Dr. Kath Mackay
Director of Life Sciences, Bruntwood Scitech
Technology has the potential to transform life sciences – but only if we develop and nurture links between medicine, academia and business.
As the life sciences and technology sectors continue to converge, greater cross-sector collaboration is the key to realising the potential of the medtech revolution.
That’s according to Dr Kath Mackay, director of life sciences at Bruntwood SciTech – the UK’s leading property and innovation services provider to the science and technology sector. Bruntwood SciTech’s network of innovation districts is currently home to more than 500 science and tech companies.
“Life science is increasingly being influenced by tech ,” she says, explaining that technology has the potential to solve many of the challenges faced by healthcare systems.
“We have chronic diseases with no curative treatments and the increasing cost of healthcare is something we have not got to grips with, either nationally or internationally.”
Embracing new horizons
But new technologies are transforming the landscape. “The blending of life sciences and tech is hugely exciting, and there are some underpinning tools and technologies with the potential to revolutionise life sciences,” says Dr Mackay.
“Drug discovery and development, for example, is well recognised as being an intensive, long and expensive process . But developments in artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) over the last 10 years have allowed us to use bioinformatic tools to discover new targets. In 2019, the first AI-discovered drug was moved into the clinic.”
Genomics, 3D printing, robotics and advanced communication solutions also have the potential to help clinicians rise to the challenges of 21st century healthcare.
Developing the solutions, however, is only half the battle. Pioneering technologies will only make a difference if they are rolled out across the NHS requiring a whole-system approach, says Dr Mackay.
“We need to get to a point where these tools are commonplace, because there really is huge potential for a revolution in many healthcare areas.”
Greater collaboration between universities, hospitals and tech companies, as well as private and public bodies, is a key part of the solution, she adds.
Birmingham is recognised as a centre of excellence in areas such as paediatric medicine, advanced therapies and emergency medicine.
Knowledge, proximity, collaboration
Bruntwood SciTech’s latest development, Birmingham Health Innovation Campus in partnership with the University of Birmingham, aims to support the continued convergence of health and tech by creating a supportive, collaborative ecosystem.
The campus is one of six Life Science Opportunity Zones established by the Government’s Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) and has been identified by the Department for International Trade (DIT) as a High Potential Opportunity (HPO) for data-driven healthcare.
“The West Midlands offers an attractive proposition for life science companies says Dr Mackay. With a diverse, stable population of almost 6 million, it is also a world leader in both academic research and primary care and has the capability to offer the full supply chain from clinical trials through to manufacturing and logistics.
“Birmingham is recognised as a centre of excellence in areas such as paediatric medicine, advanced therapies and emergency medicine. But there isn’t opportunity to grow a significant industry in the region.”
There’s also a lack of specialist space for businesses in the sector. Opening in 2023, the first building at Birmingham Health Innovation Campus, No1 BHIC, will offer a range of specialist lab and office space for digital health, medtech and biopharma companies. It will also be home to the University of Birmingham’s Precision Health Technologies Accelerator (PHTA) and Birmingham Precision Medicine Centre providing direct access to, and relationships with, the local healthcare system.
“The campus will allow businesses to work alongside the neighbouring hospitals in areas such as health data, medicine, diagnostics, med tech and clinical trials – areas that are being driven by the convergence of life sciences and tech .”
A healthcare system of the future
This level of direct access to knowledge and expertise is a win/win.
Ultimately, she says, it’s about bringing people with different skills and backgrounds together to realise the potential of medicine’s technological revolution – and create the healthcare system of the future.