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An interview with Ian Campbell, chair of MedCity

In October this year Ian Campbell, former executive chair for Innovate UK, took over from Eliot Forster as chair of MedCity.  As well as his new role at MedCity, Ian also moved to medical research charity LifeArc as its new Chief Business Officer.

To close off the year Ian shares some reflections on starting two new roles at an extraordinary time for individuals, businesses and the health and care system, as well his vision for MedCity as we move forward to 2021.

Q: What drew you to the role of chair at MedCity?

MedCity has built a reputation as a key player in the connecting infrastructure in life sciences, and a navigator between NHS clinicians, as well as academics, the clinical trial network and companies in the sector. It provides an integral support system that allows the galvanisation of thoughts and ideas into meaningful collaborations. This results in benefits for the companies that participate, as well as providing links to academics and researchers in the translational space.

In my last four years with Innovate I was really able to understand the value in providing support beyond just funding, and that’s what MedCity does. My background working in universities and companies as well as some of the other networking organisations such as the knowledge transfer partnership, has allowed me to build quite a network over the last four years. Knowing my way through a combination of the funding ecosystem, political landscape, government departments and regional agendas at Innovate played into it.

MedCity not only builds on the infrastructure we have in our life science cluster and beyond, but is also relevant to the levelling up agenda. By establishing high quality, high value, impactful and meaningful jobs that require the next generation of talent and skills, across Life Sciences and data and data analysis, we’re broadening the reach across communities that otherwise wouldn’t get to participate.

Q: As well as taking up the role at MedCity, you’ve also joined the team at LifeArc – both in the middle of an unprecedented pandemic. How has that affected your first few months in your new roles?

There have been multiple impacts of the pandemic. Nobody would have thought that we could adapt to working in this remote way and still be able to undertake not far from business as usual. So COVID-19 has been a force for innovation in itself, not just in the development of new vaccines, therapeutics, tests and diagnostics, but also in the way that people work and engage.

I think for an organisation like MedCity, finding new channels for outreach is exciting. For example, one of the benefits has been an ability to reach new audiences and engage with stakeholders on a much broader spectrum at virtual networking events.

Virtual events are a really interesting example of a case where the tool was there at our fingertips for years, but it took this event for mass adoption. We shouldn’t forget the benefits of people being in front of people – and there needs to be a balance – but now I don’t think people will completely return to old ways of working again.  This has also brought with it a fantastic diversity aspect, where we’ve been able to reach a broader cross section of people and we’re seeing a much more even gender split. Those that may have chosen not to attend events in the past no longer have to physically be there.

Q: What’s your vision for the organisation going forwards?

The response to COVID-19 and being an integral part of the London Testing Alliance clearly shows we can reach the right stakeholders and create a purpose and a mission that others will rally around. We’ve played a role in attracting significant investment over the last year, we’ve continued to support international efforts and done all this while changing our ways of working to a very new environment. Now I’d like MedCity to be more confident. We are providing value added services and I’d like to see more recognition of that, and in compensation for our time and expertise. We can be a stronger and more emboldened organisation. That means letting go of some things and doing more of those things we identify that we can leverage. Clarity of purpose is important as is being robust about our service offering.

Q: In the wake of all 2020 has brought, what’s top of your list to achieve next year?

There will be natural legacies of COVID but our underlying aim as an organisation remains the same. And that is ‘how do we increase the support for a growing life sciences sector, particularly in the digital space, but also as a leading collaborator in building links across academia and industry?’

Whether that’s related to infectious diseases like COVID, whether it’s related to new diagnostic technologies or companies looking to target investment in finance. We will approach that openly, set our eyes beyond our part in the COVID response. For example, the expansion of the MedCity Angels programme to galvanise companies around investors is going to be increasingly important. As we’ve seen even more during COVID, funding is slowing down, so we need to make sure that the high value propositions get funded and result in economic gain as well as building innovative products and services.

Q: And, what of MedCity’s role beyond London and the south east of England?

We are a relatively small island, and in total across the UK we make up 3% of global healthcare spend. We need to think of ourselves locally and regionally, but we have to be relevant in totality, which means forging collaboration across the UK. There are many things we can develop – we can look at skill sets and abilities to form clusters, the difference between manufacturing and discovery, between therapeutics and diagnostics. We can make a more connected system across health and life sciences and MedCity offers the opportunity to link up clusters around the UK to the London economy.

We know there are more funders in London, it’s the centre of politics in the UK, the main regulators are there, the trade associations are there. I think we have a role to play in uniting the community and creating links into London and Westminster that reach locally, regionally, and nationally.

Q: Any closing thoughts?

Above all else MedCity is a people business, both through our team and the networks we engage with – so I’d like to finish by wishing everyone a happy Christmas and a prosperous 2021!

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