Our entrepreneurs: Neil Stevens

In our latest #OurEntrepreneurs profile we meet cohort 7 Clinical Entrepreneur Neil Stevens, Managing Director, and Non-Executive Director.

Tell us a bit about yourself 

Having graduated with a Psychology degree I studied a postgraduate qualification in AI. My career within the NHS was in the Information Management and Technology arena – where I was able to use my real passion for finding ways to design and implement innovative digital solutions to solve ‘real-world’ health and care problems. Having led a range of ambitious IT-enabled change programmes I decided to leave the NHS after 30 years and move into Management Consulting – though remaining in the Health and Social care sector.

Name: Neil Stevens, Cohort 7.

Occupation: Managing Director, and Non-Executive Director.    

Organisation: Southwest Academic Health Science Network

After leaving, I returned to support the NHS as a non-executive director at the Southwest Academic Health Science Network.

I am now also the Managing Director of Predictive Health Intelligence – which is a company set up to develop a case finding methodology which is supported by an intuitive IT solution, specifically with the goal to target the 26,000 preventable deaths each year from liver disease.

Why did you apply to the programme and how is the programme supporting you?

I heard about the programme through a range of routes – including at professional conferences and through my work at the AHSN. It sounded like the perfect way to bring together clinical innovation and business innovation, with the aim of making a massive positive difference to delivery in the health and social care sector. I applied for cohort 6 but was not selected. This time round I spent a lot of time preparing and perfecting my application for cohort 7 and thankfully it paid off!

Having developed the approach and the digital solution to support it, we are now at the difficult stage of moving from a research/innovation grant-funded company to one which needs to generate commercial revenue to continue to survive once the grant funding is gone. This means ‘selling’ our solution – whether to ICBs, individual Trusts, internationally, or to Pharma companies. I think the Clinical Entrepreneur Programme is perfectly placed to support us with moving from an ‘innovation’ phase to a ‘commercial’ phase.

Tell us about your innovation  

In 2019 I spoke to an ex-colleague, who is a consultant Gastroenterologist and liver specialist – and used to be the clinical lead for IT in the community where I led a range of projects under the National Programme for IT. He was telling me about his frustration about the number of people turning up in his liver clinic with serious jaundice caused by liver damage, too late to treat in any meaningful way. He found that, when he looked at individual histories, for example blood test results, he could see the signs that his patients were in the early stages of liver disease (often 3 or 4 years before they presented with any symptoms) – and had he been able to identify them earlier, most of them would have been treatable.

As we discussed this further, we came up with an idea of developing a novel way to look at the wealth of data already held in healthcare systems in the UK (and worldwide) to identify people most at risk and where interventions would be most beneficial. We set up a company to make this happen and were fortunate in securing a grant from NIHR for a three-year project. This runs to end of March 2024, following a recent extension due to delays caused largely by the Covid pandemic.

There are 26,000 preventable deaths from liver disease in England every year(1). Globally, liver disease accounts for 2m deaths each year, with 1 in 25 deaths caused by liver disease(2). We have already stated to contact people to invite them to make an appointment in the liver clinic and to date, 100% of those contacted who have made an appointment have been positively diagnosed and are now on treatment. None of them had any symptoms at all, and if left undiagnosed, would have gone on to develop such severe liver disease to the point that no treatments would have been effective.

Our solution has been designed to work for any condition where historic data shows a pre-indication of developing subsequent diseases (e.g. diabetes, CV disease, chronic kidney disease) and we are confident that it could be a real game-changer in how the NHS becomes more proactive in avoiding healthcare problems.

What motivates you? 

Having worked within the NHS for all of my career, I have always been motivated by ‘adding value’. In all my consulting work I take the approach that the value I deliver to clients must always exceed the cost to them – otherwise I am not helping to improve delivery of high-quality and cost-effective care. But the most rewarding experience to date in my career has been to be part of developing a solution which enables us to find people who are ill, before they have any symptoms, and crucially, when treatments are still very effective. The patient feedback has been overwhelmingly positive, and this brings me so much satisfaction.

What are your ambitions for the next year?

We hope to progress beyond the research and innovation phase, with an aim to then achieve benefit at scale, both in the UK and globally, which will require exploring investment opportunities to execute this. This is hugely exciting for us.

Why do you think innovation is important in healthcare?

The NHS has challenges around funding as demand will always be greater than available capacity – given the changing demographic profile, technological developments, and rising expectations. The only way to address this is through effective innovation and service redesign – and to intervene much earlier in the pathway of disease progression. In this way we can help to achieve the ‘prevention is better than cure’ approach.

How can we find out more?

Please visit the Predictive Health Intelligence website for more information.