The importance of entrepreneurship and innovation in paediatrics: a call to action

Authors

  • Zeshan Qureshi Department of History and Philosophy of Medicine, University of Cambridge

Keywords:

paediatrics, innovation, entrepreneurship

Abstract

The challenge

Paediatrics can sometimes be left behind adult medicine in the domain of innovation. There are fewer health technologies designed specifically for children and young people; rather there is a tendency for adult products to be repurposed for children, without accounting for important biological differences during childhood and adolescence. More generally, there is a fragmented approach to developing child health technology, making it harder to find support. There are also fears from paediatricians and investors around the field. Paediatricians are concerned about paediatric clinical trials being risky due to clinical, administrative, and ethical challenges. Investors worry about a small market, often encompassing those from low-income backgrounds, with less potential for commercialisation. Both worry about overcoming the regulatory pathway that impedes innovation.

Entrepreneurship as a Catalyst for Change

While research is integral to improve paediatric outcomes, entrepreneurship offers an avenue to transform these findings into real-world applications. Clinical practice offers doctors with an entrepreneurial spirit the opportunity to identify gaps in the current care model, then design products that might be solutions. Research studies can then prove their effectiveness, and a company can be utilised to mass produce and market the product. Whilst understanding the business environment is not within paediatric training, support can be garnered elsewhere. Engaging with charitable donors, angel investors, venture capitalists and government grants (like the invention for innovation (i4i) scheme) means that there is opportunity to not only fund rapid expansion, but also to be heavily supported along the way with those experienced in the business world.

Improved Patient Outcomes Through Innovation

Dr Tamsin Holland-Brown, a community paediatrician who specialises in looking after deaf children, was frustrated with the inaccessibility of early hearing support. She partnered with charities such as the Raspberry Pi foundation and a parent/public voice group to develop an affordable hearing device and app (Hear Glue Ear), to allow self-management in the context of glue ear.1 Multiple research studies have demonstrated that not only was the headset good at improving hearing, but the app could support children at home including estimating hearing loss, enabling management of hearing loss remotely. The device and app have subsequently won innovation and paediatric awards, and has been highly commended by NICE as a shared-learning example. Most importantly, it is improving the lives of children in the UK and abroad by enhancing hearing and providing access to earlier care and support.

By supporting innovation and entrepreneurship the NHS has an opportunity to retain staff and retain new technologies within the NHS.

Fostering a Culture of Innovation

To continue the momentum, there's a need for a culture in paediatrics that values and encourages innovation. Doctors are uniquely positioned to be at the forefront of this movement. Consultants have the capacity with years of experience to really get to know a patient group and their challenges. Junior doctors, with fresh perspectives and a connection to a recent diverse paediatric curriculum, can identify areas ripe for innovation and push the boundaries of what's possible. Supportive institutions and hospitals can play a pivotal role by providing resources, mentorship, and platforms for budding medical entrepreneurs. By backing entrepreneurial endeavours, we not only promote the growth of paediatrics but also ensure that children benefit from the latest and most effective interventions.

Opportunities

Currently two programmes are particularly important, and anyone reading this, with just an idea, can join. The Clinical Entrepreneur Programme is led by Professor Tony Young, with applications every year, and this year being between 2nd-29th October 2023.2 It is free, covering all aspects of setting up and running a new business, including: attracting investors, applying for funding, and ensuring appropriate corporate governance, with a view to benefiting the NHS. It is designed to support those in full time clinical roles, with flexible event timings, including evenings and weekends. The TITCH network (Technology Innovation Transforming Child Health) accepts applications all year round, and specifically focuses on challenges in paediatrics.3 They have already helped raise over £3 million of grant funding for child health technologies, and have an annual conference, the child health technology conference (this year 8-9th November 2023), where the latest topics in child health technology are hotly debated, with Q and A sessions, and live technology demonstration to bring people in line with key developments in the field.

There are also specific child health accelerators by organisations like the Founder’s Factory that specialising in growing businesses, giving businesses the kick start required to reach the point of attracting investment to develop a product. Investment charities exist that specialise purely in supporting child health, like Thinking of Oscar, set up after the sudden death of Oscar Cole in 2014, which has to date raised £350k to fund projects across the UK.4 Springhood became the first venture capitalist investor focused broadly on children’s health.5 All these opportunities can be utilised today.

Conclusions

The future of paediatric care depends on continuous innovation. It's about evolving and adapting to the ever-changing needs of children. Entrepreneurship and innovation are not without challenges. The medical field, with its inherent risks, requires rigorous testing and validation of any new method or tool. Ethical considerations are paramount, especially in a field like paediatrics where the family are also involved and the patients voice needs expertise to be captured accurately as well.

However, with the right guidance, collaboration, and persistence, these challenges can be navigated. Paediatricians should be encouraged to think outside the box but also be reminded of the weight and responsibility their innovations carry. Above all, paediatricians should know that by merging their clinical expertise with an embracing of the entrepreneurial mindset, they can pave the way for innovations that can drastically improve patient outcomes. The journey might be challenging, but the rewards — improved lives of countless children — are worth every effort.

References

Hear Glue Ear [Internet] [updated 2022; cited 2023 August 29] Available from: https://hearglueear.co.uk/

NHS Clinical Entrepreneur Programme [Internet] [updated 2023; cited 2023 August 29] Available from: https://nhscep.com/

TITCH Network [Internet] [updated 2023; cited 2023 August 29] Available from: https://nhscep.com/

Thinking of Oscar [Internet] [updated 2018; cited 2023 August 29] Available from: https://thinkingofoscar.com/

Springhood [Internet] [updated 2017; cited 2023 August 29] Available from: https://www.springhood.com/#who

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Published

17-11-2023

How to Cite

Qureshi, Z. . (2023). The importance of entrepreneurship and innovation in paediatrics: a call to action. London Paediatrics, 4. Retrieved from http://journal.londonpaediatrics.co.uk/index.php/1/article/view/84

Issue

Section

Insight