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Transforming Healthcare By Combining Education, Business And Research - ICT&health

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Transforming Healthcare By Combining Education, Business And Research

EIT Health, founded mostly under the EU Horizon 2020 framework, has an ambitious vision: to deliver innovative healthcare solutions that can positively transform healthcare outcomes across Europe. With the CEO of EIT Health, Jan-Philipp Beck, we discuss current initiatives and projects.

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EIT Health’s mission is to “transform healthcare in Europe for the health of the citizens and the health of the economy.” What specific initiatives are behind this vision?

Our ambition is to enable people in Europe to live longer, healthier lives by building and growing businesses to create products and services that progress healthcare in Europe while strengthening our economy.

Europe faces a turning point in health. Chronic disease and growing multi-morbidity cause an estimated economic loss of €115bn per year. Combined with an ageing population, these challenges are placing huge pressures on health systems and enterprises across Europe. We must take the opportunity to transform healthcare in Europe, for healthier citizens and a re-energised economy.

Our vast community, including approximately 150 world-class partner organisations as well as start-ups, SMEs and individual entrepreneurs, works across borders to bring together the worlds of business, research and education. We call this “the knowledge triangle” and believe the best innovation happens when these three worlds meet. We do this via a number of initiatives, which in its simplest form falls into one of two categories:

  • Projects – consortium collaborations on specific projects to answer a significant health challenge against our focus areas. These projects involve many of our partners across different regions and disciplines and often include others such as start-ups or other relevant external partners. They focus on the development and validation of a new product or service that can be brought to market and ultimately benefit patients and citizens. Currently, we have 66 active projects covering everything from COVID-19, cancer, diabetes, heart disease, antimicrobial resistance and mental health. We’ve launched 55 products or services to the market since our conception in 2015 including diagnostic solutions in prostate cancer, an ‘artificial pancreas’ for the management of diabetes and tackling antimicrobial resistance using artificial intelligence.
  • Programmes – a wide variety of programmes designed to support the health innovation field, and deliver transformation to drive necessary change. These take the form of:
  • “Accelerator” programmes designed to help promising start-ups gain more cut through whether by supporting them with business modelling, development, or helping them to find and work effectively with investors such as via our investor network or crowdfunding platform;
    • Educational programmes designed to support learners from many different backgrounds including educating patients and citizens on healthy living and prevention and management of diseases, professionals on the latest trends and techniques in embedding innovation into health-related organisations, or preparing students for a career in healthcare innovation.

What opportunities does EIT Health offer for start-ups and SMEs, tech companies, research organisations, policymakers, and healthcare providers/professionals?

The opportunities are plentiful and are, therefore, sometimes challenging to outline succinctly! That’s why we created a tool on our website where people can browse the openings for them individually – go to our homepage and scroll down to “Discover Possibilities” to take a look. That being said, allow me also to highlight some specific opportunities that might be of interest to those you outlined:

  • Start-ups and SMEs – our accelerator programmes are likely to be attractive to young companies. We have a range of programmes aimed at companies in specific stages of their journey. For example, Bridgehead is designed for companies ready to expand to other markets beyond their home country, or Living Labs and Test Beds for companies who want to validate their ideas and co-create with end-users such as healthcare professionals and patients. Such companies can also benefit from the educational programmes we offer, particularly if there is an area of skills development required as part of being a young and growing team.
  • Large companies, research organisations and healthcare providers can consider joining us as partners. Additionally, they can access a pipeline of top start-ups that develop new tech and business models either as mentors, evaluators or investors. Or, they can get involved in the EIT Health Think Tank, which is our thought leadership forum designed to prepare the ground for life-changing innovation and to identify the next opportunity for a step-change in healthcare delivery.
  • Policymakers with interest in healthcare innovation should get in touch with us to discuss the most appropriate opportunities. The EIT Health Think Tank is undoubtedly an opportunity that touches policy very closely, and therefore we often seek the involvement of policymakers. Being under the umbrella of the EIT, we are part of the EU’s Research and Innovation Framework Programme, Horizon 2020 so we also have the opportunity to engage and contribute to other initiatives addressing healthcare in Europe, such as the Digital Transformation of Healthcare.
  • Healthcare professionals also have many opportunities to engage in EIT Health initiatives. If they are interested in embedding innovative approaches within their own organisation, then our educational programmes and Think Tank will be very relevant. They can also get involved in the development of innovative solutions such as via related programmes such as Living Labs and Test Beds. Finally, if they have an idea for a life-changing solution but have not yet made the jump to “entrepreneur”, our open innovation programme Wild Card could be for them. We’ll be launching two challenges very soon for our 2020 Wild Card programme; eye and vision care and pain, so it is a great time to get involved. 

