After his first full year as head of Novartis Pharmaceuticals in the UK, Ireland and the Nordic countries, health chief Qinmei Bhat shares his pandemic skills and reflects on what will happen next.
The COVID-19 pandemic has had an unprecedented impact on health care. As we continue to experience a strain of new options, it is becoming increasingly clear that we will continue to feel the effects of this virus for a long time to come. The UK life sciences sector needs to work together to ensure that the healthcare system is secure in the future, enabling it to effectively care for both COVID-19 and non-COVID-19 patients today and in the years to come.
The strength of our NHS
Before we share our reflections on the results of the pandemic and how we can continue to accelerate bold innovation during COVID-19 and beyond, it is important to recognize the power of our National Health Service (NHS). From the world’s leading clinicians conducting groundbreaking research, to the unique structure of the NHS, with millions of people under one health roof, the NHS ensures success. These factors together mean that the UK has the potential to become one of the best places in the world to develop and supply new medicines. We need to work together to unleash its full potential and ultimately prolong and improve patients ’lives.
Focus on collaboration
COVID-19 has led to a dramatic and rapid change in priorities for the pharmaceutical industry, the NHS, government, scientific and research bodies. Working towards this common goal has led to a revolution in ways of working when collaborative approaches have contributed to great progress and innovation. Thanks to the speed with which vaccines and treatments against COVID-19 have been developed and delivered, we have shown that, as a UK life sciences ecosystem, we are more innovative, sustainable and productive when we collaborate.
In addition, the dramatic change in the way the NHS and the industry operate has accelerated the improvement in how people receive health care; including through the use of digital technology. The innovation, which allowed people to receive treatment and participate in clinical trials without visiting a hospital, also significantly improved the patient experience and reduced the burden on the NHS. If these advances in health care are maintained, there is the potential to change patient outcomes, research, and health care for years to come.
At Novartis UK, we recognize the critical importance of collaboration across the healthcare sector. We have recently transformed our business to adopt the principles of partnership with the NHS and aligned with customer needs. We are now more agile, bold, customer-oriented, understanding local needs and ready for the ever-evolving world of healthcare, so that no patient has to wait for an extraordinary life.
The perspective of the health care system
Our focus this year should be on securing the future of the services and systems we have and creating a truly multichannel ecosystem. When the pandemic first struck, several key medical services and clinical trials were discontinued to focus solely on stopping the spread of the virus and developing effective treatments and vaccines. Although this is a necessary step, it has led to one of the most significant consequences of the pandemic: an increase in the number of patients awaiting examination and surgery. The National Monitoring Authority estimates that between 240,000 and 740,000 “missing” urgent cases of suspected cancer (ie people who have not sought treatment) remain in the UK since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, which will put further pressure on our system. health care in the coming years.1
Thanks to the speed with which vaccines and treatments against COVID-19 have been developed and delivered, we have shown that, as a UK life sciences ecosystem, we are more innovative, sustainable and productive when we work together. ”
There is an urgent need to support the health service in combating the “silent pandemic” that is emerging; a health crisis in which millions of people are awaiting treatment. This can only be achieved through innovative, collaborative approaches, such as finding ways to bring treatment closer to patients.
In the UK we have a good position to play a leading role in this. In previous years, the UK was an important center of clinical research, to which Novartis contributed £ 146 million in 2020.2 However, after the first wave of the pandemic, the UK was slower to resume clinical trials unrelated to COVID-19 compared to other European countries.3 If the UK wants to remain a leader in life sciences around the world, we need to think about how we can improve the way forward and learn from the successful COVID-19 trials, including digitalisation, resources and greater integration.
Use of data and digital power
Providing innovative treatments does not go far enough. As the health care system faces increasing pressure, industry and research can support using the power of data and digital technology. We have already seen that the pandemic is a landmark moment in the introduction of digital technology in the NHS, from continuing medical services and clinical trials to the use of technology to analyze data to identify new uses of existing drugs.
