In this weeks episode we talk with Innovate UK's Director of Health & Life Sciences, Richard Hebdon. Innovate UK is part of the UK Research and Innovation and helps businesses develop new products, services, and processes needed in order to grow through innovation.
Richard leads and manage the Innovate UK Health & Life Sciences Sector comprising health, agriculture and food with a combined current portfolio valued at £685 million, with a historic investment of £1.8 billion.
Prior to joining Innovate UK, he worked in technology transfer, R&D management and research and innovation roles in industry and the public sector. This included working in pharmaceutical and vaccine discovery where his original technical background was in microbiology.
A link to the 2021 Biomedical Catalyst 2021 that we discussed with Richard can be found here.
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Theme Music - ‘Mountain’
copyright Lisa Fitzgibbon 2000
Written & performed by Lisa Fitzgibbon,
Violin Jane Griffiths
Podcast editing - Right Royal Audio
Podcast artwork thanks to The Podcast Design Experts
To change the thinking, you know how we think about child health innovation, embedding it in, you know, the early stage design and thinking whether it be discovering and developing new pharmaceutical product, or a medical device, but embedding that thinking from from the outset, because I think that's going to lead to the best innovations and the best products and services and create more choice for paediatricians for clinicians, to enable them to tender to the health needs of children, and to have those tools available. But it's got to start I think, with that child patient centred thinking. So if we do nothing else, aside from set that particular ball rolling, I think we'll have achieved a lot.David:
Welcome back to The not mini adults podcast pioneers for children's health care and wellbeing. My name is David Cole. And once again, I'm joined by my wife, Hannah. And together we are the co founders of UK children's charity, thinking of Oscar. At thinking of Oscar our aim is to bring the future of health care to children. This is Episode Five of the third season of the not mini adults podcast. And before we meet our guest today, we just wanted to say a massive thank you to all of our listeners. This week, we surpassed over 3000 total downloads for the podcast. And we have also had a download in every continent on the planet, which is just astonishing, given that we just started this during lockdown last year, really with a view to educating ourselves and hopefully trying to inspire some of you to want to do more in child health. On this week podcast we are delighted to welcome the director of health and life sciences at innovate UK Richard Hebden innovate UK is part of UK research and innovation, and helps businesses develop new products, services and processes needed in order to grow through innovation. Richard leads and manages the Innovate UK health and life sciences sector comprising health, agriculture and food, with a combined current portfolio valued at 685 million pounds with a historic investment of 1.8 billion pounds. Prior to joining innovate UK, Richard worked in technology transfer, r&d management and research and innovation roles in industry in the public sector. This included working in pharmaceutical and vaccine discovery, where his original technical background was in microbiology. We discussed with Richard what innovate UK are looking to do to try and increase investment into child health. And also get an understanding as to some of the support that they can give for new startups, who may be looking for support at the beginning of their journey. Richard, Hi, thank you so much for joining us on the not many adults podcast. Hi, David. Hi, Hannah, great to meet you. You know, it's fantastic to have you with us. And this is you know, one of our kind of, I guess, pet topics pet subjects terming talking about funding and innovation within paediatric healthcare and how we can do more. And so we're really really interested about what you're doing within innovate UK and your role and, and how you're actually learning to do more from a child health perspective. But maybe if we could just kick off by we'll have hopefully listeners kind of all over the world. So if you could just talk a little bit about your role, Richard, and briefly and just innovate UK and then I think that will set us up for some of the questions that we've got, please.Richard:
Yeah, sure thing. So I'm director of health and life sciences for Innovate UK, and that covers healthcare, but also agriculture and food as well. For those of you who might might not be familiar with Innovate UK, we are the UK innovation agency. Since 2018. We've been part of UK Research and Innovation alongside the Research Council's like the Medical Research Council, BBSRC, EPSRC, and so forth. Our role is to fund and support industry led innovation. And we effectively we do it in three ways. We fund, we connect and we collaborate. So we fund through our various funding mechanisms through grants, and also innovation loans. We connect through our sister organisation, the KTN, the knowledge transfer network, but also through our new innovate UK edge team which helps provide business support and growth advice to businesses. And then we also collaborate through our networks of catapults and centres. So we have to catapult centres in the health space, the cell and gene therapy catapult in London in Stevenage, and the medicines discovery catapult or Green Park. But then we have other counterparts that work in the health space too, like the Centre for process innovation in T side which is part of the wider high value manufacturing catapult. So we work with businesses in a variety of ways. Obviously, my remit includes healthcare, and healthcare businesses. And since 2004, we've invested in the order back just over 1.2 billion in health care innovation. In the UK, not that close all our investments in catapults and centres or our capital investments, and also in all our programmes and programmatic r&d funding, industrial strategy, challenge fund, and so forth. So it's quite a quite a significant level of investment.Hannah:
