The role of data and data-based solutions is increasingly prominent in the life sciences industry. How can these solutions address personalised treatment, and what should the role of the Amsterdam Metropolitan Area be? These were the topics of the second Amsterdam Life Sciences cafe, organised by the Amsterdam Economic Board and EY.
The first speaker this afternoon is Markwin Velders, VP Operations and Managing Director at Kite Pharma EU, located in Amsterdam. Kite Pharma develops new cancer immunotherapy treatments, which use a person’s own T-cells to boost the immune system’s ability to recognize and eradicate tumors. The clinical results of the treatments are promising; fifty percent of the patients react well to the therapy, which means that the T-cells actually start cleaning up the cancer cells.
The Kite Pharma method is personalised medicine at its best. “We use patients’ own immune cells”, Markwin explains. “So each treatment is manufactured for a specific patient.” Cells are taken from a patient and sent to the production facility in Los Angeles where they are prepared for the treatment. Kite Pharma is also building a production facility in Hoofddorp, that will be fully operational in 2020.
The importance of data for personalised medicine
“There are big differences between personalised therapy and regular medicine”, Markwin says. “One thing is that we need to qualify every single hospital before they can use our treatment. We show them how to use the cells. They need to follow an exact procedure, just like we do.”
And that is where the data and the systems processing them come in. “The chain of custody, and the chain of control are crucial for our therapy. We need to know where the cells are every moment, and we need to be 100% sure that the correct cells go to the correct patients.”
Bridge the gap
Marc van Kempen, Advisor integrated digital health solutions, brings a totally different perspective to the topic of data and life sciences: the behavioural aspect. “How can we bridge the gap between knowledge and doing? We know a lot of things about medicine and how they should work, but drugs don’t work for patients who don’t take them.”
“We spend billions of dollars on R&D, but every year in Europe alone almost 200,000 people die because of misdosing, or because they stop taking their medication. There’s a disconnect between science and practice. We know that science is not real life, but how do we act upon that knowledge? Do we only want to innovate and come up with new products, or do we want to innovate and connect the innovations to the real world?”
Tech companies entering the healthcare market
His advice is to not only use the data from the R&D, but to also use the behavioural data. Just like the Googles and Amazons of this world, companies that are slowly but surely entering the healthcare market. “Traditional healthcare companies are way too slow, tech companies are much faster.”
Marc sees many opportunities in the Netherlands for bridging this gap, and to help keep the healthcare sector in the driver’s seat. “This year we are number two on the global innovation index. We may be small, but we can be a great platform where we can act, where we can test. It’s time to start building the bridge.”
Behavioural data in personalised medicine
For Kite Pharma there isn’t a lot to gain from using more behavioural data, Markwin says when asked about it by moderator Marc ter Haar (EY). “We never met anyone who didn’t want our treatment: it is offered only after a patient has heard that he or she only has a few months left. It really is their last straw. For us, when it comes to data, predictive data on genetics is more relevant. We have identified certain indicators that are related to the success of the treatment. More and better predictive data can make individualised medicine more effective.”
Some people in the audience have questions about privacy and trust. The biggest problem according to Marc is that there is hardly any governance on data. “Politicians mostly act after something happened, like we saw at the Facebook/Cambridge Analytica scandal.” People are hard to read too. “We give consent to Google to use all of our data without even thinking about it, we keep on using Facebook but we don’t know what we want others to do with our healthcare data. The next generation is open to sharing data, which is a good thing if we want to be able to test different things in the system.”
A healthcare app with 192 million users
Several people, including the speakers, refer to China, where the privacy laws are less strict than in Europe and the US. They have, for example, a healthcare app that is already used by 192 million people, “Can you imagine the amount of data they have over there?”, someone from the audience asks; “What kind of pharmaceutical innovations come from China?”, Marc; “On the short term I don’t expect much innovation, but they have so much data in fact that they can accelerate the learning curve, and use more behavioural data.”
Marc van Kempen gets the final word. He emphasizes the role that the Netherlands can have in bringing big data into life sciences and health. “We underestimate where we are in the Netherlands. If you fail here, your failure isn’t big. It’s a well regulated market, so we’re rather safe. We’re open for innovation, everyone speaks English and we have an eye for quality. So I think we should claim this big data piece.”
The next life sciences cafe is on the 22nd of November. The topic will be personalised prevention
In the report Life Sciences 4.0: securing value through platform-based businesses, EY explores how health is being reimagined as a result of scientific and technological change and rising customer expectations.