Doctor examines the patient's brain with the help of modern technology

Tackling Europe’s biggest healthcare challenges

Enhancing support to innovative emerging solutions is key

Launching in January 2018, a new initiative by pan-European innovation support agency EIT Health called the Wild Card initiative. Its objective is to transform European healthcare by engaging the biggest and brightest minds to develop ground-breaking and high-risk ideas for healthcare. This year, EIT Health will be looking to support two major healthcare challenges. The first involves finding solutions to apply artificial intelligence and big data to diagnostics. The second focuses on finding non-pharmaceutical solutions to antibiotic resistance.

For the healthcare sector in particular, such funding is crucial. It can help in bringing forward transformative ideas that assist in the fight against some our biggest public health challenges. These may not only pose risks to the healthcare sector, but also to Europe’s economic growth, and ability to compete globally.

In Europe, our research credentials are strong. However, we need to advance in translating this research into the development of real-world smart products and service solutions. Increased funding opportunities, investment in R&D, and business support and mentoring for start-ups are essential to facilitating and encouraging market access for new, innovative entrants to solve AI and big data-driven diagnostic tools and tackle antibiotic resistance.

Smart health – transforming diagnostics

Today, many of Europe’s healthcare services use data to provide the most efficient service possible. The advent of smart devices has ushered in a new era of patient-centric data. Patients’ biometric information, like heart rate, blood sugar level and sleep patterns, are being recorded in real time by their phones and wearables. These data can be used by primary care providers to monitor their patients’ health, even outside their practice.

Personalised healthcare plans informed by such data also have the potential to revolutionise disease diagnosis and treatment. Ultimately, this advance will help prevent patients from developing new conditions.

But capturing, storing and making sense of this data isn’t easy. And our current solutions just are not sufficient. For Europe’s healthcare systems to be truly smart, we have yet to get better at capturing and analysing such data, using artificial intelligence. Among others, storing and reading unstructured data, like doctors’ notes, is a particularly pressing issue.

Fight back – tackling antibiotic resistance

Another key issue where innovation could change things is modern medicine is to ensure that antibiotics remain effective when treating and preventing infections; particularly in the case of chemotherapy and organ transplantation. Antibiotic resistance has become a significant problem and threatens public health worldwide.

Antibiotics can be extremely effective. The trouble is that we use them frequently, and often when they’re not needed. It’s easy to forget that bacteria are living, evolving organisms. The more antibiotics we use, the more opportunity large populations of bacteria have to pass on acquired antibiotic resistance to their offspring. As antibiotic-resistant bacteria become common, treating infections and diseases becomes more challenging, costing lives and putting pressure on hospitals.

New drug development is only one weapon in the fight against antibiotic resistance. Solutions and devices for enhanced and effective testing at the point of care (e.g. in doctors’ surgeries), education programmes for patients and measures to discourage doctors from unnecessarily prescribing antibiotics, initiatives that encourage a more sustainable, healthy lifestyle, and more effective healthcare structures and processes are just as important as medicine.

These areas are in urgent need of development. Indeed, with increasing resistance even to last-resort antibiotics, we face a frightening post-antibiotic future where simple infections and diseases could once again prove lethal. As a wider issue, antimicrobial resistance (or AMR) causes 25,000 deaths per year. It costs €1.5 billion in healthcare costs and productivity losses in the EU. By 2050, without real solutions, this issue could kill one person every three seconds and overtake cancer as a leading cause of death.

Next hurdles

Our hope is that Wild Card will bring a range of expertise together to tackle barriers in technology, funding, regulation and public engagement, to pave the way for tangible developments in European healthcare in our areas of focus. By identifying and supporting individuals who have ideas and ambition, we aim to bring about new and exciting start-ups which are essential to encouraging innovation into the market.

Should Wild Card be successful, the resulting projects will transform the use of data in diagnostics and reduce the effects of antibiotic resistance; which would otherwise continue to impact healthcare services and citizens alike.

Jan-Philipp Beck [@Wildcard_EITH]

Jan-Philipp is the COO of EIT Health, one of the largest healthcare initiatives worldwide. Headquartered in Munich and supported by the European Union, the institutes has for objective to sustainably advance the fundamentals of healthcare. Thus, it promotes suitable future conditions for healthy living, active ageing and improved well-being of people across Europe. EIT Health leverages the expertise of around 150 member organisations from the pharma, diagnostics and med tech fields, payers, insurers, research institutions and universities.

Photo credit: EIT Health Wild Card

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