Making innovation happen in Life Sciences & Health

The corona crisis puts a spotlight on a number of challenges that we need to work on. The one standing out is the need to share data in a safe, secure and transparent way and apply it to improve health and care. This crisis shows us the way forward: in collaboration with governments, academia, companies and care providers. And not just in the healthcare sector. Data scientists, ethicists, economists, the army and many others are working together towards that same goal: to mitigate this crisis in the best possible way. To achieve that goal and to make health and healthcare future-poof, we need to sustain this collaboration and build on the unique strength of every partner involved.

Triple Helix

To truly innovate in health and healthcare we need to engage members of the public, the private and the academic sector, so each can bring their own strengths – and peculiarities – to the table. It’s simply the way things are organised.

  • The government’s role is to set the rules and create conditions to regulate the health market – keeping it affordable, accessible and of high quality. While the idea is to keep the system optimally organised to deliver the best health to their constituents, its time horizon is traditionally limited, as its following the tide of elections. But once effective and mature regulations are in place, they tend to last much longer.
  • Academics research and discover, and they evaluate interventions. They treat their study subjects as objectively and detached as possible. They take their time.
  • The private sector takes those discoveries and transforms them into actual innovations – new products and services meant to thrive in the marketplace. And to get a return on their investment, they tend to be in a rush to maintain cashflow so they can remain operational and implement new innovations.

Table: Some roles and characteristics

Government Academia Industry
Role Sets up conditions and rules Researcher, discoverer, evaluator Innovator, creator
Timeline Medium Long Short
Approach Process-oriented, democratic Descriptive, analytic Pragmatic, practice-oriented
Important rewards Public perception, votes, coalition partners Articles, papers, citations Turnover, market share, profit

Greater than its parts

A pessimist might say that each segment comes from another planet with its own languages, cultures and idiosyncrasies, and that a clash between them only works to slow down progress.

The optimistic view of this three-way interaction is that each party brings a particular strength to the table: academia knows in-depth research and brings about new knowledge, industry knows how to apply that knowledge in useful innovations, and governments know how to support and regulate markets to provide benefits to society as a whole.

At the Amsterdam Economic Board, we follow the optimistic view – and add a pragmatic stance.  We seek to ease the friction between the contrasting sectors and facilitate effective collaboration. We do this because we know that when it all comes together, great things happen!

In good health

In healthcare, most people now understand that improving health is not something that a single discipline – let alone a single organisation – can achieve. To make a difference, we need to work together, form alliances and pursue joint successes. And this needs to happen across the board.

When it works, it really works

While still in its infancy, the three-way collaboration has already proven to be a formula for success. Look at the multiple-prize-winning partnership between machine-learning innovators Pacmed and the academic hospital Amsterdam UMC, who are continually improving the situation and outcomes of intensive care (IC) patients. The immediate action that could be taken to help research on Covid-19 patients in the IC ward because of existing national collaborations

Then there’s the Public Health Service of Amsterdam collaborating with Philips and academia to improve children’s health. Or the City of Amsterdam helping sponsor the Dutch Innovation Center for Artificial Intelligence so the University of Amsterdam and the Inception Institute can find new ways to improve medical imaging. Insurers, care providers, schools, sports organisations and the City have also recently joined forces to effectively curb the obesity epidemic. And these are just a few of the accelerating numbers of similar initiatives being undertaken in the Amsterdam region alone.

Onward and upward

The groundwork we’ve laid so far – while still definitely a work-in-progress – has led to a more formal recognition of the effectiveness of three-way collaboration. Recently, top sector players, universities and research institutes, the City and the Amsterdam Economic Board signed a memorandum of understanding that states that all will work together on the execution of the Life Sciences & Health Amsterdam Action Plan, developing an infrastructure that not only works to open up data streams but also ensures the fruits of any collaborations reach patients through partnered care providers.

That groundwork also led to Smart Health Amsterdam, the platform that was launched to offer a strong network for data- and AI-driven innovation in Amsterdam’s life sciences and health sector. It connects all data and AI related key players, institutions, innovators, scientists, medics, investors and other bright minds of Amsterdam. That is also the place where we will announce new milestones – and we have a good number of them coming up! You are invited to join the community  and become part of this new way of working – or join because you’re curious about what will be coming up next. Stay tuned!

7 May 2020

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