#HealthcareMatters | Embracing Innovation: Shaping the Future of Healthcare
Warm Welcome, Darren to the first episode of #HealthcareMatters. Our intention is to have informal chat with healthcare leaders on some key topics related to health care. So first, how are you today, Darren? Hesham, thank you very much for being here and glad I can be part of this inaugural healthcare talk. And I'm doing great.
It's my first time in Sofia, Bulgaria. So, I'm really happy to be here and I'm learning a lot of great things about this country and city. Great. That's great see you here in Sofia.
So, the first question I would like to ask you, you know, I'm a big believer in the power of culture in the healthcare organization, to help us serve our patients better. So how do you describe, you know, the importance of cultivating an innovation culture within the healthcare organization? And what are the steps that we need to take, to make this culture really impactful for more healthcare innovation? That’s a great question. I'm also very passionate about culture and innovation. And it's actually something that we put a lot of focus on with that rush.
But maybe to kind of go first on the top line of the answer to this is that many healthcare companies need to be resilient and adaptive to the future to realize the future opportunities and improving outcomes in health care. And the path through that is through innovation. But the challenge is how do you get there? How do you really tap into the potential that innovation can bring into the organization? Well, the first is actually, as you said, how do you develop a culture of innovation? And this really starts at the organizational level where you need to create the space to encourage and foster your people to come up with new ideas, to experiment, to fail fast. And through those organizations, you have to ensure that you're enabling that through appropriate resourcing and investment to make it happen. And then I think the third element also is that as an organization, we need to not just only be open to the ideas from within, and ideas can come from anywhere within an organization, so we have to be able to capture that. But also, we have to be open to the ideas from the outside as well.
And I think this present is unique opportunities for companies like ourselves, Roche as a major pharmaceutical company. To partner with startups or other technology companies or even other pharmaceutical companies in order to tap into great ideas that can really make a positive difference in improving healthcare. Thank you, Daren.
And let me move now to the geography perspective. As you know, though, we have some challenges in Eastern Europe for our healthcare system. But still the positive news is that over the past few years, we're seeing a lot of progress in terms of healthcare innovation, and we can claim that Eastern Europe is becoming really a hub for healthcare innovation.
What's your reflection on that? And what are the factors that are making us more and more innovative in terms of healthcare? But first, I'm really excited about what we're seeing in innovation in Eastern Europe, particularly from the startup community and also what we're seeing, without even a lot of big corporates and how they're bringing innovation in this area. But I think it's the situation of Eastern Europe - we have to acknowledge that health care ecosystems here are very challenging. There’re issues of sustainability, there's lack of funding. In Eastern Europe, we're dealing with changes, demographics, you know, more ageing population. And then we have plenty of challenges in the healthcare system, like less physicians, less health care providers and nurses and such.
And I think it's through these challenges that are really creating these opportunities. So, through that, it creates the opportunity for young people from the universities, forming startups that come up with new ideas. And one thing that we've been part of at Roche is actually facilitating things like healthcare hackathons, in collaboration with governments and universities. And these are the opportunities that we see that kind of spearhead ideas coming forward and making a positive difference. The other thing I think is really important about eastern Slovakia is just the talent. There’re so many bright people here, we have a lot of good focus in the university system around technology.
And I think we just have to embrace that and that's also creating a unique opportunity. And maybe the final point is that because of that, I do think is getting good attention from European associations like the European Institute of Health, where there is more investments coming into eastern Slovakia to kind of tap into these great ideas that are blossoming here and trying to bring them through Eastern Europe and also even further into rest of Europe or the United States or other countries. So, it's very exciting, and I'm really looking forward to seeing what Eastern Europe can have to offer in the future as we put more and more emphasis around innovation in healthcare.
Great. I believe that's an excellent bridge to my next question. So personally, I'm very curious to know more about the third stream of the accelerator - The Healthcare Lab. So, what would you tell us about healthcare labs and specifically the third wave or the third stream? So, the healthcare lab actually is a startup accelerator focused on healthcare innovation that started for Central Europe, out of Slovakia. And we've been running it now for two years. In the second year, we partnered with EIT Health, so we had support through the European Union and investment, and we actually expanded it throughout Europe through the majority of Europe.
So, we have over 200 startups applying and a lot of interest in terms of how we can solve in terms of better diagnosis, better data management and better complimentary services to improve the patient journey. We're looking to still continue the health care lab, and this is a Roche sponsored initiative. And the next phase of it will be taking a similar approach, but we'd like to open it up to all of Europe. And then as we're really focused on partnerships and collaborations with the startup community, change for this one will be that we're looking to actually have two or three startups that we actually move forward into partnership.
And we bring the benefits of Roche to really help these companies deliver their solutions in their desired markets. So, I'm excited about what the next Healthcare Lab can be. But just it's great that we're here and this is part of tapping into the innovation and the startups that exist in Central Europe.
