Today’s pharmaceutical development is not only about pills, but the patient’s overall health, including diagnostics, treatment, regulatory compliance and aftercare. This sets entirely new demands on innovation and cross-fertilisation between different disciplines, such as digital development, new medications, diagnostics and medical engineering, notes Magnus Björsne, CEO of AstraZeneca BioVentureHub.
Development in pharmaceuticals is increasingly shifting from sick care to health care, from treatment of acute and chronic diseases to focus on individual health and the entire patient journey from diagnostics to aftercare.
“Sweden has good conditions to be able to be on the forefront of this work. We are strong in both pharmaceutical development and medical engineering, as well as the development of digital solutions, at the same time that we have a tradition of a good culture of cooperation,” says Magnus Björsne, CEO of AstraZeneca BioVentureHub.
“At the same time, the willingness to accept new innovation in Swedish healthcare leaves much to desire, and the fact that it is becoming increasingly difficult to conduct clinical trials in Sweden is worrying. The doctors simply don’t have time for clinical research.”
Dialogue with healthcare is necessary
Magnus Björsne is also concerned by the difficulties that exist in establishing innovation collaboration with healthcare.
“This is not good and it affects the patients. In order to help patients, in the pharmaceuticals industry, we have to conduct a dialogue with healthcare services to a greater extent than today,” he confirms.
In order to bring about such a dialogue, AstraZeneca hopes to be able to establish a so-called patient-centred hub, the task of which is to concretise the needs of both patients and healthcare services, as well as companies outside the pharmaceutical sector that has a focus on the patient, such as app developers.
Both patients and those who pay for healthcare demand new solutions. Today’s patients know more about their disease and their therapy than before and set entirely new requirements on participation. The payer, meaning the healthcare services, demands a business model where instead of paying for the pills, there is a shift to pay for performance, meaning that payment is made for the measured patient benefit.
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This requires a pharmaceuticals industry that can deliver more than just a bottle of pills
“This requires a pharmaceuticals industry that can deliver more than just a bottle of pills, such as sensor technology and communication technology,” says Magnus Björsne.
Three ways to utilise digital development
Within AstraZeneca, digital development is leveraged in three different ways. It involves improving existing products with technology, improving efficiency of the clinical research and making artificial intelligence an integrated part of the internal innovation process. This new reality requires a new way of thinking in small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) that work with drug development. It might not be enough any more to just come with the tenth version of a blood pressure medicine.
“This means that we partly set new requirements on innovation at our cooperative partners. It might be a matter of thinking of peripheral services and getting better at thinking about the business end,” says Magnus Björsne.
In terms of different kinds of medicines, many of the large pharmaceutical companies are working with the entire spectrum today, from small molecules to gene therapies.
“Historically, we have developed medicine for the masses. The next step was the patient-centred medicines developed for specific groups, such as certain kinds of diabetes. Precision medicines, meaning gene therapies, are now also being developed,” says Magnus Björsne.
Magnus Björsne believes that, thanks to its extensive breadth, RISE is in a unique position, in part since different industries can overlap each other and innovations from other industries can be of benefit.
“By taking a larger strategic approach, avoiding function thinking and integrating activities broadly, RISE can leverage its unique potential,” he says.
However, he considers it to be important that RISE keep its two missions separate: being a research partner and being a service organisation that performs assignments.
“Large and small companies have different needs – we want to conduct research with the best in the world and small companies often have a need for a qualified development partner. It’s important to distinguish between these missions,” says Magnus Björsne.
AstraZeneca Bio Venture Hub
AstraZeneca BioVentureHub has been around for five years and is a venture in open innovation and external collaboration. The unit is not earnings-driven, but rather an environment that encourages curiosity and experimentation rather than short-term business gain.
Today, some 30 med tech and biotech companies are involved in BioVentureHub, as well as groups from Chalmers University of Technology and the University of Gothenburg. They have gained access to AstraZeneca’s laboratory environments and other research resources, at the same time that they can generate knowledge, expertise and ideas on new technology back to the company.