Thank you. And then, of course, our interest in having a conversation with you today was to understand your interest in perspective on the level of investment in child health and where you'd like to take that. So I know when we were preparing for a conversation with you previously, we started talking about where you're going, but it'd be great to have an understanding of the story so far.Richard:
Yeah, sure. So we undertook an analysis early in 2020, to look at gaps in our portfolio in areas in healthcare innovation, which is not invested in or not, not invested in very much, up and coming areas, which we need to be tracking for the future. And one of those was was in the child health innovation space. So we did an analysis of all of the projects we'd funded, going right back to 2004, when actually before Innovate, UK existed. And we found there are 199 projects, which we could identify in the child health and paediatric space, representing investment, total investment of about 31 million pounds. Obviously, that does not include innovations, which are age agnostic. So some innovation obviously, will work for everybody. But we thought that was actually quite a small number. And I think when you look at start looking into this area, and you start looking what's happened globally, in the public and private sectors, actually, I think Child Health innovation is has been under invested in, and that's led to, you know, a paucity of paediatric products and services out there and technologies that clinicians can use, and a lack of choice, particularly areas like medical medical devices. And there's a whole host of reasons why, you know, businesses are not necessarily invested in in that space, it's not seen as an area that produces a high return compared to a lot of adult health care, products and services. The regulatory pathways can seem quite complex, quite daunting. There are obviously ethical issues around how you approach you know, for example, doing clinical trials with babies and young children, and a lot of, you know, commercial risks in that space, too. So it's, I think, historically not been seen as an attractive area to invest in. But I think, from Innovate UK perspective, you know, our role is really to try and de risk earlier stage innovation, to enable that fall on private investment and for companies to be able to, you know, move along that pathway to development of new new healthcare products and services. So I think that it's actually an area we should focus a bit more on in future and look at making innovation investments, both sort of project level in terms of programmatic r&d support, but also in capital infrastructure, as well, for the UK to enable businesses to work with clinicians, researchers, innovators, and you know, accelerate the development of paediatric innovation.Hannah:
And you talked about some of the difficulties because of this relatively small size of the market for some of their paediatric opportunities, then it's difficult for some startup organisations or commercial organisations to take their idea to market. Can you describe some of the barriers or kind of pinch points for where they run into difficulties? And a little more detail, please?Richard:
Yes, I think, obviously, there are a number of valleys of death for innovation and for companies, you know, wanting to take care take things forward to market, I think, you know, early stage companies can struggle to raise seed funding, even for this kind of activity. But there are funding gaps all the way through, you know, to series A Series B funding and also scale up, you know, once you've done all the hard work of developing your innovation, proving that it's safe and effective, you know, and you then decided you want to start scaling up and manufacturing, there's obviously then how you how you raise the finance to be able to do that. So I think there's funding gaps all the way through, we see that a lot in other areas of healthcare innovation too, it's not peculiar to, to child health innovation, but it is particularly acute in this area. And we think principally about the health tech sector, those medical devices and digital health. In the UK, there are depending on who's estimates you find the most credible, anywhere between sort of 3000 and 4000 businesses engaged in the business of health tech. And 99% of those are our small and medium sized enterprises SMEs, and they often struggle to understand and engage with the regulatory process for their products. It's quite complex and difficult to navigate and even more so from a child health point of view. And I think as I mentioned earlier, there are also commercial risks. Going into the paediatric space and also ethical issues around the conduct of clinical trials and so forth. So companies face a number a number of challenges. And I think help in support is probably required quite broadly, not not just in terms of funding, but also connecting, and enabling access for businesses to the right kinds of support resources and infrastructure, to help them to move their innovation forward.Hannah:
He started kind of looking to the future there and talking about some areas that we'd really love to understand some more, I guess, for me, on the one hand, you describe the situation and we recognise it as well, from what we've learned over the last few years of thinking of Oscar as well, that the various barriers to entry that you describe, on the one hand, and then on the other hand, David had introduced me to a paper that he stumbled upon this week. And it's supported by the Royal Foundation, and it's published by the centre of early childhood, and the premise of the work there is looking at the opportunity cost of not addressing early childhood challenges. And so apart from it being the right thing to do to give children in their early years, the best possible start, the impact of not doing that, issues may be health related, or to do with general wellbeing. So there's ramifications that from a health point of view, but then also from an economic point of view, and even talking say, in the press at the moment about the impact of children missing out on, the one article this morning was something like 45 out of 190 something days possible learning this was secondary school children, but similar will be primary school age. So so the economic cost to nations of having these gaps in the early stages of life, you know, it has a lasting effect. So whilst it's so clear that it's the right thing to do, and a necessary thing to do and there will be greater collective wealth and well being by addressing it, it feels like there's a chasm to cross. So what are your thoughts about the future that feels achievable? And that goes beyond a visions, tangible things that and it doesn't all need to fall to Innovate UK, but but I'm sure you have a perspective.Richard:
