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From the Queen’s Speech to the next election: what now for the government’s agenda?
From the Queen’s Speech to the next election: what now for the Government’s agenda?

Archive for the ‘Life Sciences’ Category

The Government’s Food Strategy: a fork in the road

In the build up to the Government Food Strategy, the Prime Minister promised bold action to address the problems in the UK’s food system. This week, health and sustainability campaigners have voiced their disappointment that not all of Henry Dimbleby’s recommendations are being adopted, including the proposed salt and sugar tax.

Seemingly ‘hollowed out’, the publication is seen by many in the agri-food sector as a holding response for a serious long-term strategy that has been conditioned by Conservative backbenchers who the Prime Minister considers key to his survival. In other words, a tactical short-term response to a set of political pressures. Published against a backdrop of the cost-of-living crisis, the effects of the war in Ukraine, and recent party politics, the Food Strategy represents a notable departure from long-term priorities such as environmental sustainability and tackling obesity. Instead, the Strategy focuses on technology and innovation, job creation, productivity. In short, the government sees growth in the UK’s agri-food sector as the remedy.

The government says it is backing British farmers to boost domestic production, increase employment and grow the economy

At the heart of this shift is a concern about food insecurity. Not necessarily as a result of climate change and other environmental concerns (although those can’t be ignored for much longer), but from the impact of the war in Ukraine on food supplies and prices. As a result, the government has pivoted away from longer standing political priorities and is now focusing on plans to strengthen the resilience of supply chains and boost domestic production to help protect against future economic shocks and crises.

While wars don’t necessarily create trends, they do tend to accelerate them. In the case of the war in Ukraine, it has rapidly accelerated the desire of Western governments for freedom from supply chain dependence on Russia and China. It has also increased the trend for food nationalism globally which has lengthened the list of countries Western governments can no longer rely on for food imports as a result, and it has sped up trends towards market intervention. The last significant spike in food prices was in 2010/2011 following a heat wave in Ukraine which impacted crop harvests and can be seen as a catalyst for riots in middle income countries and the Arab Spring, the effects of which are still being felt. The impact of today’s crisis has the potential to be far greater and will be felt particularly acutely in the UK because we have relied so heavily on global markets for cheap food imports.

Agri-food: a growing sector

While new funding programmes to drive innovation will be welcomed by the sector, the government is playing catch up with investors who have recognised the potential of agrifoodtech in recent years.

As with most modern industries, technology plays a key role in the operation of the agri-food sector. However, the pace of innovation has not kept up with other industries and, according to research conducted by McKinsey, agriculture remains the least digitized of all major industries.

The industrial agri-food sector is also much less efficient than others and more susceptible to the demands and constraints being placed on it. A growing global population, climate change, environmental degradation, changing consumer demands, limited natural resources, food waste, consumer health issues and chronic diseases all mean the need for agrifoodtech innovation is greater today than it ever has been, and creates opportunities for entrepreneurs and innovators to create new efficiencies in the value chain. Many of the agrifoodtech start-ups attracting investors are aiming to address some of these challenges, identifying innovative solutions to issues such as food waste, CO2 emissions, chemical residues and run-off, drought, labour shortages, sugar consumption, distribution inefficiencies, food safety and traceability, farm efficiency, and unsustainable meat production.

According to the 2022 Agrifoodtech Investor Report, $57.1 billion was invested in agrifoodtech companies in 2021, an increase of 85% on the previous year. 2021 also saw the UK’s highest ever deal flow with UK-based deals reaching £1.3 billion in value, the highest since data has been collected and up from £1.1 billion of investment in 2020. The UK sits 5th in the global ranking of deals by country, just behind Germany, India, China and the USA, though the UK government has set out its intention to be a world leader in this space. While investment in so-called ‘upstream’ technologies (such as on-farm tech, tools and services) remains high at around $20m, there is a shift beginning to emerge, with interest now moving towards farm management software, indoor farming, ag-biotech (such as gene editing), and e-grocery (which attracted a third of all global sector investment).

