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Dr. Joan Bigorra
Director of Innovation at the Hospital Clínic Barcelona

New knowledge regarding the genetic and molecular make-up of diseases and developments in information and imaging technology is changing the face of biomedical and clinical research. Recent trends point to a new model where hospitals can and should play a key role.

Breakthroughs in therapeutic applications over the past 30 years have been mainly due to progress in biologic and biomedical research, as well as knowledge of receptors and enzymatic systems. The general model, however, has been based on organic chemistry, high screening capacity and the sequential development, first experimental and then clinical, of drugs and therapies to be commercialized, with companies in the sector spending massive amounts on marketing and sales. The role of hospitals in this model was limited to providing services in clinical trials and having doctors raise awareness about new therapeutic options.

Over the past few years, however, the model has changed drastically thanks to our knowledge of the molecular make-up of diseases. This makes collaboration between clinical research, biomedicine and, increasingly, bioengineering a key part of competitive medical research and innovation, a field that is becoming ever more focused on prediction, prevention, personalization and participation.

The other significant change is the convergence of biology and engineering, along with new communication and imaging technology, which can be applied to medicine to digitalize information and develop intelligent networks to share this information. This will allow us to introduce many other wide-reaching organizational and technological changes. It will also make information more readily available to those suffering from a disease and allow them to participate in managing their own health.

This new model, thus, depends on the development of molecular and digital medicine integrated in an organizational model that focuses on the patient and takes into account the needs of healthcare professionals. This will surely take time, as it requires significant changes. The biggest difference between this model and the previous one is that more and more research and innovation, related to both diagnostics and treatment, relies on true alliances between the industry, academia and healthcare institutions, as by definition a patient-based model cannot be laboratory based. This open innovation, with cooperation from the academic, healthcare and industrial sectors, seems to be the most appropriate road and, possibly, the only one that can provide competitive innovation in international markets.

Catalonia has a network of top-notch hospitals, very good research and technology centers and a small, but dynamic, business fabric in the biotech and medtech fields. Therefore, we have the basic ingredients. Now we must support entrepreneuring talent and foster new organizational models and incentives (for institutions that carry out research and innovation activities in the area) to accelerate the process.

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