Health, science and industry, hand in hand to promote innovation in the health system and the fight against the most complex diseases. This has been the constant that has emerged from all the discussion tables of ‘The new health’, the conferences organized by elDiario.es this Friday in Barcelona. Professionals from the sector, companies, representatives of the administration and academics have shared their recipes to advance in the development of new and better therapies and medicines.
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The conference began with speeches by the Minister for Science and Innovation, Diana Morant, and the Minister for Health of the Generalitat, Manel Balcells. Both have focused their speech precisely on advanced therapies, giving more details about the respective centers that are promoting so that the most cutting-edge clinical trials in hospitals can be shared and facilitate their arrival to patients.
Immediately afterwards, it was the turn of the table to debate Health as an engine of innovation: the main axes. In it, Raquel Yotti, General Secretary for Research, has recognized that, after a decade of cuts in the public sector after the economic crisis, one of the great challenges of recent years is precisely innovation in the health field. To do this, she recalled the investment that PERTE Salud de Vanguardia has launched, of 1,500 million euros, which she has assured should be “leverage to increase private investment.”
“It is not just about giving partially reimbursable loans or aid, but about being a state that invests, as an entrepreneurial state”, Yotti stated, referring to the aforementioned Advanced Therapies Consortium.
The commitment to allocate 3% of GDP has been celebrated by all the speakers. Raquel Tapia, general director of the Specialized Medicine Unit of Sanofi Iberia, has described it as “spectacular” if it were achieved – “if you don’t aim high, you won’t get there”, she has insisted. In addition, she has given as an example research on rare diseases, more than 7,000 and with a percentage still of 5% of treatment. Sanofi, she has assured, leads this field with more than 35 drugs, and has recalled that it is not just a matter of money, but of having a stable and secure regulatory framework.
Juan Abarca, president of Fundación Idis, and Laia Subirats, researcher at Eurecat and associate professor at the UOC also participated in the roundtable. Abarca has called for more collaboration between public and private, not only in research, but also in the field of care. And he has also lamented that the crisis and the cuts represented a “real slab” for the “update” of the public system.
In this sense, he has defended that the public and private systems should be strengthened, and not the latter to the detriment of the former, because public health is what guarantees quality universal care. “Private medicine is tremendously socialized, because 12 million people hire it,” he stated. But “we”, he has affirmed in reference to the private sector, “we are a complement”.
For his part, Subirats has complemented this idea with the defense of collaboration also between disciplines. “It is a challenge to take into account the collaboration between engineers, doctors, biologists, psychologists…”, he claimed.
Promotion of “frank” public-private collaboration
Following in the wake of the first table, Robert Fabregat, general director of Biocat, has focused on public-private collaboration. “It is essential to understand that we need each other and to fit the public and private systems together. We have a common objective, which is the benefit of patients”, he spoke at a panel discussion on ‘Vaccines and future treatments’, moderated by Neus Tomàs, deputy director of elDiario.es.
Javier Carpintero, general manager of the company Theramex in Spain, Italy and Portugal, has illustrated this interdependence with an example: “The pharmaceutical company contributes 20% of the financing of R&D in Spain. The financing of the companies benefits the entire Spanish health system and, in turn, attracts more talent”.
Collaboration between the various sectors of the health system has brought, according to the speakers at this table, great results at critical moments. Proof of this is the massive production of vaccines during the pandemic. “It is due to prior knowledge and the cooperation of various actors. If we want to catch up with other European states, we need more private investment, but it has to be frank and transparent”, added Fabregat.
In the same vein, Mariano Esteban, virologist, head of the Poxvirus and Vaccines flu of the CNB of the CSIC, has expressed himself, who has also made reference to the “prior knowledge” that has been useful to control health emergencies. In his case, he was talking about the RNA technology necessary for covid vaccines, a technology that was used before, but “with unsatisfactory results.”
Thanks to the experience of the health sector, this technology could be put at the service of the fight against the pandemic and this new knowledge can, in turn, be useful for current challenges such as cancer. “If we manage to put RNA at the service of the fight against the pandemic, why not against other diseases?” asks Esteban, who has stated that “we will see spectacular advances in the cancer vaccine in the coming years”.
The third roundtable dealt with high technology applied to hospital care. Also moderated by Neus Tomàs, the debate began by publicizing the example of the Quirónsalud Proton Therapy center. This consists of imparting high doses of energy focused on the tumor tissue, much more precise than chemotherapy. This methodology requires state-of-the-art machinery, which is placed in a room the size of a basketball court. “We have set up a building to house a machine,” explained Juan Castro, head of the Radiological Protection service at the Proton Therapy center.
Castro has been very satisfied with the results of this innovative technology, but has also assured that it “is useless without health professionals” and has added the importance of the need to invest not only in technology, but also in training. On this point, he has agreed with Gloria Villalba, coordinator of the Hospital del Mar Neurosurgery service, responsible for a trial to apply brain stimulation to people with anorexia.
“We need training and be attentive to the news”, assured Villalba, who explained that surgery for mental disorders is not a new technique, but before it was “a disaster because the technology did not accompany us. Now it allows us to go ahead and treat patients who would otherwise be dead.”
Continuing with examples of healthcare innovation, CatSalut explained how Catalonia will house the first public proton accelerator in Spain, which will also be used for cancer treatment. Despite the importance of this milestone, Àlex Guarga, Manager of Operational Planning and Evaluation at CatSalyut, has warned that “there is very attractive technology, but it should not blind us. We are talking about very expensive therapies and you have to know how to study the patient very well and know what is most appropriate for each one. New is not always better”, he explained.
After giving prominence to innovation in healthcare and medical technology, the last table, moderated by Natalia Chientaroli, focused on digitization and telemedicine as a possibility to improve direct patient care. “The digitization strategy comes from the challenges of recent years and the learning from the pandemic and will allow the progress of all the autonomous communities to be shared and put at the service of the entire country,” said Juan Fernando Muñoz, Secretary General of Digital Health of the Ministry of Health.
“Digitization helps us make better clinical decisions. The fact that the health systems speak to each other and can share quality data can help research a lot”, pointed out Ignacio Basagoiti, a researcher at the ITACA Institute of the Polytechnic University of Valencia and a family doctor at the Manises hospital. In addition, being able to study these data in depth could lead to a better impact on public policies, as Basagoiti has pointed out.
Even so, telemedicine is a possibility that “is still in its infancy”, has qualified Carlos Jover Micó, director of Digital Product and Marketing of Savia, who has shown great hope with its possibilities. “It could help to monitor chronic pathologies in a more personalized way and to humanize healthcare,” added Micó, who wanted to make it clear that this does not mean “doing away with face-to-face consultations.”
The digitization of the health system is a technological innovation that can help health workers, but it has also raised some doubts regarding the protection of patient data. To reassure users, Ricard Martínez Martínez, director of the Chair of Privacy and Digital Transformation at the University of Valencia, wanted to make it clear that “there is no more secure environment for data than public health systems”. Even so, he has warned that we must “learn a new ethic, which will be essential to avoid bias and lack of human control in the face of the advancement of Artificial Intelligence.”