There is now an opportunity to sustain this momentum through the development of technology to push the boundaries of clinical knowledge and make better use of clinical trial data to inform research and innovation and ultimately improve health outcomes. The NHS has potentially the richest longitudinal health data in the world, but needs to manage that data to unleash its full potential. To complement these clinical data, understanding and support in areas such as potential stress, bottlenecks and innovations that can remove barriers to treatment will be invaluable.
As a company that is at the forefront of innovation, based on data and digital technology, Novartis has a good position and is committed to supporting the NHS in this revolution.
As part of this commitment, Novartis continues to allow healthcare technology companies to make lasting changes through our Digital Innovation Lab Biome UK. One of its initiatives is HealthHub – an annual program to support startups that accelerate new digital solutions to healthcare. In 2021, Biome UK HealthHub focused on expanding innovation to help digitize patient pathways and promote remote care; something more important than ever. Selected companies, Living With, Macusoft, Mendelian and NeutroCheck, receive great support to accelerate the implementation of their solutions that have the potential for real change in the health care system and patients. Biome UK’s work emphasizes the value of partnership in achieving extraordinary results, with Novartis leading the way as a bold partner for progress.
Tackling health inequalities
As the health care system faces increasing pressures, industry and research can support using the power of data and digital technology. ”
The pandemic has shed a sharp light on existing health inequalities across the UK. In England, the death rate from COVID-19 in the poorest areas was more than twice as high as in the poorest areas.4
As an ecosystem of life sciences, it is our responsibility to work together to tackle these inequalities, ensuring that all patients can access the care they need, when they need it. This is a key ambition of the NHS, which requires courageous support from industry partners. Novartis recently published its pledge on health inequalities, demonstrating its commitment to supporting NHS in tackling health inequalities; however, we know that everyone needs to move on to change the situation. In 2022, we will focus on working with health policymakers and systems to create solutions for faster diagnosis and early intervention for those populations most at risk for disease and poor health outcomes.
It is clear that we need to go a long way in addressing the problems caused by the pandemic and making changes that will ensure the future of the health care system. However, we must remember the incredible efforts of the NHS, industry, research bodies, research institutions and the government that have led us to where we are today. As we continue to work with this new level of collaboration, we will be able to unleash the power of innovative ways of working and make groundbreaking discoveries, unleashing the full potential of the UK life sciences ecosystem. I look forward to what this year will bring, and look forward to furthering Novartis UK’s leadership in the work we do, with clients at the center.
Together we can rethink medicine and ultimately prolong and improve the lives of patients around the world.
- Lag in the NHS and waiting time in England. Department of Health and Welfare, NHS England and NHS Improvements. December 2021 Available at: https://www.nao.org.uk/…
- Europe’s economy. The economic, social and innovation value of Novartis brings in the update of the UK data for 2020. 2021. Available at: https://www.novartis.co.uk/sites/www.novartis.co.uk/file/…
- Clinical trials in the UK: an opportunity for growth. Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry. September 2021 Available at: https://www.abpi.org.uk/publications/…
- Differences in the risks and consequences of COVID-19. Health of England. August 2020 Available at: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/…
About the author
Chinmai Bhat is the Managing Director in the UK, Ireland and the Nordic countries, Novartis Pharmaceuticals Ltd and the President of Novartis UK. He is a member of the European Executive Committee of Novartis. Chinmei was also appointed to the board of directors of the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI). Chinmai joined Novartis UK in 2020 from Austria, where since 2017 he has successfully headed Novartis Pharmaceutical Austria. He was also Vice President and Board Member of the Austrian Pharmaceutical Trade Association PHARMIG. Prior to that position, he was Global Strategy Manager for Basel-based Novartis Pharmaceuticals. Prior to Novartis, Chinmei worked for McKinsey and Company for 12 years, where he was one of the leading partners in the practice of European Pharmaceuticals. Chinmay is a leader focused on impact with a passion for innovation, patients and building great teams.