Healthcare – How to make sure that academic inventions become real improvement for clinical staff and patients

by Annecilla Sampt

Marcel Wassink is a classical entrepreneur and Start-up founder. With NLC he builds an ecosystem for healthcare experts, investors and entrepreneurs. Since “making innovation reality” is one of the key topics of the confare conference #IDEE2020 in Vienna we asked Marcel, what kind of technologies are going to have an impact on the healthcare market, why innovations and inventions often don’t make it into clinical practice.

At #IDEE2020 executives from different divisions link up to shape the working world of the future together. Keeping in mind that in departmental silos, the new requirements (needs or expectations) of employees, users and customers are not met.

#IDEE 2020 ~ 4. November, Wien

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What are the most important digital technologies that have an impact on healthcare in the future?

I like the question, but I am not sure how I can answer this one as there is ever more going on in many areas. Turning it around and looking at it from the patient’s and the society’s point of view, I think the key drivers will be around more personalized treatments (personalized medicine), lower costs and faster and better outcomes.

I see a lot of research activities around biomarkers, artificial intelligence and big data and I believe the results of this will slowly make an entrance into the healthcare market. It is unpredictable what is going to happen in the near future.

As an example, when I was managing the speech recognition business of Philips, we introduced speech recognition in the late 90ies, and, whereas the business case was very positive from the start, it took more than 15 years for this technology to become widely accepted by clinicians. This is not only due to the fact that clinicians are often quite slow adopters of new technologies, but it is also difficult to get such new technologies well integrated within the clinical workflow solutions such as PACS, RIS, Electronic Patient Records etc.

In terms of sales cycles, still today, I experience more and more difficulties, as, even if your end user clinician, e.g. the radiologist, is very positive and wants to try and use a new technology, it takes many other departments, like IT, Legal, Purchase to sign-off on the deal. As the capacity in many hospitals is low and people are busy with other important tasks, it can easily take up to one year to get an agreement signed, if at all. For instance, if the IT department is busy with another large implementation, anything else is frozen.

On top of that, many IT solutions need to be integrated seamlessly into the clinical workflow, as any extra mouse-click is unacceptable for the end user.

Often these providers of IT solutions have no capacity or give no priority to integrating this new useful feature, even if their customers, the hospitals request it… I just want to make clear that we can talk about new healthcare technologies, which is very exciting, but, even if a new technology makes sense, an uptake of new technologies is often very difficult to realize and not certain.

Many inventions and innovations don´t make it to actual healthcare institutions though they could improve the situation of patients, staff and doctors – what are the main problems here?

To answer this question, I want to start with the source of the invention, which is often the academic institution. The people that invent new ideas are often happy to continue their research in their specific field, improve their reputation within their field, and, above all, are not the risk takers that fit well with the typical entrepreneurial profile. This is one reason that inventions do not get out of the institutes. Another reason is that these inventions are often not validated well yet and therefore risky to bring to market. This makes financing difficult as the typical venture capital firm steps in at a later stage.

We also hear that often large corporates are acquiring these inventions, patents or IP, from the academic institutions, which often means that the further market introduction process slows down significantly, or even gets stalled completely.

How does NLC improve this situation?

We believe that the best way to bring new inventions to market is through a dedicated start-up with a focused team with real skin in the game! And this is what NLC does, and we do it at our own risk, so we ourselves have also our skin in the game!

We work closely with the inventor teams at academic institutions and appreciate that they want to stay at the academic institute to continue and deepen their research. We bring in the entrepreneurial team and we found the healthtech start-up and then help the team move along the path towards the fastest possible market introduction. NLC has access to a very large network of healthtech experts, clinicians and healthtech entrepreneurs as well as healthtech investors. The NLC team consists of over 30 experts with lots of experience in the healthtech market.

Just to make sure, NLC works equity based, and we get our returns only when the start-up is successful and equity is acquired by a 3rd party.

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How do you find the latest research and inventions? How do you support them to finally reach the market?

We work closely with many medical, technical and general universities. We started in the Netherlands less than 5 years ago and founded 27 healthtech ventures. Now we have also started to work with large medical and technical universities in Germany, Austria and Switzerland. In Austria we are about to build 3-4 new healthtech ventures with innovations from the Medical University of Vienna, the Technical University and the University of Graz.

What are the next steps?

Establish NLC in more European markets next to Dutch and the German speaking markets. In Europe we are already starting in France, Spain, Norway and Italy. We are also going to add the pharmaceutical market to our expertise within the coming 2-3 years.

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