The right kind of positive: Reasons for optimism in UK diagnostics
SummaryWith vaccine breakthroughs buoying the mood at the beginning of 2021, the ongoing momentum of the rollout has been cause for ongoing optimism across the UK. UK diagnostics is in a particularly promising position, with continued Covid testing complemented by a shift in emphasis towards the longer-term future.
- Author Company: Salient Bio
- Author Name: Marta Ciechońska, Co-Founder of Salient Bio
- Author Website: https://salient.bio/
With vaccine breakthroughs buoying the mood at the beginning of 2021, the ongoing momentum of the rollout has been cause for ongoing optimism across the UK. UK diagnostics is in a particularly promising position, with continued Covid testing complemented by a shift in emphasis towards the longer-term future. This future, as it stands, is bright.
Teething problems in the UK’s Covid testing strategy may have undermined faith in an otherwise healthy sector, but this learning curve will yield longer-term benefits, with life sciences innovators attracting more attention, and more investment, than ever before. And while focusing on the sector’s strengths is important, addressing its weakness with renewed impetus will compound its ability to cope more resiliently with the crises of the future.
Diagnostics is central to a robust section of the UK economy, which provides a solid platform for the exciting innovation driven by the pandemic. In vitro diagnostics (IVD) is the largest segment of a UK medtech sector which, according to the Office for Life Sciences, accounted for £24bn in turnover as early as 2018.
So, while Matt Hancock admitted to directing envious glances towards the greater lab capacity of countries such as Germany as the UK’s Covid testing procedures experienced teething problems, the Health Secretary’s comment about having to build UK diagnostics from the ground up was an unfair reflection on the sector.
Indeed, according to MedTech Europe, the UK’s IVD market is worth almost £1bn, making it the fifth-largest of its kind in Europe. Perhaps not quite on a par with Germany, then, but certainly equipped with many of the tools needed to flourish beyond the pandemic.
A shot in the arm
In fact, the learning curve caused by Covid-19 should prove to be a watershed, with the importance of life sciences now far clearer, and their appeal to investors far more obvious. Far from having their fingers burned by this baptism of fire, diagnostics innovators can now kick on with the support of newly engaged financial backers.
Healthtech firms are already attracting increased investment, with the health sector enjoying the third-most venture capital funding in the UK last year, accounting for 15% of the total across all sectors. In addition, life sciences hubs such as Manchester and Cambridge have proved particularly attractive to investors, with firms based in the latter city attracting $265m in VC investment in 2020, despite much of the year seeing a downturn in overall market activity.
And VCs are not the only organisations being tempted to add more diagnostics firms to their portfolios. Across Europe, the sector’s big players are targeting consolidation, with Synlab, the continent’s leading provider of lab diagnostics services, setting aside €200m for growth through acquisitions. Synlab also has its sights on a $6bn IPO in Frankfurt – further evidence that the sector is now attracting serious investment.
Moving the needle
Along with greater investment, another product of placing diagnostics in the spotlight over the last year is a heightened awareness across the sector of the benefits of collaboration. Coordinated action from the government, the NHS, and industry experts has already offered a glimpse of what can be achieved by coordinating diagnostics efforts.
For many organisations across the public and private sectors, indeed, forging new partnerships provided a vital lifeline during the pandemic. Looking ahead, lessons learned, for example, from the decision to disband a virus planning group involving senior ministers, can inform the continuation of support for the NHS beyond Covid-19.
And while the UK diagnostics sector will only strengthen as a result of remaining centre-stage, the economic benefits should not disguise the very real and considerable gains to be made for patient care. Patients will benefit from increasingly rapid and reliable testing platforms capable of detecting a range of potential health risks, and progress in this regard will perhaps be the best measure of just how far the sector has come.
Trusting in tech
New technology will be crucial to achieving this goal of improving healthcare through diagnostics, particularly as we face the prospect of future large-scale health issues such as seasonal waves of Covid-19. The good news is that there is already considerable progress being made in this area.
Covid-19 has accelerated the digitisation and automation of healthcare. ‘Smart’ screenings driven by AI, for instance, can reduce the labour intensity of certain procedures, allowing medical staff to allocate their expertise more efficiently. Moreover, digital cytology now allows experts to analyse test results remotely, while remote imaging for breast cancer may encourage more patients to have pre-emptive screenings which could save numerous lives.
Salient Bio’s PCR-based Covid testing platform, the fastest on the UK market, is part of this trend of tech-equipped enhancements in diagnostics. Our same-day turnaround of test results helps limit the spread of infection, while the small-scale model of our lab gives us the flexibility to pivot our resources to the diagnoses of various other medical conditions, such as STIs and flu-related diseases. These developments provide a roadmap of what the future of diagnostics could look like.
The right kind of positive
UK diagnostics has built on strong foundations to emerge from the peak of the pandemic with a positive trajectory for further growth. Investors now have a greater grasp of the importance of life sciences and of apportioning resources effectively to deliver healthcare solutions. Firms themselves, meanwhile, continue to repay this investment by developing new strategies and technologies for improving diagnostics. Overall, then, the outlook for the sector is very positive.