Yeah, well, I'm kind of glad it doesn't all fall to Innovate UK, we are we are but one small part of government of the public sector, but we you know, we try and do our bit and punch above our weight. So I think, yeah, I mean, there's some things we can we can probably do in the near term and kinds of the business support and growth activities that we assist companies with through our innovate UK edge team. There's probably some signposting and connecting work we can do as a set on the regulatory side to help companies navigate these complex regulatory pathways. I think as we move forward, you know, we need to think about, you know, how to direct funding mechanisms. So the moment we have support, through grants, grant funding opportunities like the biomedical catalyst, which is currently open to healthcare businesses, and we're open to early and late stage project applications at the moment, so companies can come to us and apply for those for grants from from 250 000, up to 4 million in value. There's obviously our smart funding competition as well. And we also offer ad hoc opportunities through the year in the in the health space as well. So through things, for example, like SPRI the small business Research Initiative. So I think, you know, moving forward, it's how we create the right environment, the right ecosystem in the UK, for Child Health innovation. And I think that, as I said earlier, it's a combination of funding of support, of investment in innovation infrastructure, you know, where we can enable companies to access the right facilities, expertise, equipment, you know, to be able to develop and take their innovations forward. But I think more broadly, yeah, there are things that wider government can can look at, you know, for example, department health and social care, perhaps needs to think about, you know, the prioritisation of child health in their agenda. And I'm sure that is something that's being being considered, particularly as part of the support in health post COVID-19. I think government is very aware of the impact that, for example, the mental health of young children on their development and educational needs. So I think there are some wider government strategies and thinking that can be brought to bear here as well.David:
And I think it's got, as I said, I've been doing quite a lot of reading around this recently. And it's got to be government led, I think, from wherever you are in the world, the government, you know, if you think about all the innovations, or many, many of the innovations that we just take for granted in our day to day lives, they have one way or another come from a government led initiative. The iPhone or you know, smartphone is probably the best example of that, everything within it pretty much has come from one way or another, the US government or a government around the world paying for those kind of technologies to be to be founded and they to finish off kind of what Hannah was saying in terms of the Royal Foundation, the Centre for early childhood. There was a statistic that they brought in which we I think, you know, Richard, you and I've talked about a lot with with colleagues as well, there was a statistic there that said between zero and five, if a lot of these, you know, adversities continue, the overall figure per annum is around 16 billion to a nation. So that in itself, you know, should hopefully get get someone's attention to, you know, innovate and start to look at how we can actually prevent childhood disease and be doing more, and it's great to hear that, you know, that's, that's one of the initiatives that you guys have picked up on.Richard:
Yeah, definitely. I think I mean, we're innovate UK, we're part of the party UK, which is part of the Department for business, energy and industrial strategy. So our focus is primarily around economic growth. And, you know, making the UK a world leader in particular industry sectors. But I think, you know, where we've got a sweet spot of, you know, economic opportunity and the opportunity to make societal impact. And, you know, I think we do need to be taking these opportunities in child health does does offer that you interviewed John Parker from Springhood ventures recently in Boston, I think he made a very good point that, you know, the Net Present Value Investing a $1 in children is worth more than than any other intervention at any other stage of the life course. So, I think that, you know, when we're thinking about economic impacts, we do need to, we do need to think about that as well,Hannah:
The practical benefit of what you do, in terms of injecting funds into initiatives, in order to give them the chance to get off the ground in the first place is very clear. I'm also really interested in the kind of practical help that folk need because whether we're talking about health care or not, if you look at a startup, having an idea is good, or we've been taught as well about investments in research, you can have concepts and ideas about how you'd like to make change. But implementing that practically and at scale and sustainably is so much trickier. You know, so what role are you able to play in not only getting ideas off the ground, but then helping these organisations to kick the ideas off the ground and grow to a size that then achieves their market reach that, that enables it to make sense as a commercial organisation.Richard:
