Five things we learned at the Health Horizons Future Healthcare Forum in Cambridge
The Health Horizons Future Healthcare Forum drew hundreds to Cambridge from all around the world.
With more than 100 speakers, top panels, impressive presentations and intriguing fireside chats, the two-day conference at the Corn Exchange and Guildhall proved to be a real success.
Organised by the Innovation Forum, and supported by the Cambridge Independent, the sessions ranged broadly from the future of cancer care to digital health initiatives.
We interviewed Steve Altschuler, chairman of US company Spark Therapeutics, on the subject of the affordability and accessibility of expensive innovative treatments like gene therapy for one of the fireside chats.
And we listened in on sessions about open innovation and co-creation. Here are five things we learned from them.
1 It’s all about being interdisciplinary
Cambridge serial entrepreneur Hermann Hauser, co-founder of Amadeus Capital Partners, said: ‘I’m very excited about the interface between physics, computing and biology and I think the really exciting projects are exactly these interdisciplinary projects.”
He told how a forum he had organised at King’s College exemplified this approach, by bringing together top microprocessor designers with Professor Simon Laughling, from Cambridge’s Department of Zoology to explore the next generation of chips, given that Moore’s Law – which says that processing speeds will double every two years – is coming to an end.
“Simon told us that biology can do processing 10,000 more power efficient than computing.
“This was a wonderful way of using serendipity.
“Now, six years later, we have a new microprocessor called Graphcore, which has managed to raise £200m. It’s the first unicorn in Bristol. This processor may become the processor of choice for AI and machine learning.
“It took six years of incubation. It was clear that we had two things we needed to solve..
“One was, what is power? We realised that neural networks and biology can guide us to have lower power chips.
“The other was that there’s no way we can make a single processor any faster: 5ghz is it. It’s to do with the speed of light and we’re not going to change that anytime soon. We had to have a way of using lots of chips in parallel. This chip has 1,200 processors in it.”
2 Research needs to be translated
Tony Kouzarides, professor of cancer biology at the University of Cambridge, who has a lab at the Gurdon Institute, is director of the Milner Therapeutics Institute and one of the founders of Abcam and STORM Therapeutics, said: “I’ve got a passion to make sure that academics translate their research towards therapeutics.
“The mission of the Milner Institute is to connect academia and industry in order to progress science into therapies.
“There is a gap between academics and industry. Both have scientists – but academics do research that is published and then they don’t go on, necessarily. Pharma and industry require their research to progress as therapies, but they need the research to be slightly further along to validate their targets or their technologies. That’s the gap we need to fill.
“Get academics to understand it is important to interact with pharma. That’s the way to push their work towards therapies. Pharma needs to engage with academics because they are the experts in the science they are trying to use.”
3 Scientific co-creation can follow from serendipity
Matti Ahlqvist, site director of AstraZeneca’s Gothenburg site, suggested: “Experts meeting experts and experimenting based on scientific curiosity is also a brilliant way to bridge the gap – start by meeting and experimenting, speaking about opportunities and problems and being curious about what each other does.
“Networks are part of it, but also more deliberate actions such as people rotation and joint research projects.”
But the question is: who will fund that sort of environment?
“It’s what makes co-creation both very attractive and very difficult,” says Olivier Nosjean, of French pharmaceutical company Servier.
“We do need to leave the place open to make disruptive innovations but at the same time, we need a common goal, shared interests. The difficulty is not to frame the relationship too much. But we need to embark on the same journey and have converging interests.”
Hermann Hauser suggested: “The really interesting developments are not linear. They are often based on serendipity.”
4 There’s a recipe for healthcare disruption – and a trillion dollar opportunity
“Real disruptions normally come from a combination of a technical breakthrough with a change in the business model,” says Hermann Hauser, who has done his fair share of disrupting.
“The local example is Arm, where the technical breakthrough was the change in computer architecture from CISC to RISC that allowed us to produce very low-cost, low-power microprocessors, which became the standard in mobile phones.
“The change in the business model was not selling the microprocessors but licensing it. That allowed Arm to become the dominant microprocessor provider for smartphones, with a 95 per cent market share.
“A similar thing is happening in the car industry, where the technical breakthrough is autonomous driving, which is really exciting and revolutionary.
“The change in the business model is to not owning a car, but transport as a service. This will be a major upheaval in the car industry.”
In healthcare he summarised the old model as “I’Il give you some pill, and if it doesn’t kill you that’s good, we give some more people a pill and if it works most of the time I’ll sell it”.
Now, he said, “we now have a much more detailed understanding of why something works because our understanding of biology has become so much better”.
“We are also going to a much more holistic approach,” he said.
“The business model change is going back to the Chinese model that you pay the doctor when you are healthy and stop paying them when you are ill.
“I think the biggest change we’ll see in healthcare is changing the attention from treating people who are ill to making sure people stay healthy.
“In my opinion, that’s the single largest opportunity I know anywhere. It’s a trillion dollar opportunity.
“If you look at American health spending alone, it’s about $5trillion. Seventy per cent goes on treating people who are ill. Thirty per cent goes on keeping people healthy.
“That ratio is going to change to 50-50 in the next five to 10 years. It’s a wonderful opportunity.”
5 Open innovation can accelerate progress
In his presentation, Hitesh Sanganee, who leads the emerging innovations group at AstraZeneca, said: “I’m a big fan of serendipity and unplanning.
“A few years ago, we went through a transformation and started being more externally focused, as well as internally focused. We started sharing our compounds and we were getting interesting drug repurposing ideas.
“We thought can we do more? That evolved into launching a portal with a number of capabilities, or modules. Open innovation, for us, means advancing researchers with academics. We started to offer our screening collection to academics. We have been offering prizes for solutions to some of our challenges. We can repurpose drugs and compounds, but we can repurpose data as well.”
Since 2014, he revealed, the approach has led to 700 proposals, 31 clinical studies, 360 pre-clinical studies and several collaborations.
“Open innovation needs to win for both partners,” he stressed. “For academics, it is access to clinic-ready compounds and mechanistic tools, screening sets that wouldn’t normally be available.
“People say ‘Are you giving your crap screening collection compounds?’. It’s absolutely not true. In fact, they are blinded. We only reveal the structure when we get a hit. They are patentable as well. What we hope to get is new projects, understanding of disease biology and novel ideas and solutions.”
AstraZeneca has also mentored firm like LIFNano, Stayable, Swift Molecular Diagnostics and Exyo.