Smart Health Amsterdam: ‘Data for Life’ comes to life

The network for data- and AI-driven innovation in Amsterdam’s life sciences and health sector, Smart Health Amsterdam (SHA) is very happy to welcome its 1,000th member. Let’s take this moment to remember some of our remarkable achievements over the past two years – while looking ahead at the challenges in a further improvement of health and healthcare.

Viva la data

‘I see Smart Health Amsterdam as a unique ecosystem of universities, hospitals, companies and other stakeholders joining forces to bring real innovations in healthcare’, says Marcel Worring, professor at University of Amsterdam and co-founder of Innovation Centre for Artificial Intelligence (ICAI).

‘I am only too happy to contribute and collaborate’, he says.

This is good news since Marcel not only happens to be Smart Health Amsterdam’s 1,000th member, but his employer the University of Amsterdam is a full-blown partner. Regardless, SHA has come a long way since launching two years ago as the network for data- and AI-driven innovation in Amsterdam’s life sciences and health sector.

Foundation for an innovation ecosystem

It all began around five years ago, when the Amsterdam Economic Board made a connection between two reports: one celebrating Amsterdam’s position as a data science hub and another that highlighted Amsterdam as a healthcare innovator. Wouldn’t these two sectors be a great fit?

The arrival of the European Medicines Agency (EMA) to the Netherlands in 2018 provided the additional spark in bringing together all relevant stakeholders and getting behind an action programme to establish Amsterdam as a sustainable innovation hub for improving healthcare.

In the fall of 2019, major players such as the City of Amsterdam, Amsterdam UMC, OLVG, VU Universiteit Amsterdam, the Netherlands Cancer Institute (NKI)/Antoni van Leeuwenhoek Hospital, Sanquin, the University of Amsterdam, the National Research Institute for Mathematics and Computer Science (CWI), University of Applied Science (HVA) and the Amsterdam Economic Board came together to sign a Memorandum of Understanding to make it all happen.

Then coronavirus happened.

Covid-19 as booster

With the arrival of a global pandemic, it became clearer that AI and the sharing of medical data could have a profound impact on improving health and healthcare – in terms of saving lives, staying up to date, cutting care costs, and better preparing us for any future pandemics.

In other words, ‘Data for Life’ became more relevant than ever. And indeed, the Life Science & Health (LSH) sector still managed to grow by 6% in the Netherlands over the last pandemic year – despite the many challenges.

Many cross-sector collaborations also arose, including a new Covid algorithm that can predict which people are at the greatest risk of developing complications after contracting coronavirus. The Corona-Check app was released and the Amsterdam UMC spearheaded a data-sharing initiative involving 78 hospitals to investigate what treatments work best in treating coronavirus patients.

We’ve also made significant steps in establishing a unified regional health data infrastructure – an essential element in pushing our vision forward.

Maximising real-world impact

Backed by strong partners and a robust LSH ecosystem, we can safely say that Smart Health Amsterdam is a functioning network bringing together healthcare facilities, academia, the business world (from start-ups to big pharma) and relevant policymakers to push through data-driven innovation in healthcare. The platform itself has become a showcase of triple-helix success stories.

The network is also deeply involved in AI Technology for People, which unites the city’s research institutes, the City of Amsterdam and the Amsterdam Economic Board to invest one billion euros in developing AI in the region over the next 10 years.

In it together

We’re very proud of what we’ve achieved. But more work needs to be done. We need to work harder to involve our growing coalition of partners, to attract more funding, and to discover the best ways to scale our ambitions – first to the region and then the world.

After all, as the pandemic also taught us: we’re all in this together.

As Amsterdam Economic Board’s former health lead Jeroen Maas succinctly observed: ‘If you let me dream a bit, I can imagine in seven years having algorithms that can actively help in preventing certain diseases altogether. I think this is reachable if we continue to work at this speed. And when we continue to work together.’

Read the full Second Progress Report for the Action Programme Life Sciences & Health 2019-2022 via this link (article number TKN7, Dutch only).

If you haven’t already: join the Smart Health Amsterdam network.