Frontiers Health met in AXICA, adjacent to Berlin’s Brandenburger Gate in November 2017.

Exploring the Edges of Health in Berlin

Three Ways the Frontiers Health Conference Pushes Boundaries

Among Berlin’s many impactful digital health events during 2017, Frontiers Health stands out as one of the best. As this year wraps, I’m reflecting on what made the 2017 agenda of this conference so memorable, and have distilled it down to three core components:

Interaction, Inspiration, and Innovation

I’ll share how the organizers used these three elements to benefit attendees and offer key takeaways. You’ll see how a conference creates a meaningful experience by combining expertise from across the healthcare industry, collectively peering over the edges of where digital health is going.

Hopefully it’ll entice you to join in November 2018!

People attending Frontiers Health, the healthcare innovation edition of the Frontiers Conferences, learn and exchange about digital disruption and health technologies during workshops, immersive sessions, and keynotes.

The sculptural core of this Frank Gehry designed event space creates a unique environment to connect with other strategic thinkers.

Over 500 people including speakers, entrepreneurs, investors, industry executives and leaders of major innovation hubs & accelerators participate.

This blend of experience shapes what would normally be yet another health-related conference into a 2-day meeting of the minds, where idea exchange is at the forefront.

1. INTERACTION: Startups & Experts Fuel Discussion

Startup Discovery

Selected health startups interact with key investors about funding strategies during some rather intense Q&A sessions. For onlookers, this is both enlightening and at times a bit painful.

But the pain was informative: Most startups adeptly fielded tough questions on their business models, use cases, platform structures, and any clinical results. From the few who didn’t quite have all the answers at-the-ready, we learned the importance of knowing one’s unique product, services, competition, and customers inside and out. Without that deeply internalized knowledge, it is difficult to properly pitch.

Takeaway: Interactions among newbie and veteran conference presenters are useful for learnings on both sides of the aisle, as well as the audience.
Startup Discovery sessions bring together selected young companies with seasoned investors to ask insightful questions, shaping the thinking for both the startup and the audience members.

Here are just a few of the many startups who handled tough questions gracefully and conveyed the need for solutions they are providing.

Keleya is a German app that serves as a well-being coach during pregnancy. They offer weekly plans around exercise and nutrition that are individualized. With varying content costs, they want to cover their pre- and post-natal market, collecting data on pregnancy–which not many people do– in order to improve algorithms.
OVIVA focuses on intervention communication–namely education, therapy, and tracking– in order to help patients help themselves. This involves diabetes prevention and various lifestyle coaching solutions for disease management.
Selfapy is an online platform addressing the fact that 1 in 5 people experience a depressive episode in life. The stigma associated with depression creates a wide treatment gap where only 50% of people find help. The app uses cognitive behavior therapy techniques and relies on psychotherapists’ experience to help people track and improve their symptoms. Selfapy emphasizes the ‘human factor’ and quality of service to users, and is expanding into corporate health to support employees.
Takeaway: Apps combining a clear use case and scalable potential which also enable prevention, personalize the management of one’s condition, include coaching, and mix deep tech with the human touch are more likely to succeed.

Healthcare strategist Nana Bit-Avragim (at far left), introduced the panel of experts.

Expert Panel Wants to Reshape Clinical Trials

A panel entitled “Clinical Trials 2020: Patients and Emerging Technologies Drive a Networked Ecosystem” offered a different form of interaction to spark idea exchange. Digital health expert and healthcare strategist, Dr. Nana Bit-Avragim, brought together a panel of experts in medicine, clinical trials, patient advocacy, major pharma ( Bayer and Sanofi) and digital analytics.

This gathering showcased how experts can align for a positive outcome, namely clinical trials which place the patient in the center. How so?

Ralph Richter, Head of Digital Analytics at SAP said that having 10K customers running SAP systems in hospitals, treatment, and medical facilities allows for newer innovations that should ideally consider data capture from the onset. In fact they are helping Bayer, also represented on the panel, to design better clinical trials. Ralph focused on the need to deal with data, and how disruptive models will democratize that health data. He says “ if patients are well-informed and feel a benefit, they are happy to share it (data).”