So I think I mean, we are obviously still developing our offer in terms of support for businesses all the way through the business lifecycle at the moment, you know, predominant focus is on the earliest stages of innovation, you know, getting getting companies to the point that, you know, they can raise investment or indeed co investing with investors, through our investment partnership schemes, and getting the maximum value for, you know, for public grant for public investment, and then investing in the later stage areas like loans, which are far more near market innovation. And we do, we do make innovation loans to companies in the med tech and digital health space in particular. So ensuring that there is a continuum of finance, able to support businesses that are doing innovative things all the way all the way through. But you know, we're still continuing to, to evolve and adapt. And also looking at how we work with organisations, for example, like the British business bank, with the private investment community with whom, you know, we'd like to forge closer partnerships and a closer alliance going forward. And also with bodies like the medical research charities who you know, increasingly are interested in investing in innovation to realise patient benefits for the causes and objectives that they all have.David:
So for anybody that is, you know, there may be listening, that's actually thinking about trying to come up with a solution to an unmet need, or has indeed already started. What advice could you give them a what, and where could they go in terms of, you know, first port of call with with yourself or someone within the structure that you that you described?Richard:
Well, they can contact Innovate UK on our customer service support, either via email or telephone number, which is on the Innovate uk website, or they can contact the ktn, the knowledge transfer network, and they can help provide advice on you know, the kinds of public funds that are available, obviously, we're not not the only public funder. And it may be that actually, you know, if you're very early stage, perhaps university or academic research based individual, you know, there might be other forms of funding a more appropriate for the work you're doing to help translate that work into something that's kind of ready to then put on the commercialization trajectory. And then of course, you know, there will be people scattered through the universities and research base that are there to also provide local help and support and advice as the local enterprise partnerships the Leps, which you can also provide advice to to startups in their in their regions, looking to set up shop and the various forms of grants and support available to local level. So there's a wide range of support out there. I think the difficulty can be navigating or finding your way around. And that's why it's good to have conversation with experts like our colleagues at the ktn, for example,David:
You mentioned earlier about the biomedical catalyst that I think you've had going for a while. Can you just talk a little bit about, about what that is and you know, how someone might qualify as it were for, for support through that?Richard:
Yes, so the biomedical catalyst is aimed at companies with early stage innovation who are looking to take forward their technologies that products or services to the clinic, and we invest at various stages, either in feasibility or primary projects, as we call them for early stage, pre commercial innovation development. And then the early and late stage projects, which tend to be longer term, typically up to three years. And that enables companies to take for example, products into clinical trials. It's open to any healthcare business, it's healthcare technology agnostic. So if your your innovation is in healthcare, whether you're a medical device, or developing a medical device, or digital health app, or a new therapeutic, you know, the biomedical catalyst is for you. This year, we have 30 million pounds available, we currently have an open call for early and late stage projects. So and these would typically be from projects from 250,000, up to 4 million in value. And we would take your your applications as an online application process. If you've not worked with innovate UK before you can get some help and advice on this. So for example, our colleagues at the KTN will review applications for you and give you give me some feedback. When you submit your application, it then comes to us and we assign five external assessors to review your application. And these will be people with particular expertise and knowledge in your innovation area. And then for the high scoring applications, we then take those forward to two major awards committees, which will convene in the autumn. And we will then invite the high scoring applications to come forward and present their projects to the to the major awards committees, who will then you know, ask questions of the team. And then deliberate come to view on which ones they recommend for funding, we will then contact those companies and let them know if they've been successful. And we will be looking forward for projects to start in April 2022. So that's, that's kind of where we are in the biomedical catalyst. Now it's been going since 2012. We've invested heavily across the UK, health innovation landscape in everything from advanced therapies to precision medicine, and whole whole range of exciting innovation that's come out of that, and pulled in external funding, private funding, and generated, you know, very good return for the UK taxpayer. And if you want to learn more about that, we did a review of the biomedical catalyst in 2019, which we commissioned independently through Ipsos Mori, that will give you all the stats and figures, but we think it's a proven route for delivering innovation funding in the healthcare innovation space. And definitely, if you're in paediatric innovation, and you're in a business, or perhaps you're a clinician or an academic working with a business, and you want to do a collaborative r&d project, have that conversation and take a look and see if the biomedical catalyst is for you.Hannah:
Thank you. Another area that we were interested in getting your perspective on was where you get your ideas from. So the problem is that we're talking about addressing in the UK will be very similar across the globe. And so do you have connections with people in other parts of the world? Or who do you look for for inspiration or as a source of a good idea or just put two three approaches together?Richard:
