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Translational medicine in action: The success of AHSNs is far from certain

26 November 2013


Academic health science networks (AHSNs) are vital for the future of healthcare in the UK, but their success is far from certain, according to a new report from PA Consulting Group and 4D Biomedical. The report is based on the views of the experts from government, academia and the private sector who attended PA and 4D’s fourth annual translational medicine fore-sighting event.

In May 2013, NHS England confirmed the creation of 15 AHSNs “to transform health and healthcare by putting innovation at the heart of the NHS.” While AHSNs represent translational medicine in action – working across NHS, academia and industry to “translate” clinical research into diagnostic tools and medicines – the report highlights the cultural and organisational barriers they face. The good news is that these barriers can be overcome.

The right objectives

According to the PA and 4D report, AHSNs need to be clearer about their objectives and then put in place the right mechanisms for execution. These objectives should focus on delivering results for both NHS and industry with a special emphasis on improving patient outcomes.

Structure and culture

The report stresses that AHSNs must take advantage of the NHS’s national scale. It should adopt a centralised “spoke and wheel” model, with growth radiating out to surrounding areas. In addition, drastic cultural and behavioural change is needed, particularly in the NHS.

Incentives for stakeholders

AHSNs have the potential to disseminate, and encourage the adoption of, the latest ideas, technology and best practices in healthcare worldwide. The report argues that AHSNs need to encourage “thoughtful risk-taking with safe environments” to enable innovation to occur.

Securing resources

The report argues that an underfunding was behind the failure of many previous NHS innovation initiatives. The authors write that, to secure the “hundreds of millions of pounds” potentially required for success, AHSNs need budgets of a small number of tens of millions of pounds per annum. To get this, they need to link to the investor community and other sources of “matched funding”.  Clearly, the AHSNs are going to need to ‘prove’ themselves before funding on this scale will be forthcoming.

PA Consulting Group, says: “Innovation in healthcare today is about engaging, incentivising and empowering stakeholders across the entire healthcare delivery system, including industry, academia, NHS and patients to identify and fulfil prioritised unmet needs. We think academic health science networks stand a real chance of cutting the time between ‘bench and patients’, and making innovation happen in the UK. There is no doubt that this represents a significant cultural and organisational challenge but in our view, it is entirely achievable.”

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About the report

PA’s and 4D’s annual translational medicine foresighting event focused on the crucial role we see for Academic Health Science Networks (AHSNs) in the future of healthcare. The report is based on the views of the experts from government, academia and the private sector who attended the event.

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