We're talking about these, this collaboration, as you know, Roche has been very much involved in and putting focus around public private partnerships collaborations with startups. I would just like to understand, like, why is this important and how do you see the benefits of this in supporting our healthcare innovation ecosystem? Very good. I believe that collaboration and partnership are crucial because healthcare innovation makes sense only if they reach our patients. So, if I reflect, for example, on different partners, and we can take three examples, startups, big corporate and organization, and government.
And imagine those three partners coming together to the table, everyone will bring their strengths and their resources. And here you have the best of three worlds. So, from big corporates, you have the resources, the expertise, the ability to scale up innovation. When I think about startup, every time I come out of a meeting I come with a fresh perspective. We usually have more creativity and innovation.
And finally, and very important from a government perspective, usually you have the funding, usually you have the funding, you have the expertise, the policymaking, the governance. So, it's very important to get the partners together, to make those innovations a reality for our patients. So you're really describing the importance of the various stakeholders to establish a healthcare innovation ecosystem, and definitely a lot more that we can do to kind of create these healthcare innovation ecosystems in our countries and particularly in Eastern Europe. That being said, and as we're kind of talking about innovation, what are you seeing as the latest trends are opportunities around healthcare innovation and the potential impact that can have in the delivery of healthcare? Very good.
So, from my perspective, I see three major trends as we speak. The first one is the advances in terms of technology and that scale digitalization that transformation that we are seeing right now. Examples are like, you know, wearable devices, like remote monitoring, digital therapeutics. You know, we have really multiple examples. So, I believe those digital advances can really bring a lot of cost saving, a lot of streaming process and healthcare system, but the most important is really better outcomes for our patients. So, this is the first trend.
The second I would see and it's very positive, from my perspective, is more focused on preventive health care. If I reflect on something like the European Cancer Beating plan, and how much emphasis was put on prevention, I see in general in the near future, more focus on prevention and how we can make our citizens more healthier. And then we can save more, you know, resources if you intervene late when they are more sick.
And the last trend I would say is kind of related to also technology advancement, which is better understanding of the genome, better understanding of the genetic profiles. When you combine this health data, with a better understanding of the genomic profiling of our patient, when you combine something like machine learning, and then we have a better level of personalized health care. We have potential for more gene therapy and more therapies. in a nutshell, those are three trends I watched recently, and when you speak about their impact sometimes the impact to be honest, could be scary. When you hear someone says, when they will be replaced as humans by robots or by artificial intelligence.
But from my perspective, technology is really positioned as an enabler, because in the health care system, I believe empathy will remain very important. The personal touch, the human connection - those three are really important. And this is where we as humans are really making a difference. While technology can remain as an enabler to really deliver better outcomes for our patients.
I fully agree with you. In fact, I think like right now we're at this incredible turning point with technology rapidly coming in. And as you were talking, I was just reflecting on this one startup I saw that has ultrasound that you actually do at your home, and it has the AI incorporated and it's able to do diagnosis and for very little cost. So, this healthcare at home technology enabled I think will address a lot of what you're doing. But the other part too when you're talking is, have you tried chat GPT, yet? I try that it's very interesting, actually. Yeah, yeah. So I think this also is really exciting. Because as we start to see technology
come. It’s very clear that things will be rapidly changing. And I think what we can really hope for here is that all of this technology actually leans towards better health outcomes, better delivery of care for patients. And that it helps to complement the important services that physicians provide, or for us as health care companies complements the patient journey when they're receiving their medicine. So, I don't know about you, but I'm really excited about the future and I'm just really happy to be here at this time and to bring this technology forward and support it wherever we can. I guess. Daren, from your experience was the healthcare lab, what are some of the brilliant ideas or examples you can share with us? Sure.
I mean, there was actually so many great ideas, it would be difficult to capture all of them. But maybe just some that kind of stuck out with me that I thought might be kind of interesting. You know, there was this one company that was really solving this problem.
If you're in Africa, access to a physician may be hundreds of miles, hundreds of kilometers to get to. And so, the ability to do remote healthcare is in high demand in a country like Africa. And this company in Slovakia created a special device that basically could check the blood pressure, check the heart rate, check the glucose of the patient and basically had a full complimentary kit to evaluate the patient remotely by a non-medical professional. And this was just a great idea, and that solution became very important during COVID times as well where a lot of patients could not get to the acute hospital setting.
