Reframing life science to build back better
What lessons have we learned during the COVID-19 pandemic and what are the primary hurdles that must be removed to attain equitable and sustainable health? These were the focal points of the Stockholm Life Science Conference 2021 that took place on the 25th of May. Three areas that were identified as important conditions for future innovations were collaboration, communication and accessibility to data.
In the acute phase of the COVID-19 pandemic, several disciplines were established to help gather strength, build new teams and adapt to changing priorities, explained Anna Sandström (Astra Zeneca). “When dialogue and trust are already established, barriers are easier to break down and a quicker crisis response is possible.”
Sophia Hober (KTH) gave an example:
“At the start there were absolutely no methods available to analyse the virus or to analyse who had been affected. We were forced to take swift action to develop the methods needed to make such analyses. There have been a lot of negative things surrounding COVID, but if I were to pick something positive that came out of this, it would be the collaboration that emerged (…) and the efforts that everyone made in order to solve the problems that arose.”
Another reflection regarding trust and communication was introduced by Åsa Kristoferson Hedlund (chair of the Swedish COVID Association), who represented the important patient perspective at the conference. Her experience was that physicians and scientists do not see the full impact of long-term illness after COVID and that sometimes it is not even acknowledged.
“Because of this, they are not actively collecting the data or evidence that is needed to learn about the long-term consequences,” said Åsa Kristoferson Hedlund.
Sharing data will enable innovation
Several participants during the day mentioned accessibility to data as an important component in reframing Life Science and making health more effective and equitable across the world. They also mentioned examples of hurdles to overcome, one being the way Swedish healthcare, which is divided into 21 regions, is structured. Each region has it’s own health care system and when also considering legislative barriers, broadband capacity and other limiting boundaries, sharing data becomes difficult.
Hans Möller (CEO, Karolinska Institutet Holding AB) talked about the concept of Open Innovation, which has been used in the tech industry for many years. It involves sharing information not only between the academic, industrial and public sectors but also between competitors, making it easier to develop new solutions to big challenges.
Collaboration is the core of Life Science
The core of Life Science is the multidisciplinary work of technology, science and health sectors, both in terms of cooperation and cross-border collaborations. The pandemic has made it evident that we must take responsibility for the health and well-being of people globally, a point noted by both Eleni Aklillu (Professor of Tropical Phamacology, Karolinska Institutet) and Ole Petter Ottersen (President of Karolinska Institutet). The benefits of medical research and innovation must be made available to all. As Ibrahim Baylan (Swedish Minister for Business, Industry and Innovation) said in his speech:
“The pandemic has, in a very brutal way, shown us just how interconnected we are in the world and how much we have to gain by cooperating. Through helping each other, we will inevitably help ourselves in the long run.”
Ole Petter Ottersen concluded the day by emphasising that the COVID-19 crisis is a tragedy that we must learn from, and by bringing together a broad array of academic disciplines and professional sectors we will be better prepared for future crises.