The new normal

The challenges with our food system such as supply, distribution and pricing have been propelled by the pandemic, complicated by Brexit, accelerated by the war in Ukraine, and intensified by the cost-of-living crisis. In many ways, this has created a completely different backdrop for the UK’s food system than when Henry Dimbleby published his recommendations to government almost twelve months ago. Many commentators will argue this is why the Government Food Strategy appears to have been watered down in comparison with its original intentions.

Nevertheless, many investors have already recognised the importance and opportunity the agrifoodtech sector presents in terms of investment potential, with many more likely to follow suit. The changes and challenges to the food system we are witnessing today are not temporary. Rising prices, food nationalism, and supply chain challenges are not a blip in the road, they are the new normal. This reality means the agrifoodtech sector is likely to provide an abundance of opportunity for private equity to back exciting, innovative, and high-impact ideas that deliver the ground-breaking change in our food system that campaigners are calling for.  Although this Food Strategy gives the agri-food sector ideas to work with and push the government on, it is also clear that we are now unlikely to see a properly considered long-term strategic response to food insecurity this side of the election.

 

To discuss the government’s Food Strategy in more detail, please email Thea Southwell Reeves on theasouthwellreeves@wacomms.co.uk.

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Time for a NICE change

Insights from the conclusions of the NICE methods review.

The conclusions of the NICE methods review, approved by its board last week, mark the end of an extended process looking at overhauling the methods and processes by which the organisation evaluates new health technologies. The review, which spanned a period of two years, is likely going to be the last one of its magnitude for some time. It was positioned as an important step towards achieving the UK’s ambitions to cement itself as a world leader in the faster access and uptake of innovative medicines; a vision it has been pushing since the UK detached itself from the European Union’s regulatory orbit.

Industry’s initial response has been largely welcoming to the changes, although it has also been quickly acknowledged that some of the review’s original ambitions have been diluted or, as the BioIndustry Association recently wrote, ‘failed to match the ambitions set out at the start of the review’.

The changes present a shift in approach to NICE’s reviews as processes, to one that is more focused on ‘living’ guidelines. However, despite NICE positioning itself as helping to support the healthcare and life sciences ecosystem through flexible, agile, robust, future proof and rapid access intentions, there are several areas that still lack detail, or fail to provide the clarity many had hoped for.

Highly specialised technology criteria

The first is that the gap between single technology appraisals (STAs) and highly specialised technology appraisals (HST) has likely increased. Much of the criticism of the old HST methods was centered around the restrictive criteria for which a technology was considered highly specialised. The inconsistency in how these criteria were applied also meant only a smaller number of orphan products were ever considered as suitable for very rare diseases.

The new criteria has sought to provide clarity to this definition. However, in doing so, they may have further restricted the application of the programme. Those medicines falling between the very rare and common therapy areas spectrum still have no clear pathway. NICE has sought to rectify this with the introduction of a ‘severity modifier.’ The severity modifier will be used to decide whether to recommend a technology with an incremental cost effectiveness ratio above the normal QALY threshold depending on the severity of the disease. But it is likely that those medicines that are for rare diseases, but not ultra-rare diseases, remain at a disadvantage; and subsequently, those patients that they cater to.

Evolving complex healthcare needs

The second is around how health technology appraisals overlap with wider social policies, such as health inequalities, comorbidities and the impact of the life sciences sector on the environment. There had been hopes that NICE would provide a steer on how, like the severity modifier, these factors could be considered when evaluating technology.

Although it is arguably not in the remit of NICE to spearhead the sustainability agenda, these other broad stroke areas are increasingly topical challenges for the future of health policy and will need to be taken into account going forward if the organisation strives to remain forward looking and flexible to real world realities.

NICE has now committed to review the way in which these areas can be accounted for within appraisals to better reflect the real value of medicines. The conclusions of the review make no provisions for these areas yet. However, they do make the commitment to review this in the future, although the process and timeline beyond public consultations, remains unknown.