So, I thought that was one very interesting one. The other initiative is, as I mentioned before, being able to do at home care and what we're seeing is a lot of technology being brought into the home. And I think things that are fascinating like an ultrasound, which you would typically go to a hospital setting for and be evaluated by a professional, now can be done by yourself with AI guidance in order to do diagnosis, which I think is also absolutely incredible. And other things that we're starting to see that I think are really important is how do we help improve the patient experience around the adherence and compliance of their medicine. And there was this one company that was dealing with cystic fibrosis with teenagers. You know, if you have cystic fibrosis and you're a teenager, you know, you're probably not on top of taking your medicine, you want to go out and have a good time hang with your friends, and this and so what they created was a gamification program that was basically a buddy for the teenager to connect with and engage with and what they found that this, this solution substantially improved the teenagers adherence to taking their medicine.
Just a great novel idea and an idea that could easily be replicated to so many other disease areas that you know, affect the teenager. And this is what I love about startups is that they come up with ideas and solutions sometimes on problems that we don't even we're not even think about. And so, I feel it's important that we continue to do our part to support startups and bring these ideas out into the open and where possible, resource them and support them so that they can provide the benefits that are definitely needed in the healthcare system. Thank you, Darren, I believe those are three great examples, either speaking about remote monitoring or speaking about you know, improving the patient experience or home care. Maybe in the first point one reflection I wanted to ask you about what kind of innovation we can take with us as a healthcare system after the pandemic, because you mentioned the first one that was really great also to match the environment.
So what learning, what innovation can we take in the post pandemic era? Yeah. I think like one of the things that we learned from the pandemic was through the isolation of the pandemic, we actually need connection. We need to be connected with each other and also, let's say to the healthcare system, so I'm very encouraged by seeing a lot of ideas including ideas coming out. Roche, we have a great initiative for breast cancer patients out of Switzerland called “Focus Me”, that is really about connecting patients with each other and with their nurse and their physician, and building community around their experience, so that nobody is left out. And maybe at three o'clock in the morning, you wake up and you're dealing with your disease, you actually have a way to kind of connect with someone and get that kind of support.
So, I think these kinds of ideas are very powerful. And in fact, I was just actually listening to another startup who's focusing on Caregiver support. So, we have to appreciate that in our systems, particularly in Eastern Europe, where the health care system isn't fully established to support all of the patient needs. Oftentimes, there's someone within the family who has to take care of a loved one. And there's very little that's offered as support for these caregivers.
And so, this startup has come up with this great solution, that is focused around connecting caregivers together, supporting them from a psychological support standpoint, mental health standpoint, and also giving them the information, they need to not just help themselves, but also help the person that they're dealing with. And I think these kinds of initiatives, this human factor that's come into the technology in the innovation is really exciting, and I believe will have a huge impact. And again, improving the health care and the healthcare experience in our countries.
That is speaking about innovation, what are the challenges are you seeing for the startups in Eastern Europe? Well, actually, the startups actually have a lot of challenges in Eastern Europe. So first and foremost is that governments need to be innovation friendly. And in Eastern Europe, not a lot of the governments have the right legislation in place to be innovation friendly. So, what I've observed is that startups in countries like Bulgaria or Slovakia or other countries that we're familiar with, come up with great ideas, but due to the legislative constraints, they need to actually go to other countries to test their experiments. And this is really unfortunate.
So, one thing that we can really do a better job is bringing the value of startups to the government as an area of opportunity to provide local social impact, but also to generate prosperity to generate business. There's a lot of opportunity there and to create the right environment for startups to be able to experiment. And in startup language, we call this creating a sandbox. So, giving the space for startups to experiment and bring their solutions forward in the country. I think this is a great opportunity for governments to connect with and attune. The other challenge I see is funding a lot of the environments around startups.
There's a need for more funding support from a government level. Government programs to better support their local, young, bright minds coming out of universities to be able to bring their ideas forward and it would be great to see these initiatives more in focus within many governments throughout Eastern Europe. And maybe the last part also champion the startups, because actually in each country, there are some really great examples of startup businesses that are providing a lot of benefit. In fact, in Slovakia, we have a company called Powerful Medical and they do AI reading of your ECGs with great accuracy. And so, you know, every country has one of these or even many of these kinds of startup examples. And this should be at the forefront of pride for the country to help get these ideas out there and showcase how the country is being innovative and bringing solutions forward for other countries within the Eastern European bloc, let's say.
So just there's so much that can be done to kind of close this disconnect and gap between the startup community and what we see in the government space. Very good. You know what we were in the recent event was the European Youth Parliament here in Sofia. And that was personally impressed to the mindset, with the potential even with the questions they were asking you imagine very young people asking about underrepresented populations in clinical trials.
They are asking about personalized health care, the role of health data, what impact do we have on the environment? So, I fully agree with you. I think we have the right potential, the right mindset. If we set the ecosystem, right if we have the right funding governance, definitely we can do great things together for our patients. Thank you so much for that and for the insightful discussion and thank you for being with us today.
We look forward to connect again soon. Because really, #HealthcareMatters.