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We must invest in innovation to tackle healthcare challenges

In 10 years, Slovakia could be an innovative Health Tech hub in Central Europe, says WILSON, general manager of Roche Slovensko.

DAREN WILSON, general manager of Roche SlovenskoDAREN WILSON, general manager of Roche Slovensko

Many challenges have surfaced during the Covid-19 pandemic. How will the pandemic affect healthcare systems?

Thinking about healthcare in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, we can appreciate the importance of the saying “a healthy nation needs healthy people“. Across the world, COVID-19 has had negative impacts on societal health, the economy and our daily lives. However, COVID-19 has led to some positives in healthcare. We understand the importance of nations having a quality health system, characterised by patient-focused public health policies, the utilisation of real world epidemiology and disease data, access to innovation in both diagnostics and medicine and outcomedriven healthcare.

Should we use this experience for improving healthcare in Slovakia?

We are noticing a mindset shift around healthcare in many countries. Instead of thinking of healthcare as an unfavourable societal cost, many are starting to think of healthcare as an investment to improve the overall health and wellbeing of a nation’s people, increasing the nation’s prosperity. The lessons from COVID-19 present opportunities for Slovakia to future-proof healthcare by strengthening public health data systems, accelerating access to innovation, and pursuing outcome-driven healthcare for cost efficiency and the improved health of Slovaks.

How does the concept of personalised healthcare fit in this mindset shift? What does it mean to diagnose and treat in a personalised way?

When any one of us gets sick, we become a patient. As a patient, each one of us is unique and the types of diseases we may have can be vastly different. Did you know there are over 200 tumor types with 1.2 million mutations? For example, if you diagnose two women with breast cancer, it is very likely that these women will have different types of breast cancers that require different treatment strategies and different medicine. Personalised healthcare is our ability to specify the unique characteristics of each patient’s disease, matching the patient to a tailored treatment regiment while scaling the health data. Ultimately, this objective of personalised healthcare is to improve the patient’s journey and health outcomes, and to ensure sustainability in providing healthcare. There are many countries around the world that are advancing with personalised healthcare strategies, such as Croatia, Taiwan and Australia.

Is our country ready for personalised healthcare? What do we need to establish this new approach in medicine?

The primary objective of any health system is to improve or maintain health. To achieve this objective, many health systems set optimal performance measures of being sustainable, outcome-driven, and cost-eff ective in order to support the health needs of their society. Personalised healthcare in Slovakia is a great opportunity for the nation but not yet a reality. Achieving a sustainable health system requires real-time, high quality, validated health data as the foundation. Health data could be a focus area for Slovakia to prepare for personalised healthcare. For example, the European Union is supporting the 1 Million Genomes project, where 21 European countries are using advanced molecular diagnostics to test their people and sharing the genomic and other health data across the European Union. This initiative could help to strengthen the effectiveness of prevention by improving screening accuracy and reducing its costs, but Slovakia is not a part of it yet.

What role does Roche play in this process? What kind of values does your company offer to Slovak healthcare?

Roche is a multinational healthcare company that is spearheading the next generation of healthcare with partners and governments around the globe. Drawing on our unique combination of strengths – our pharmaceutical and diagnostic capabilities under one roof – we focus on delivering sustainable healthcare solutions and access to innovative diagnostics and medicines. Our vision is to ensure that the screening, diagnosis, treatment and even prevention of diseases is advancing quickly and effectively in order to transform the lives of people everywhere - ensuring the right treatment for the right patient at the right time. In Slovakia, we recognise the importance of being a trusted partner in helping to improve the healthcare system. Recently, we transformed our entire organisation into a purpose-driven, agile, and patient-focused one. We now have self-managed, empowered teams who are working on creative solutions for improving healthcare in Slovakia. We are committed to making a positive difference in the lives of Slovaks, and I am certain there are many like-minded companies, institutions and individuals we can partner with on this journey.

Roche Slovensko has created the healthcare Lab project– a Slovakia-based startup incubator. Is the support of startups the opportunity to contribute towards improving healthcare?

Roche recognises that the challenges of healthcare are too great for any government, organisation or private company to solve. Partnership, collaboration and investment in innovation is needed. Roche Slovensko decided to invest into the future of Slovakia by helping to support Healthtech startups develop their innovative ideas and bring them to the market. Th is is a win-win situation for the startups, Roche and Slovakia. Our current accelerator has 6 startups: 4 from Slovakia and 2 from Czech Republic. The startups gain access to international expertise and mentorship while Roche Slovensko adopts a startup mindset that helps us accelerate our eff orts to bring value into Slovakia.

The startup community is full of open-minded and skillful young people. Why is it important to help talents to develop their ideas and business?

Developing the ideas and businesses of young talents is a great chance to move the Slovak healthcare system ahead. We believe the future prosperity of Slovakia is dependent on today’s talented, bright-minded entrepreneurs who are bringing great ideas for new businesses and contributing to a better world. Thinking of Slovakia 10 years from now, we imagine it as an innovative HealthTech hub in Central Europe. We hope our efforts of supporting Slovak HealthTech startups will lead to this.

As a Canadian living in Slovakia, what is your personal view of our country?

My experience with Slovak people has been very positive. Similar to Canadians, Slovaks are humble, kind and friendly. At Roche Slovensko, over 95% of our employees are Slovak. Our Slovak employees are intelligent, creative and full of potential. I personally appreciate their motivation to contribute towards improving the healthcare system in Slovakia. They often tell me that they work at Roche so they can help Slovakia and the health of their family and future generations. I share their passion and commitment.

Could you find some similarities between Slovaks and Canadians?

I am happy to be an international resident of Slovakia and to be able to call Bratislava my home. I love the country, the people, the Tatras and halušky. My wife and I are learning to speak Slovak. In all honesty, it is a challenging language to learn. I originate from British Columbia, Canada, and find many similarities between our two countries. The Slovak landscape is almost a combination of the Canadian Rockies and prairies. I love fishing, and fly fishing in the Tatras has been one of my best fishing experiences ever. It is on par with salmon fi shing off Vancouver Island.

If you could have one wish for Slovakia, what would it be?

Slovakia is now the seventh country I have lived in around the world. I have experienced many healthcare systems as a patient, including in Slovakia. Based on my experience in Slovakia and from my vantage point as an international leader in pharma, I believe you have some great experts, but their working conditions are not ideal. My wish is for Slovaks to live healthy lives with better healthcare.

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