Innovation Horizon Part 2: Next Generation Healthcare

The second instalment of Dr Caroline Elston-Giroud’s quick reference guides explaining three significant innovation trends covered at InnovateUK 2016.

What are the grand challenges and innovations to help drive us towards 2030 and beyond?  Big questions in relatively uncertain times but, having just spent two days at Innovate2016, I’m certain we have much to be positive about. Over my next three articles I want to explain and demystify three significant trends on the horizon which could be about to change our everyday lives for the better.  Part 2 covers well-being, personalised healthcare & next generation medicine. Stay tuned to find out more on food chain innovation and big data & industry 4.0.

Well-being, personalised healthcare & next generation medicine

What is it?

What it says on the tin: health and well-being based on a holistic approach to the person or patient. Focusing a more on prevention rather than ‘just’ a cure, combined with an under-current of big data aspects.

How will it impact us day-to-day?

Despite incredible scientific progress over the last 40 years, there is still huge un-met medical need, in the UK, Europe and globally. Life science and health sectors have forged ahead on many fundamental areas recently such as genomics, diagnostics, antimicrobial resistance and, the omnipresent, big data. Many sector experts concur that these are exciting times, and we are finally on the cusp of revolutionary breakthroughs and seismic shifts in healthcare.

What makes them so sure?

Many necessary scientific and technical strands are reaching technological maturity at the same time, meaning new approaches, products and devices can come from integrating knowledge and systems.

So there are lots of opportunities right now?

Absolutely, yes. When a technology becomes a bit more mainstream, the cost is generally driven down, meaning that a more routine use then becomes a realistic prospect. We have seen this with Next Generation Sequencing (NGS), where an individual person’s whole genome can now be sequenced for a few hundred pounds in a matter of days (compared to the 3 billion dollar price tag and 10 year project to sequence the first one, completed in 2003). If you’re talking about “personalising healthcare to an individual”, this opens up huge potential that simply did not exist just a few years ago.

Healthcare is a big system to try and implement change – what are the challenges ahead?

Real breakthroughs of promising science are actually quite slow in healthcare. Indeed, this is one of the major challenges to harnessing real impact from new approaches, devices and products: new technologies are still hindered to some extent by the ‘old’ healthcare and medical systems that they operate within. When you think about it, the way hospitals are designed and run has not changed for a hundred years, whilst everything else has evolved beyond all recognition.

Data and digital infrastructure will play a key role in breaking down some of these barriers in the future, but the sector really has to bring people along with it, and engage with them. Perhaps more than any other area, confidentiality and privacy of health-related data are extremely important.

And let’s not forget that people are the main focus at the centre of all well-being and healthcare discussions. Much more importance will be given to patients and what they want, thinking about the person and all of their issues instead of treating a single disease state. So perhaps the IT connectivity of people and their trust relationships with apps, gaming and everything ‘online’ will help to set the pace of the seismic healthcare shifts to come.

There is also a lot of re-thinking to do about increasing funding of local prevention (which always costs less than a cure or care), alongside what “local-point-of-care” means and how to deliver it. Hospitals need to be the last option, not the first point of contact.

Just imagine this: What if you went to your Doctor not just for a check-up and prescription, but to go to an exercise class tailored to your physical abilities and medical needs, or to meet up with a local walking group? Such changes may seem impossible or light years away, but in this hyper-connected age, uptake of new ideas and methods of organisation will be more easily facilitated, allowing localised initiatives to spread and join up more quickly.

What’s next?

In the UK there’s a lot to celebrate already and a solid platform to build upon to tackle these future grand challenges.

We have a strong Research & Development base in all areas of science and technology, from our excellent universities, strong and active SMEs, through to l larger corporations, all of whom are investing in R&D right here in the UK.

As a country, we are also putting in place structures to help translate fundamental or applied research in to higher TRL (Technology Readiness Level) prototypes and ultimately, commercial products. There are 11 Catapult Centres around the country who bridge between academia and business, and also the AIRTO Association of mid-size R&D and technology centres who help to turn good ideas in to new products and services.

As I hope you can see, there is much to be positive and confident about when looking to the future and big trends, such as next generation healthcare, big data and Industry 4.0 and food chain innovation, will ultimately involve every single one of us.

Onwards and upwards. I’m ready, are you?

About the author

Dr Caroline Elston-Giroud, European Grants Manager, is based in the Ayming London office and heads up our UK Grants team. She has a PhD in Biology-Biochemistry and over 10 years’ experience managing collaborative scientific projects. Caroline has been involved with over 100 projects across the FP6, FP7 and H2020 funding programmes.

Want to pick Caroline’s brains? Get in touch!

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