Good examples

Innovation Platform in the Västra Götaland Region – promoting new solutions for tomorrow’s healthcare

The patient-specific wound dressings of tomorrow are now being tested by combining renewable biomaterials from forestry together with 3D printing technology. This is just one of several examples of medical technology innovations arising from the needs of patients and healthcare, based on close collaboration between healthcare, academia and business.

Incubators, artificial kidneys, pacemakers and ultrasound are further examples of medical technology innovations that have revolutionised healthcare and living conditions for patients.

Medical technology is a broad subject area, and covers products and solutions that create the prerequisites for preventing, diagnosing, treating and relieving most disease conditions.

– It may refer to anything from sticking plasters and new biomaterials to making healthcare processes more effective with the help of innovate technology. The concept also covers computer software for various types of applications, such as health apps, says Erik Djäken, function manager at the Innovation Platform in the Västra Götaland Region (VGR).

The offices of the Innovation Platform are a stone’s throw from the main entrance of Sahlgrenska University Hospital. It is early morning, and Erik Djäken and his colleague Maria Holmén have just over an hour before the next meeting starts.

– Last year, we received around 200 requests from various external parties who wanted to contribute with new solutions in healthcare, and which we are dealing with within the framework for our processes. We give support on development issues relating to regulations and medical technology innovation processes, and also guide companies to contact the correct body. We act as a kind of communications hub, trying to match companies and innovative actors with the needs that exist within healthcare. We also provide support in the form of logistics, administration, coordination and questions relating to contracts and regulatory requirements.

At the same time as healthcare needs are growing, new medical technology solutions are being developed, offering opportunities for more effective health and medical care.

Calculations from the Swedish Association of Local Authorities and Regions (SKR) show that around 500 000 additional staff will be needed over the next ten years to cope with the needs and challenges that exist. The demographic challenges are great, and welfare needs are growing; this development is forcing healthcare to change its working practices and create more efficient flows and processes. The pressure for change in healthcare is strong, and medical technology will therefore be central to future solutions.

– We have several operations that are very interested in testing new digital solutions in order to simplify procedures and processes. I would say that there is a great willingness in healthcare to work on improvements and on the solutions of the future. My work is largely about creating relationships with both health and medical care and with businesses. I function as a sort of link, to make them partner up, says Erik Djäken.

Wound dressings from forestry

Erik has a background as a graduate engineer, and Maria previously work within the the pharmaceutical industry. Today, they are colleagues at the Innovation Platform, and work on strengthening the innovation culture within health and medical care in the Västra Götaland Region. The goal is to develop and environment where employees and operations feel inspired to contribute with innovative ideas that in the longer term can be realised and create value, both in healthcare and for patients.

The Västra Götaland Region has an innovation fund of 20 million SEK to utilise the ideas of employees and operations. The purpose is to create opportunities to develop, test, evaluate and promote new innovative products, processes, services, methods or organisational changes.

– It is also our task to increase collaboration and create valuable contact interfaces between health and medical care, business and academia. Fundamentally, it is about capturing needs that exist within healthcare, but also to have knowledge and understanding of the driving forces behind business and academia.

The Innovation Platform takes part in various collaboration projects, and there are several good examples where it has helped to create valuable meetings, and then been responsible for project coordination and resource planning. One of the collaboration projects concerns the development of tomorrow’s wound dressings, which are based on environmentally friendly forestry raw materials (nano-cellulose), and are suitable for 3D printing. The target group consists in the first instance of patients treated for burns in difficult-to-reach areas of the body: armpit, nose and neck.

– The project started with one researcher, Paul Gatenholm, Professor of Biopolymer Technology at Chalmers University of Technology, who was looking for a clinical use that could benefit from his research findings. We helped to create a meeting at the plastic surgery department at Sahlgrenska University Hospital, where Paul Gatenholm presented his research. This became the starting point for the OnSkin project, which is now working on development 3D bioprinting of renewable biomaterials.

Currently, healthcare-related infection is a major problem and consumes vast resources. There therefore exists a great need for improved treatment and smarter wound dressings, to reduce the risk of infection and speed up the healing of serious wounds.

Part of the Innovation Platform’s task in projects was to conduct a needs study, where we use observations and in-depth interviews with healthcare personnel and patients in several locations in Sweden to identify the important characteristics the dressing needed to have. The project will conclude in early 2019, and a continuation will require further testing and product adaptation. Thereafter, a company must launch the product on the market.

– Our focus at the Innovation Platform will continue to be providing support to healthcare to fill the gaps that exist in the diagnosis and treatment of chronic wounds. Gaps that we had the chance to identify via the needs mapping carried out for the project, says Erik Djäken.

From research to innovation

Another example of medical technology innovation is a new method aimed at improving and tailoring cancer diagnosis, and at reducing the lead times and costs of developing cancer medicines. The method was developed by two researchers at the Sahlgrenska Cancer Centre and Sahlgrenska Academy, and will now be evaluated in clinical tests and industrial application. The initiative is funded by Vinnova and the Västra Götaland Region, and is managed by RISE together with universities, biotech companies and healthcare.

– We are responsible for project coordination and resource planning. The purpose is to use bioprinting to enable cell structures to be used for diagnosis, pharmaceuticals development and cancer treatment. Another purpose is to reduce the number of studies on animals. The bioprinted models strive to imitate human structures, and that means that animals will not be necessarily have to be used in future research projects, says Maria Holmén.

Over the next two years, the new technology will be implemented on a larger scale, both as a testing method within the pharmaceutical industry, and as a diagnostic tool within cancer healthcare.

A third example of an innovation-driven project is Clean Care, which aims to prevent infection and the dissemination of contagions as well as antibiotic-resistant bacteria in healthcare.

Together with actors from business, the departments of orthopaedics and clinical microbiology at Sahlgrenska University Hospital will be implementing a clinical study.

– The aim is to optimise air quality in operating theatres, but also to establish systematic quality control and follow-up of patients, says Maria Holmén.

The most stimulating aspect of working with the Innovation Platform is the constant dialogue with healthcare personnel and with innovative actors, considers Erik Djäken.

– We spend a lot of time trying to understand the basic needs, and on conducting systematic mappings, so that the right companies can be matched with the rights needs in healthcare. It is about listening carefully, understanding the complexity of the healthcare system, and being aware of the priorities that apply. When everything falls into place, and we manage to create good meetings and contribute to valuable projects being developed and benefitting healthcare, that is when my work feels the most meaningful.