In January this year, a survey by YouGov(1), commissioned by the Welsh NHS Confederation and supported by ABPI and the 1000 Lives Improvement Service of NHS Wales, sought the views of the Welsh public on their health services and treatments. Over one thousand individuals responded to the online interview, giving their views on issues as diverse as who runs NHS Wales and the use of digital technology in healthcare.
Amongst these questions, the survey showed that an amazing 82% of respondents believed it was important that patients were encouraged to participate in research for the development of new therapies and medicines - up 5% since 2014. In my view, this figure is staggeringly positive and must act as an encouragement for the Welsh Government, NHS Wales and researchers to ensure ongoing engagement with the public and patients in this area.
The current Welsh Government has spent its tenure investing in the life sciences. Since its launch by Professor Mark Drakeford, Minister for Health and Social Services, Health and Care Research Wales has been integral in encouraging stronger and wider collaborations between our industry, NHS Wales and academia. Health and Care Research Wales has brought together clinicians with companies to create dynamic partnerships and produce cutting-edge research, with the possibility of discovering the innovations of tomorrow.
HealthWise Wales is another exciting new national initiative to engage large numbers of people in Wales with health and social care research who should take great heart from the clear interest of the Welsh public in this space, in their aim of recruiting 250,000 volunteers.
Also focussing on better collaboration has been another Welsh Government initiative, Life Sciences Hub Wales – a facility bringing together the private sector, NHS and government agencies to advance research in health and social care across Wales. Professor Chris McGuigan, Chair of Life Sciences Hub Wales Ltd and Professor of Medicinal Chemistry, School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences, Cardiff University has stated:
"The Life Sciences Hub Wales represents a major commitment by the Welsh Government to this sector. It is a central pillar in the vision to create a thriving Life Sciences eco-system in Wales… [and] will place Wales firmly on the world stage as being open for business in this key sector."
We know that the pharmaceutical industry is already aware of the centres of clinical excellence available in Wales. From independent reports, such as that released by academic journal publisher Elsevier, the industry increasingly recognises that Welsh centres of academic research have improved significantly over recent years, closing the gap on England and Scotland and, in the process, outperforming many European and international countries of similar size. As the Elsevier study found;
"With 0.14% of the world's researchers, and 0.30% of the world's published articles in 2011, Wales accounts for 0.49% of global citations, 0.70% of the top 1% highest cited articles, and 0.85% of all references to journal publications from patents… Wales punches well above its weight in terms of research income compared to research outputs, efficiency and impact."
These areas of academic research are vital to the spark of investigation. As Sir John Cadogan, Inaugural President of the Learned Society of Wales argued in his paper, Curiosity-driven 'Blue Sky' Research: a threatened vital activity?
"In most cases of the breakthroughs that have changed the world their impact was not seen at the time but realisation came many years later"
Success is only possible when all healthcare stakeholders in the R&D ecosystem work together, with the resultant innovations used seamlessly throughout our health service. Only by encouraging collaborations' can we turn ideas into reality; harness the benefits of emerging technologies; commercialise academic research into the innovations of tomorrow, and build a healthcare system that embraces the newest and best treatments available.
(1) All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc. Total sample size was 1,049 adults in Wales. Fieldwork was undertaken between 5th - 8th January 2016. The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all Welsh adults (aged 18+). YouGov is a member of the British Polling Council.