Can the (bio)pharmaceutical industry and its drug interventions alone deliver effective solutions to the most critical areas of global disease burden? Based on its recent track record and current drug pipeline the answer is resoundingly NO. The rate of progress in many diseases (e.g. osteoarthritis, Alzheimer’s and cancer) has been dismal. In contrast, the revolutionary advances in technology arising from fields such as ICT, materials, advanced manufacturing, nanotechnology and consumer electronics have driven a renewed interest in the potential of MedTech, presenting a timely opportunity for an integrated approach that combines the principles of biomedicine and engineering to discover and develop the next generation of treatment solutions for patients.
There are already notable examples of convergence between Pharma and MedTech, which has led to treatments such as bioactive orthopaedic implants, drug-eluting stents and the artificial pancreas. However, these few examples are just the start of a new trend which has the potential to transform healthcare. Bold investments, such as the GSK bioelectronics initiative, provide a powerful statement of intent from the Pharma industry, whilst major MedTech companies, such as Medtronic, have continued their rapid progress from established devices, such as pacemakers, towards miniature, targeted, minimally-invasive devices for many applications. The burgeoning investment from both Pharma and MedTech in the field of regenerative medicine presents a parallel example with potential in many diseases.
Convergence of Pharma and MedTech, which are typified by a disparate mind-set and approach, necessitates a new generation of experts at the interface of the scientific disciplines which have traditionally underpinned the respective industries, biomedicine and engineering. Only with researchers conversant in the language of both bioscience and engineering will such convergence achieve its potential to deliver the next generation of healthcare solutions. To address this need requires a committed investment from academia and industry, as well as a favourable funding and regulatory environment, as set out in a recent report from the Institution of Mechanical Engineers.
The UK’s academic community is already leading the charge for a new generation of graduates skilled in both biomedicine and engineering. Bioengineering or Biomedical Engineering as an engineering discipline has seen unparalleled growth in recent years and there are now over 70 undergraduate courses across the UK at 27 institutions. This growth is not so much a coincidence, but rather a necessity to equip our future healthcare innovators with the engineering skills and medical knowledge to develop future solutions.
Convergence between Pharma and MedTech must be underpinned by convergence between academic disciplines and between academia and industry, to maximise success and healthcare impact. For the first time, this year the academic centres funded by the Wellcome Trust & EPSRC Medical Engineering Initiative are expanding their annual meeting in collaboration with the Bioengineering Society, with an open invitation to all academic centres and interested healthcare companies, which will become the flagship national forum for this burgeoning field. The MECbioeng14 conference, hosted at Imperial College London on 10-11 September 2014, will be the UK’s largest ever gathering of bioengineers, biomedical engineers and medical engineers from academia and industry. If you want to be part of it, further information and registration details can be found on their website: http://www.mecbioeng.org/.
Contributed by Dr Jenna Stevens-Smith and Dr Harry Lamble, Imperial College London
The One Nucleus blog is written by individuals and is not necessarily a reflection of the views held by One Nucleus.
 Drug discovery: A jump-start for electroceuticals Nature 496, 159–161 (11 April 2013) doi:10.1038/496159a http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v496/n7444/full/496159a.html
 Biomedical Engineering: Advancing UK Healthcare. http://www.imeche.org/docs/default-source/reports/biomedical-engineering-advancing-uk-healthcare.pdf?sfvrsn=0
 UCAS Search tool http://search.ucas.com/search/providers?CountryCode=&RegionCode=&Lat=&Lng=&Feather=&Vac=1&AvailableIn=2015&Query=biomedical+engineering&ProviderQuery=&AcpId=&Location=&SubjectCode=