We hear pretty much every day at present that our healthcare system is close to breaking point and collapse. The pandemic has put huge pressures on an already struggling system. We have become obsessed with Covid cases and seem to think that it is the sole measure of the health of the nation but I think we have a much bigger healthcare problem than Covid to deal with. I walked through a shopping centre last weekend and was appalled at how many people were overweight, not those that could do with losing a few pounds but those that were worryingly obese. For the next thirty years, this is what is going to put huge pressures on an already struggling system.
I think the communication from the government and NHS has been so poor in the last year. Obesity is clearly a risk factor, not just with Covid but a host of other healthcare issues, including diabetes, heart disease and cancer (Cancer Research UK state that obesity is the UK’s biggest cause of cancer after smoking). In 2016/17, 617,000 admissions to NHS hospitals recorded obesity as a primary or secondary diagnosis. It seems that talking about obesity has become a taboo for some reason. The pandemic provided a huge opportunity for the authorities to highlight how important healthy eating and exercise is to a nation concerned about healthcare. That opportunity has been missed.
Not all is lost though. The NHS’s Long Term Plan has ‘Doing things differently’ as it’s number one objective and we agree that healthcare systems have to evolve in the way that healthcare is provided and consumed to survive. That is the core theme of two assets we invest in that are aimed at improving a healthcare system that will be continually close to collapse if things don’t change. Paul Major and Brett Darke from one of the assets, BB Healthcare, are well worth a listen/read to their views on how we need to change healthcare systems.
Another asset that we own in healthcare is Syncona, who we had a call with last week. The share price performance over the last year has been pretty dire. It’s a UK healthcare company that aims ‘to turn exceptional science into transformational treatments for patients in areas of high unmet need’. We’ve invested in Syncona since we started as I think it’s a really important and exciting asset to be invested in. They have strong links with academia and usually found companies with the University to try and develop the latest healthcare ideas to see if they can become commercial.
Syncona is undoubtedly high-risk. They own 12 companies and currently have 12 clinical trials with the aim of commercialising revolutionary healthcare solutions. Examples include Quell, a cell therapy company established by Syncona in 2019 with King’s College London, UCL and Hannover Medical School. It aims to use T cells to address a range of conditions including organ transplant rejection, autoimmune and inflationary diseases. Gyroscope Therapeutics is developing a gene therapy to treat a leading cause of blindness. Anaveon is a biopharmaceutical company that develops biologics to modulate the function of cytokines with the potential to benefit cancer patients. The list goes on. Some will fail and be disappointing. However, we believe it is important to provide funding to these ideas, which could change the lives of millions.
Whilst the likes of BB Healthcare and Syncona provide an exciting potential future for healthcare, we still need to do more to improve prevention. The NHS Long Term Plan sets out the top five reasons for premature deaths in England with poor diet being number two and obesity number four (smoking is number one). Without engagement and communication, those risks are likely to overtake smoking in the next twenty years.
I think healthcare should be a core allocation in portfolios, focused on funding improving the healthcare system, not focused on the huge incumbent names such as Johnson & Johnson, Pfizer, Roche, AstraZeneca etc. I am optimistic about the future for healthcare and think with positive engagement on difficult subjects like poor diet and obesity, combined with the future painted by the NHS’s Long Term Plan, we will all live longer, healthier lives, supported by an efficient healthcare system.
Thanks for reading and….