So Well, we work with organisations from from all around the world. So we do run global missions as well. So to give global expert missions in selected areas, where we think the UK has a particular strength and where we think there are things to learn from undertaking a mission to another country. So we've undertaken digital health missions, for example, to South Korea, and also done work in the digital health space with Texas. And also undertaking other missions in precision medicine and advanced therapy. So other countries around the world where we think there's there's a lot for particular UK businesses to learn and for them to engage with local infrastructures in country and also understand local markets. So for example, in Texas, or the US, you know, how pricing and reimbursement models work over there and therefore, you know, how you do business planning to launch into the US market. So it gives us, you know businesses the opportunity to do that. And we also work closely with Department for International Trade and other parts of the UK, Foreign and Commonwealth development office. And we with our embassies and consulates overseas, to identify opportunities to work on, you know, bilateral activities as well. So we do have quite an extensive international network of research organisations, and government innovation agencies as well. And we do we do speak to them and share information and ideas.David:
I think, you know, all of what we've discussed is fantastic in terms of, you know, opportunities for people to come forward with ideas, and just the fact that, you know, you're, you're looking to do more, what does success look like? Where would you like to get to, already invested kind of 31 million in child health, which is great, but we know there's ho efully a long way to go, whe we start to unpack some of the igures that are starting to com out in terms of the, you k ow, you talk about economic impa t on and societal impact, we can drill down and start to l ok at childhood illness, nd what that actually the long t rm impact both from a societa and economic perspectiv , so what will what would suc ess, you know, look like, an what, what are the timeframes hat you would like to kind f look at from that point of iew?Richard:
So, yeah, I mean, we generally try and think long term, but I think, within the next 10 years or so, for us to get to a place where we've got a thriving industry sector in this space, where the UK is a world leader, which I think potentially it has, has the opportunity to take that position, where we have, you know, a thriving research innovation ecosystem that can provide the pipeline of innovation, in child health, in areas like health tech, in particular, and where, you know, we've helped, you know, done a bit to kind of change the culture and philosophy of how companies and businesses approach child health. So, you know, as in keeping with the theme of this podcast, not mini adults, you know, how do we help build a child centred thinking around the design of new, you know, medical device products, for example, as such that, you know, we're not doing kind of adult healthcare innovation, and then producing cut down versions of, of that for, you know, for children and babies, which is, you know, not got us to a good place, historically. So, I think, I would hope that we will have done our bit to help change that and help businesses be able to access the tools, resources, facilities, funding, and support that they need to be able to take those those innovations forward and do it in a way which, you know, delivers economic impact. So you know, company growth, jobs and hopefully increased flow of revenue to the Exchequer going forward.David:
Richard, thank you, what we have discussed in the public has been so important. And as we said, it's one of the ones that we I'm not sure enjoy is the right word, because it would be great to talk about, you know, all the successes that we've done, and everything that you've just described in it, but but certainly being able to share and, and hopefully, someone will be listening, and they will be on the innovate uk website and thinking about that, you know, biomedical catalyst or whatever it might be. The question that we, that we end each podcast with is, if you could change anything within child health, what would it be?Richard:
Gosh, well, I think it would be as per my, you know, my last comments, to change the thinking, you know, how we think about child health innovation, embedding it in, you know, the early stage design and thinking whether it be discovering and developing new pharmaceutical product or a medical device, but you know, embedding that thinking from from the outset, because I think that's going to lead to the best innovations, the best products and services and create more choice for paediatricians for clinicians, to enable them to tender to the health needs of children and to have those tools available. But it's got to start I think, with that child patient centred thinking. So you know, if we do nothing else, aside from set that that particular ball rolling, I think we'll have achieved a lot.Hannah:
They should thank you very much indeed for joining us on there not many adults podcast today. It's been a really interesting conversation. Thank you, likewise, and a pleasure. Thank you very much.David:
Thank you so much to Richard for joining us on this week's not mini adults podcast. As many of you that have listened to us before will know. Funding is a big passion area for us. And over the course of the rest of this season and into the next season on the podcast, we will continue to have guests discussing the importance of funding and support for Child Health. Over the coming weeks. We are really excited about some of the guests that we will have joining us on the podcast. So in order to find out who they might be, please join us next time. Please do subscribe to the podcast. And if you're enjoying it, please do leave us a review as well. We hope you'll join us again next week.