We can therefore expect significant focus over the course of the next few years on assessing what modifying for these considerations might mean. Views from industry are likely to be wide ranging and the onus will be on NICE to understand society’s willingness to make tradeoffs in recommendations and pricing based on these factors.

NICE has clearly recognised that this review is a chance to remove anomalies and bring in some consistent processes across the programmes. The message to industry also remains clear – the organisation remains the authority for driving the appraisals process and they will ultimately still have full control over determining whether an evaluation is progressed or not.

Despite the strive to consider the full spectrum of uncertainty that comes with the evaluation of new health technologies, implementation of modifiers, or future commitments to review more advantageous discount rates, the organisation’s ultimate objective to drive better value for money remains unchanged.

 

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Politicians signal regulatory change on the horizon for IVF clinics

After a long period of stability, IVF policy is set for a shake up as a result of new regulatory proposals made recently by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA), the industry regulator. HFEA is looking to amend the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 2008 in a number of areas which would affect access and treatment types.

Scrutiny of IVF clinics has been growing over the past year. In June 2021, the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) collaborated with the HFEA to develop new guidance which allows couples to initiate legal proceedings against IVF clinics that have falsely guaranteed their success rates. Following on from this, Julia Chain, the newly appointed Chair of HFEA, has called for far reaching changes to be made to current IVF regulations, which would allow HFEA to fine clinics that mislead patients over the efficacy of their treatments, as well as widen access to treatment. Chain has also called for IVF regulatory reform to allow scientists to use embryos for research beyond the present 14-day limit.

Chain has argued that IVF policy has become outdated, with reproductive regulations no longer matching the reality of treatment provided in the UK. She has highlighted several areas of the 2008 Act as being in need of reform, including patient protection and the means of maintaining the quality of care provided for them. Chain has called for a broader range of methods for addressing poor performance, such as economic sanctions against non-compliant clinics. This would also include addressing the increasing commercialisation of the fertility sector, where 65% of treatments are self-funded and public funding is unevenly distributed, resulting in a postcode lottery.

Political awareness of the discrepancy in NHS funding for fertility procedures has been growing. Under pressure from MPs across all parties, in September 2021 the then Care Minister Helen Whately MP announced that the government had conducted an internal review of variations in coverage and was currently considering its next steps.

This additional scrutiny substantially changes the political environment affecting IVF. Government reviews, the attentions of the CMA, a new activist Chair of the HFEA, as well as increased press coverage and ongoing legal cases will all increase the need for careful political due diligence of any investments in the sector. Demand for IVF services will remain high, and indeed is three times higher than it was in 1999, but investors will need to take the political and regulatory changes on the horizon into account as they plan their strategies and make their decisions.

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Novo Nordisk chooses WA Communications for diabetes brief

WA Communications’ growing health team has been chosen by leading diabetes company Novo Nordisk to drive government affairs in their diabetes business, making the first half of 2020 WA Health’s most successful period to date.

WA Health won a competitive pitch to secure the retained account with Novo Nordisk, supporting the company with their innovative type 2 diabetes portfolio. Head of Health Caroline Gordon will lead the account alongside Associate Director Dean Sowman, working to Dan Beety, Director of Corporate Affairs at Novo Nordisk.

Dan Beety of Novo Nordisk said:

‘‘We put in place a rigorous selection process and were impressed by Caroline and her team. WA’s insight, commitment and enthusiasm shone through. Their approach brought creative ideas that showed a deep understanding of what we’re trying to achieve.”

The wins cap off a strong first half of 2020 for WA’s health team, who also recently won a five way competitive pitch to work with Sanofi’s rare disease franchise.

Earlier this month, WA Communications also won the coveted CIPR Consultancy of the Year award.

To talk to Caroline about your business needs, please get in touch via carolinegordon@wacomms.co.uk.

 

 

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