Innovation for the people. How innovation can change lives for the better

19th May 2020
Medical innovation

It’s hard to believe how, in just a few weeks, the world could feel so very different for all of us. And in so many ways.

It is hard to remember what life was like before the hugely devastating and disruptive global impact of COVID-19 and the heart-breaking personal impact it has had for far too many.

Shortly before the effects of the pandemic infiltrated our lives, as a team, we were finalising our strategy for achieving our mission for the Leeds City Region. Part of that mission is ‘to inspire and incentivise innovation driven enterprises to develop innovative solutions to tightly defined global societal challenges’.

Little did we know then that such a mission was to suddenly explode in size, scope and speed around the globe, within a few short weeks.

The wording in our mission has become the new norm. We’re seeing daily, urgent calls by governments to entrepreneurs around the world to help solve the global pandemic challenge. Never was innovation more urgently needed to change lives for the better.

Following the Government’s urgent call to help fight the pandemic, we’re seeing outstanding agility, adaptability and entrepreneurship in the most unlikely partnerships. Who would have put medical equipment companies to work with BAE Systems, Rolls-Royce, Airbus and McLaren?

Innovation, collaboration and creativity like this are so often forced by the fire of catastrophe. They show what is possible, yet we also need what is sustainable.

The MIT REAP programme has helped us understand better the vital interdependence between innovative businesses, entrepreneurship, skills, investment and productivity. Building on this, we’ve mapped out our city region’s strengths and challenges towards achieving our mission.

One of our four priority sectors is health technology (“healthtech”). Through the current crisis, we’re seeing at close quarters that innovation in healthtech is vital not just to change lives for the better, but to save lives. And, as first set out in the Leeds City Region Science and Innovation Audit (2017), ‘Opportunities and Growth: Medical Technologies’, healthtech presents huge potential for regional economic growth.

We are the largest economic region in the UK outside London and the South East and a vibrant hub for healthtech businesses. In our universities, we have one of the largest concentrations of healthtech research facilities in Europe.

As I write, we’re still in the midst of the pandemic’s grip, and beginning to talk about the “new normal”. We must acknowledge – along with everyone else – that huge uncertainties lie in the months ahead., but what is sure is that we will need to work hard and resolutely to support economic recovery.

As the first glimmers of light appear at the end of this tunnel – and they will – the need to change people’s lives for the better will remain. And innovation driven enterprises will still be at the heart of achieving that.

We have seen up close during this crisis that health and wealth are intrinsically linked and inclusive economic growth will still be the way to strengthen that link.

Along with many other things around the world, our MIT REAP strategy for Leeds and the City Region may need to adapt to a new world. But our goal to inspire and enable innovation driven entrepreneurship in healthtech won’t change and will arguably become more relevant. We believe it will help save lives, improve health and care services and enable people to live healthier lives for longer.

Jo-Anne Wass
on behalf of Leeds Academic Health Partnership