What are EIT Health’s main focus areas for 2020?
We currently have 115 initiatives underway in six key focus areas as part of our business plan this year. The first focuses on extending care pathways from just treatment strategies to providing end-to-end, long-term care across entire disease courses so that people with chronic diseases can live as well as possible. Rather than focussing the majority of healthcare resources on the treatment phase, we must place equal importance on holistic care starting from prevention.
Secondly, we want to overcome fragmentation to create an environment where health innovation can flourish; penetrating multiple EU markets without barriers. That’s why we bring together innovators, investors, leading experts, and patients from across Europe to form a collaborative cross-discipline, cross-geography community that can co-develop effective solutions to some of today’s biggest healthcare challenges.
Third, we want to put the wealth of healthcare data currently available across Europe to its best use: improving the lives of patients and citizens. Healthcare data can deliver prediction models for early diagnosis, enhance treatment and tell us how we can lead healthier lives. One initiative that we have implemented in this area is RABBIT (Registries and BioBanks in Transition). Access to samples and data collected in registries and biobanks can provide unparalleled insights, paving the way for new medicines and treatments.
However, discussions last year at our Think Tank Round Table Series highlighted that data is often not accessible to innovators, despite its clear and significant uses. RABBIT focuses on giving our partners access to biobanks and registries in Scandinavia and Estonia, which are goldmines of data that had been difficult to access in the past.
Fourth, we’re focused on 13 initiatives that bring care home, ensuring European citizens receive optimal treatment while easing pressure on in-patient hospital services. An example of this is MERLIN, which provides home-based robotic rehabilitation under remote therapist supervision that is expected to be significantly less expensive than in rehabilitation centres. Intensive therapy at home, improved motivation and quantifiable results will increase effectiveness of treatment and reduce its costs.
Our fifth area is improving health outcomes in the workplace. In Europe, work-related stress affects one in four employees, leading to significant levels of absence. So, we’ve invested €500,000 in employer leadership programmes to encourage health stewardship. Through better education and improved personal awareness, we can help make healthy choices easier and strengthen the resilience of Europe’s economy. Finally, we want to support healthy living and the prevention of diseases by encouraging behavioural changes. One of our 14 initiatives promoting citizen self-care, Drink Up, encourages people to drink water for good hydration.
"Creating a supportive environment for innovation to thrive in Europe for the benefit of patients and citizens is at the heart of everything we do"
Cancer is one of the missions of Horizon Europe. How is the EIT Health Business Plan helping in the fight against cancer?
To help combat cancer across the European Union, this year we’re investing €8m to fund ten cancer initiatives across eight countries. For example, we’re supporting a project that’s developing a new, non-invasive urine test for early detection of colorectal cancer (CRC) metastases in the liver. Diagnosing cancer late has many issues associated with it.
First, the impact on the patient is more severe as their disease may be more advanced and treatment options may therefore be more limited than if their cancer had been diagnosed earlier. Second, the cost of treating the patient could be higher for healthcare services because the patient may require more costly treatments and may already have complications which can make their overall disease management more complex. As a result, a patient may need to visit a clinic more frequently and intensively. Finding and treating cancer earlier is currently our greatest weapon in the fight against cancer.
What are the greatest challenges facing innovators in Europe?
We’re hearing first-hand from European digital health innovators that they face several challenges unique to the sector. These include navigating complex processes and approaching often fragmented systems across Europe when trying to introduce their solutions in multiple countries. For example, the reimbursement of a health product is often a national, or even a regional decision, and there is no central route for innovators to take their solution ‘to the EU’. Another challenge is the introduction of the Medical Device Regulation (MDR).
Many innovators in our community are concerned with the delays that the introduction of the guidance could lead to. Furthermore, there is also concern that due consideration has not been given to digital health solutions that work somewhat in the background and do not have a direct impact on patient care. Regulation is often a positive step, and innovators are certainly in need of clarity when it comes to digital health; however, we must fully consider the full range of products and services that would be affected, for example software or Al.
Not all products and services have the same risk to patients and therefore there is a question about whether they should go through the same rigorous process.
What is EIT Health doing to help address these challenges?
Creating a supportive environment for innovation to thrive in Europe for the benefit of patients and citizens is at the heart of everything we do. One particularly important workstream is our Think Tank series. In last year’s edition, we convened a panel of cross-border health experts to discuss the threats and opportunities faced by innovators. The Think Tank aims to ensure that the recommendations that come from these discussions are taken forward by the relevant authorities, whether that be bringing something to the attention of a policymaker or designing our next wave of initiatives around something that we could help address.
"We want to put the wealth of healthcare data currently available across Europe to its best use: improving the lives of patients and citizens"
What impact is EIT Health having so far on patients and citizens across Europe?
This year, through our business plan, we will support 258 start-ups, attract €94.7m of investment to these start-ups and initiate 86 projects aimed at developing new and innovative products and services in line with the focus areas we have outlined. We will also train 8,000 graduates and aim to have 90 students graduate from MSc and PhD programmes.
We want to have 30,000 citizens participating in our outreach programmes that empower citizens to live happier and healthier lives. Through this work we are strengthening health innovation in Europe and creating an environment in which fresh thinking in healthcare can thrive. This will help us continue finding solutions that improve healthcare systems, contribute to Europe’s economy and ultimately promote better health of European citizens.