Party Conference Season 2015

The past two weeks have seen all members of the BIVDA team regularly hitting the road for one reason or another, representing the diagnostics industry at a variety of events. An office of five we may be, but five in the office at the same time is a different matter entirely!

This hectic two week period began with IBMS in Birmingham, an excellent chance for Doris-Ann, Barbara and Rachel to meet and talk to many of our members, as well as observe the number of impressive stands and technologies put on display by BIVDA members.  We were also very pleased to welcome Emma Thomas, External Affairs Manager-in-waiting, to the conference on Wednesday, giving her a fantastic first insight into the products developed by BIVDA members.

As well as this, Elliott and several members headed to both the Labour and Conservative party conferences for a breakfast roundtable organised jointly by Life Sciences UK (LSUK) and Association of Medical Research Charities (AMRC). The title for the discussion - From innovation to adoption: Why working in partnership delivers better outcomes for patients – aimed to emphasise the important role of collaboration within the life sciences sector, and proved to be an excellent theme around which an interesting discussion could develop.

Following a busy summer for the Labour party, their annual conference, this year in a very sunny Brighton, was the first chance for the wider public to see what policies we may see from Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership. Following the announcement of the new Shadow Health team last month, BIVDA await an indication of Labour’s direction with respect to health and science, and are looking forward to engaging the new Shadow Secretary for Health, Heidi Alexander.

Lord Hunt of King's Heath (centre) and Daniel Zeicher MP (right of centre) were the parliamentary speakers

At both party conferences, the central premise of collaboration was demonstrated through two case studies. In Brighton, Dr Julie Greenfield from Ataxia UK first presented her organisation’s work with Pfizer and researchers from three major universities in a drug discovery programme for Friedreich’s ataxia, as part of the charity’s 2020 initiative. A previous interview with Dr Greenfield, in which she suggests that ‘only through working in partnership that we can achieve our vision’, can be found here.

The second case study came from Jennie Orton from BIVDA member Oxford Immunotec and Heather Thomas, Development Manager at Refugee and Migrant Centre Wolverhampton, on their work together screening vulnerable populations for tuberculosis within the Wolverhampton area. This collaborative programme involving a large number of stakeholders aimed to identify individuals with latent TB, and create a follow up programme of treatment and support for those diagnosed. Through the combined efforts of industry, public health teams and the third sector, 100 migrants (none of whom had previously signed up to a health care centre of GP) were tested, of which 33 were diagnosed with latent TB and all but one completed treatment for the illness.

These case studies were followed by the thoughts of two parliamentary speakers – Lord Hunt of King’s Heath, part of Labour’s health team, and Daniel Zeichner MP, Vice-Chair of the APPG for Life Science - who shared their thoughts on the issues and challenges facing the NHS in regards to the adoption of innovation, offering a valuable additional perspective to that presented by industry and the charities. This was followed by a wide discussion amongst all delegates, covering many familiar issues such as a short-term budgetary approach and perverse incentives, before Richard Phillips from the ABHI brought the meeting to a close. Attendees represented organisations from across the life sciences community, including CaSE, Kent Surrey and Sussex AHSN, NHS Providers and The Wellcome Trust, as well as a number of industry and charity representatives.

Lord Hunt of King's Heath

In comparison to the wholesale changes that have taken place within the Labour party, the summer has been relatively uneventful for the Conservative party, who this year headed to Manchester for their party conference on the back of their election victory in May. Elliott was joined at the roundtable by Doris-Ann, who brought the morning to an end by offering some closing remarks to another very interesting discussion.

Once again, the room was filled by a range of delegates from across the life science community to discuss how industry, charities and other bodies can best work together. Industry representatives were joined by several charities, including Alzheimer’s Research UK and Arthritis Research UK, as well as representatives from organisations such as the PHG Foundation and Northern Health Science Alliance. Case studies at this discussion came from Dr Donal Landers, Senior Research Physician at AstraZeneca, and Prof Kimme Hyrich, Fellow at the Arthritis Research UK Centre for Epidemiology. Dr Landers discussed AZ’s clinical bioinformatics collaboration with the University of Manchester, whilst Prof Hyrich spoke primarily about the British Society for Rheumatology Biologics Register, which tracks the progress of patients with severe rheumatoid arthritis (RA), who are receiving biologic agents, monitoring the safety and effectiveness of these treatments over a long-term period.

Professor Kimme Hyrich discusses the British Society for Rheumatology Biologics Register

The presence of four MPs at the event, given the time pressures felt by Parliamentarians during conference, was particularly satisfying; George Freeman MP, Minister for Life Sciences, was at the centre of much of the discussion, whilst Kit Malthouse MP, Chair of the APPG for Life Sciences, provided some initial thoughts. The attendance of Tom Tugendhat MBE MP and Matt Warman MP, both new to the House of Commons following this year’s election, was also very good see – it is always positive to find newly-elected MPs who show a keen interest in the life sciences and recognise the potential value of the sector. We look forward to engaging with the two of them in due course.

George Freeman MP, Minister for Life Sciences, spoke at the event

Kit Malthouse MP, Chair of the APPG for Life Sciences, with Doris-Ann

The party conferences are a valuable part of the external affairs strategy of BIVDA, allowing us to engage with MPs, peers and colleagues from within the life sciences sector and raise the profile of in vitro diagnostics and the value they offer as much as possible. We look forward to continuing to work with many of the different organisations represented around the table in Brighton and Manchester, as well as building on the new connections made at two excellent meetings. 


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