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‘The Changing Nature of R & D’ – It’s Time

Stuart Sherman, Founder and Director of Nexus community member Scaled Insights EMEA  joined us at the official Nexus Launch where we were delighted to unveil the key findings of the new report ‘The Changing Nature of R&D’. Stuart shares his thoughts on the new report, and key moments from the panel discussion.


One of the clear messages in “The Changing Nature of R&D” is that advanced data analytics are opening up a new frontier for business. It is data’s time, the report, commissioned by the CBI and Nexus, confirms and the potential economic and societal benefits are truly immense.

But it is also time which could be against us. We have to act now and we have to act fast.

The report makes some strong recommendations on accelerating growth in vital R&D spending, including expanding the scope of R&D tax credits and facilitating more collaboration between businesses and universities. The Nexus community is a prime example of what can be achieved when innovators work closely with world-leading researchers.

But we also need to create and nurture an environment in which those innovators and market disruptors can harness the power of currently underexploited data, quickly and effectively, with the confidence that they are working within clearly defined and supportive data governance parameters.

We have to pre-decide what those parameters are.

If we wait until the innovation is presented, then take months of deliberation to decide whether or not it meets data privacy rules, our international competitors, such as China, will already have taken 40 variants of the product to market and will be on the next stage of development.

The UK will always win on credibility and ethics – your regulatory regime is one of the strongest in the world (GDPR has its roots in Canada – it was based on Anne Cavoukian’s book “Privacy by Design” – and we’re famously risk-averse) – but the compliance process needs to be faster: because change is fast and continuous and we need to keep pace.


Stuart Sherman as part of the panel discussion

Stuart Sherman takes part in the panel discussion looking at 'The Changing Nature of R&D' report findings at the official Nexus launch


And I don’t think we have to reinvent the wheel – there is an existing model already in the market, whose way of testing innovative financial propositions could work just as well in other applications.

The Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) has a regulatory sandbox, which enables firms to test products and services in a controlled environment, reducing time-to-market and identifying any consumer protection safeguards that need to be built in.

That sort of “looking over your shoulder” approach, advising where necessary, but not slowing down the creative and production process, would encourage many more entrepreneurs to engage and see the UK as the best place to incubate and grow their ideas and businesses.

We are already analysing data and we’ll analyse data even more and even better in the future. If we’re using that data for good and are completely open and transparent about how that data is being used, people really don’t have a problem with it. We have to agree the guidance societally and punish the bad actors.

Healthcare will be one of the biggest beneficiaries of that process.

Understanding what motivates a human being to embrace behavioural change through research will help us to unlock greater insights, resulting in “tuned nudges” that resonate with the message recipient. Surveys about cancer patients, for example, will not only look at traditional factors such as age, family history and diet – they will ask about mental attitude and resilience.

We’re currently undertaking R&D work with the Leeds Institute of Medical Education, Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust and Health Education England to develop a “personalised NHS learning hub”. Using big data to forecast future actions and human insights to better understand what motivates us, we’re aiming to help the NHS deliver better training for nurses, doctors and medical practitioners across the country.

We’re also using AI software to support positive behaviour change across areas of health such as weight loss management. Using curated words and phrases to create a “voice personality” we can help guide physicians on the best treatment for patients by analysing what approach worked for previous patients with a similar voice personality.


A view of guests networking at the Nexus launch

Chris Gale, Professor of Cardiovascular Medicine and Head of Clinical and Population Sciences Department at the University of Leeds, joined me on the Nexus panel to discuss “The Changing Nature of R&D” report. He has undertaken a nationwide health study providing comprehensive R&D data on heart attack patients across the UK. Over 10,000 detailed records, with some hugely valuable insights.

But even though we cannot identify any of the individuals and even though I firmly believe those individuals would be more than happy to have their data reprocessed, if they knew it was in order to develop better outcomes for heart patients – we cannot approach the original study participants again, because there was no opt-in three years ago.

A classic example of where data governance parameters could be better structured to give positive societal benefits. We have to allow knowledge transfer and look sensibly at the data we hold and how it can be used for good outcomes.

The Nexus launch event and panel discussion was a great opportunity for businesses and academics to get together and share ideas and I hope one of my suggestions gains traction with the Nexus community and wider: a mechanism to help facilitate career paths for graduate talent, but also help start-up businesses fund that vital talent in their formative years.

Find out more about the report and download a copy.


The report produced in partnership with the CBI highlights the importance of data & data skills and the vast opportunities they present in helping to achieve the government’s 2.4% R&D growth target.

Chris Gale, Rebecca Endean, Stuart Sherman, Jane Francis, Felicity Burch and Trevor Hardcastle share their thoughts.