The UK General Election - 4th July 2024

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Can the MHRA’s Roadmap propel the UK’s life sciences vision?

Sophie Figueiredo

Account Manager

The UK Government has set its sights on a bold ambition: transforming the UK into a life sciences superpower. The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency’s (MHRA) recently published roadmap is a step in the right direction to achieving this. By prioritising transparency, open dialogue and cooperation with industry, the MHRA’s plan adds clarity to the regulatory landscape and sets clear tracks for industry engagement over the next two years. Nonetheless, the pitfalls inherent in policy making and delivery, including message confusion, poor demand signalling, and policy overload, have the potential to derail the roadmap. For the UK to lead the charge in developing and delivering improved access to medical technology (MedTech), the MHRA will need to ensure that all parts of the system are able to work together towards clear and articulated goals and deliverables.

A crucial sector in the UK Government’s pursuit of life science superpower status is MedTech, where the landscape is rapidly evolving with transformative breakthroughs in artificial intelligence, diagnostics, software and implantable devices. The MHRA’s new roadmap, delivering priority measures in 2024 and core elements by 2025, promises new measures to support access without delay to innovative MedTech. In response to a 2021 consultation that called for reform of the regulatory approach to MedTech, the roadmap sets out a phased approach to deliver regulation via a series of new Statutory Instruments.

The roadmap is a significant step towards creating a more predictable and harmonised regulatory environment for the MedTech sector post-Brexit and is designed to deliver more patient-centred, proportionate requirements for medical devices which are responsive to technological advances. The MHRA’s roadmap centres around two key ambitions: to boost patient access and to champion innovation. But does the roadmap have the potential to help the UK achieve its goal of life science supremacy?

The plan aims to bring innovative MedTech to UK patients faster by streamlining regulations and fostering a more agile approach to approvals. This includes prioritising measures such as enhanced post-market surveillance and increasing the use of real-world clinical data to validate the effectiveness and safety of new technologies. The plan further prioritises a proportionate risk-based approach that tailors regulatory requirements around the potential risks and benefits of each technology.

Secondly, the roadmap aims to drive MedTech growth and innovation in the UK by developing a skilled workforce through targeted investments in training and education programmes and encouraging collaboration between academia, industry and healthcare providers to support research and development (R&D). To champion innovation, the plan further aims to simplify regulatory pathways for emerging technologies by creating clear and predictable regulatory frameworks, particularly for AI powered tools and other cutting-edge solutions.

While the roadmap holds immense promise, to succeed in boosting the UK’s life sciences credentials, the MHRA must deliver on striking the balance between safety and innovation, managing stakeholder expectations, building international trust, and investing in regulatory infrastructure.

 

Striking the safety-innovation balance

Expediting access should not compromise patient safety and the MHRA must ensure robust safeguards remain in place, particularly for high-risk devices and AI-powered tools. The MHRA must uphold its commitment to robust pre- and post- market surveillance, maintaining stringent safety standards while streamlining processes. It will need to articulate its safety measures transparently, explaining how equivalent or even enhanced safeguards will be implemented within the new framework. Implementing robust ethical frameworks for AI integration in healthcare should also be considered.

 

Managing stakeholder expectations

Balancing the interests of patients, industry and healthcare providers is invariably complex and the MHRA should actively engage with all stakeholders throughout the implementation process to provide detail on measures, address concerns and build consensus. Building trust with both industry and the public is essential for ensuring successful implementation and delivery of the roadmap.

 

Building international trust

If mutual recognition agreements are achieved with other regulatory bodies, like the US FDA and EU Commission, it will streamline market access for UK-developed MedTech products and facilitate faster device access for UK patients. Companies currently navigating multiple, separate regulatory hurdles could find the UK market much more appealing if mutual recognition agreements are delivered, boosting investment and access, and fostering a diverse, cutting-edge regulatory system.

However, mutual recognition will require trust and partnering with regulatory bodies with differing standards necessitates robust mechanisms for ensuring the highest levels of patient safety. Transparency, communication, and harmonisation efforts and rigorous audits will be crucial for building trust and convincing partners that the UK remains committed to high-quality medical devices.

 

Funding and infrastructure

Implementing the roadmap’s ambitious goals will require significant investment in regulatory infrastructure, skilled personnel, and R&D support to maintain the MHRA’s reputation as a reliable and competent regulatory partner. Securing sustained funding from both public and private sectors will be critical.

The MHRA’s roadmap represents a bold step towards achieving the UK’s life sciences aspirations. By prioritising consistency, clarity and continuous improvement, the MHRA has the potential to positively transform the regulatory environment to boost patient access and encourage investment and innovation in the UK market. However, success will hinge on sustained collaboration and consensus between the MHRA and industry, built through open dialogue and detailed deliverables, that clarify the road ahead for industry.

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