How is EIT Health financed? 

EIT Health is funded via three different mechanisms:

  • Being under the umbrella of the EIT, EIT Health receives funding from the European Union’s budget. Funding is awarded to us under the Horizon 2020 framework (soon to be Horizon Europe), which is a European Union grant for research and innovation to find more breakthroughs, discoveries and world-firsts by taking great ideas from the lab to the market.
  • The partners of EIT Health contribute a fixed annual partnership fee in exchange for defined engagement within the organisation.
  • Additionally, we receive contributions from regional organisations who have a vested interest in supporting health innovation such as local government including the Bavarian Ministry of Economic Affairs, Regional Development and Energy.

Are there some other actions – relevant ones to the current challenges in healthcare – run by EIT Health that you would like to highlight?

The apparent current challenge in healthcare remains COVID-19, and we have conducted several initiatives to offer our support during the pandemic.

In the early days of the pandemic, we mobilised our network to support each other by launching an area on our website where those working in healthcare could ask for help or offer help to those working on the front line of healthcare delivery, research and product development. We saw a great response to this platform and many stakeholders were able to collaborate across borders and disciplines to strengthen individual responses to the pandemic.

We saw an urgent need for new solutions to arm healthcare services in the fight against COVID-19. So we launched a call for proposals related to new projects that could have a high impact in a relatively short period. We selected 15 projects and are now funding their development and validation. We already see the effects of these projects; the Digital Control Centre for COVID-19 project I mentioned earlier is just one example.

We also saw a need to urgently support European start-ups during the pandemic, whose future was in great danger due to the economic impact of COVID-19. Many promising start-ups have struggled to close their usual funding rounds within the context of COVID-19, and it was essential for us that we offer our support in ensuring that we do not lose a generation of great young companies. We, therefore, initiated our start-up rescue instrument which offered start-ups the chance to apply for up to €500,000 in co-investment from EIT Health. We have now chosen 11 start-ups to support via this initiative.

Our Headstart programme, which accelerates the market launch of selected healthcare start-ups through grants as well as networking support and planning, also added a COVID-19 dimension. This programme called on digital health start-ups who could demonstrate valuable short-term solutions to support health services until a vaccine becomes available and offers 50,000 euros to those selected.

And finally, our crowdfunding platform, aescuvest.eu, offered crowdfunding campaigns to start-ups and research companies working on solutions for COVID-19.

Can you please describe how the EIT Health network operate?

EIT Health has pan-EU representation via our headquarters in Munich and six regional innovation hubs, which operate as strong innovation clusters to drive our thriving ecosystem (in Spain, France, Germany, UK and Ireland, Scandinavia and Benelux). Our InnoStars cluster brings together organisations from more progressive regions where the overall pace of innovation is more moderate (Hungary, Italy, Poland and Portugal).

EIT Health has expanded the community’s presence with an EIT Health Regional Innovation Scheme in 13 regions across Central, Eastern and Southern Europe. EIT Health also leads the development of the EIT Hub in Israel, which connect innovators across Europe to other key thriving ecosystems beyond the EU.

Want to join the session “Driving the digital transformation of health” organised by EIT Health at the virtual European Health Forum Gastein (30 September – 2 October). To check the full schedule and register, go to www.ehfg.org.

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