EIT Health Think Tank: Clearing the path to innovation

Sameena Conning is the EIT Health Director of External Affairs, with responsibility for communications, public affairs and the EIT Health Think Tank. She has more than 20 years of corporate and external affairs experience in the pharmaceutical, biotech and healthcare industries.

We interview EIT Health Director of External Affairs Sameena Conning to learn about the work the EIT Health Think Tank will undertake in 2019 to smooth the pathway for healthcare innovators in Europe.

Q: What is the EIT Health Think Tank? What are its goals?

A: We launched the EIT Health Think Tank in 2018, and it is a priority initiative of our organisation. The Think Tank provides a forum for experts and thought leaders working in collaboration to shape the future of healthcare in Europe by identifying the barriers and opportunities that will either aid or impede the widespread adoption and uptake of healthcare innovation.

The Think Tank operates on a pan-EU and regional basis in the format of a series of working groups and roundtable meetings. EIT Health is in the unique position of being able to harness the expertise, strength and knowledge of our network. Our partners not only participate in the Think Tank itself, they also accelerate the development and implementation of ideas stemming from these discussions, to drive forward initiatives and help guide activities that will have a positive impact on citizen and patient health, and on healthcare systems throughout Europe. Importantly, the Think Tank informs the activities of EIT Health by making continual assessments of the environmental needs of our growing and evolving portfolio to ultimately enable innovation to flourish.

Q: For 2019, EIT Health has selected the topic of “Optimising the innovation pathway: future proofing for success”. Can you tell us more about this topic?

A: This topic is high on the agenda of practically every actor in the health innovation sector. “The innovation pathway” is essentially the entire innovation life cycle – the steps along the journey each solution takes from the conception and development of an initial idea through to it becoming a commercially viable offering, and eventually, and most critically, to it actually being available and used for the benefit of patients and citizens. It sounds simple enough when put in these terms, but actually the pathway can be fraught with uncertainty, particularly for certain innovations such as digital technologies. Whilst some steps are more well-known, other steps are more of a complex grey area. The real concern is around how “the system” adequately keeps pace with the fast-changing landscape of health innovation – what may be fit for purpose in terms of evaluating innovation today could be outdated tomorrow.

With this in mind, the Think Tank topic will assess the current state of play of the effectiveness of existing innovation pathways in each relevant region, to understand the ability of innovators to move through the pathway, from idea generation to commercialisation with ease and speed. A critical component of this is identifying the specific criteria that need to be met at each stage, so that chances of successful uptake and adoption is greatly improved. We will outline the challenges that exist, but also, most importantly, the improvements that can be made in order to give innovation the best chance of succeeding in reaching patients and citizens to improve health.

Q: Why is it important that this topic is addressed?

A: Development of healthcare innovation requires a multi-disciplinary stakeholder approach to ensure that innovations are technically and scientifically as accurate, efficient, effective and safe as possible while also attending to the needs and preferences of the end user. Without doubt, this topic is relevant to anyone who is currently navigating the innovation pathway, but also we need to learn from those who have successfully brought a solution to market, so we can understand, inform and aim to replicate what works, and highlight what isn’t working so well.

There are a number of pre-existing “innovation pathways” that aim to outline and provide resources for innovators undertaking such processes. The CIMIT group, for example, has undertaken a huge amount of work to provide such frameworks, tools and resources. In fact, one such tool, GAITS (Guidance and Impact Tracking System), supports innovators in navigating the journey of putting healthcare innovation into action. With the Think Tank we aim not to reproduce the significant work of others, but to assess the ability of innovators in the EU to navigate these processes. Without clarity, innovation with great potential to impact the lives of European citizens can be delayed or even blocked entirely.

Q: What is unclear about the current pathway?

A: The advances being made in the field of health have led to the emergence of a new breed of innovator. Such innovators may represent very small commercial operations or even single individuals, who do not come from a product/service development background. As such, there will be differing levels of understanding, depending on the innovator/manufacturer, and possibly some will enter the process with very limited knowledge of what is required as their process progresses.

Some parts of the pathway are already well known and documented – for example research and development, and the regulatory processes that exist for solutions/interventions of more “established” types of innovation, such as medical devices. Less well known are the policy, financial and operational elements, which are as crucial to the successful reimbursement/adoption of innovations that come after the initial stages. Knitting the three broad groups outlined above together, and building a launch and market access strategy to meet the needs of each section, is much more complex. 

Preparing for market entry should be the main concern during product development, and this does require a particular understanding and knowledge. Access to the right information, resources and expertise is key.

Q: How can people keep updated on the developments of this Think Tank topic?

A: There will be many developments throughout 2019, and we will be keeping people updated via our website and social media channels. In the meantime, you can watch a recording of a Digital Town Hall that focussed on the Think Tank topic and heard the views of our community.