the UK, Smart Specialisation Hub Report)

Earlier this year we launched our first digital accelerator programme – Propel@YH and the first six companies selected for the programme were announced at our Improving Lives Through Innovation Conference.

The six start-ups – DigiBete, Healthcare Engineering, HeteroGenius, Medicsen, Medicspot and Scaled Insights – bring innovation to market in diabetes management and support, digital patient triage, digital pathology, remote consultation in pharmacies and NHS centres, and application of AI to personalise patient treatment paths.

These companies will now complete a structured six-month course of support and advice aimed at helping them to navigate the NHS whilst enabling accelerated company growth and increased market presence.

We also work with and invest in academic health institutions to support industry and catalyse exciting research to improve population health.

An example of this is our support for the work currently being carried out by the Leeds Centre for Personalised Medicine and Somalogic. The Leeds Centre for Personalised Medicine and Health is recruiting patients to a Leeds ‘proteomics’ clinical trial, thought to be the first of its kind.

The trial involves a simple but comprehensive diagnostic blood test developed by US biotech company SomaLogic. The trial will study the effectiveness of the test and how it can influence changes in people’s lifestyles to help prevent the onset of Type 2 diabetes. If successful, it will then be rolled out across the city.

Across the AHSN Network, our shared ambition with the NHS is to ensure high quality, evidence-based solutions are put to work for patient benefit as quickly as possible enabling prevention of ill-health, earlier diagnosis, more effective treatments, better outcomes and faster recovery.

Ours is not a short-term challenge but our collective impact to date has been significant:

  • £87,976,755 of inward investment leveraged by the AHSNs
  • 499 jobs created by companies supported by the AHSNs
  • 178 strategic partnerships have been formed between AHSNs and companies

These statistics were gathered as part of the AHSN Networks industry survey in March this year. The Network then published a Medtech Landscape Review, providing an essential guide for companies looking to successfully develop and roll out innovations in this complex and diverse industry.

As you can see, our thriving digital and medtech industry means there are plenty of reasons to feel positive about the future. Collaborative working across the NHS, industry and academia will be key to that.

Dr Neville Young

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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