Sarah Kerruish, CPO at Antidote aims to fix the fact that only 3% of cancer patients get access to clinical trials. She pointed out that patients are dying because of the wrong tests and not having access to specialized treatments or targeted therapy. (See more on that in my game changers section below.*)

Gerrit Brand of Tyche Heart wants to reconsider who’s the medical expert within a clinical trial ecosystem. He says digital health solutions need to intervene with behavorial components, stressing that we should “empower digital health to empower patients where they are.” Gerrit says the right academic partners are those who engage with patients at the treatment level.

Bastian Hauck, founder and CEO of #dedoc diabetes online community echoes that power shift in which the patient becomes more important, saying we need to decentralize the location of clinical trials to include mobile. Redesigning studies for better recruiting, monitoring people outside the clinical setting, and handling data analytics are critical. He says social media, or peer-to-peer fashion like Sarah’s Antidote model, ‘change the deciders’ in clinical trials.

Frank Kramer of Bayer Pharma AG warns not to get blinded by flashy technology that doesn’t generate useful data. He encourages ‘mindful device selection’ for smart collaborative experiments. Erik Sundermann of Sanofi encourages patient advocacy at early phases of end-to-end trial design. He mentioned a virtual diabetes clinic to support treatment anytime and anywhere, and the sore need to increase diabetes medication compliance.

“If you have a solution that works, I will use it.” Patient advocate Sebastian Hauck, with microphone at far right, explains he wants to see patients included in early trial setup, and where the patient drives the desired outcome in a trial they actually want to participate in.
Takeaways: The clinical trial ecosystem can become more patient-focused when networks optimize the strengths of each player. Trial design and appropriate technology must support this. According to Nana, patient-centricity should in no way be seen as a buzz word; clinical trials are the cornerstone to a global robust economy.

2. INSPIRATION: Meet the Visionaries

It wasn’t only young startups who presented to key investors and the audience, but also established, innovative companies. In this engaging session, we met some game changers and visionaries who are shaping digital health in formative ways.

As mentioned in the panel above, Antidote uses an open learning system to facilitate participation in clinical trials. They heroically structure the gigantic amount of inclusion and exclusion criteria and navigate complexity to match patients to appropriate clinical trials.
“Give me a cure, or do the job for me.” Anton Kittelberger, CEO of mySugr delivered the news that 600 million people will have diabetes in 20 years, and that diabetes-related spending is 1/5 of total healthcare costs. To deliver what the industry did not, he built an app to enable better decision-making for people with diabetes and optimize diabetes management with a hassle-free service package. Given the fairly recent acquisition by Roche and the platform’s 1.2 million users, this seems to be one to watch.
Irish filmmaker Donal O’Niell presented the work behind his film “The Big Fat Fix” which explores the benefits of the Mediterranean diet in the Pioppi Protocol. You can hear from the cardiologist with whom he teamed up here. In short, behaviorial and dietary changes can have a significant impact on health outcomes.
Takeaways: Persistence and perspective were key factors in each of these solutions. The presenters believed deeply in their idea to change something that needed fixing: either access to trials, better care management, or a healthier lifestyle.

3. INNOVATION: Leveraging Impact in Pharma-Startup Partnerships

Paul Tunnah of Pharmaphorum explains that tech companies don’t have the longevity that pharma does. But collaborations between these two players enable both outreach and cutting-edge digital solutions.

In a session on transformation surrounding the pharmaceutical industry, we saw how corporations are realigning themselves as ‘digital first’ and engaging in Open Innovation and Proof of Concept initiatives with clearly defined strategies and goals.

Two cases in point are these: Sandoz’s Access to Health and Bayer’s Grants4Apps initiatives. Both have become global movements unto themselves through the communities they’ve created.

Steffen Kurzawa, Head of Global Communications and Corporate Responsibility at Sandoz International explains how innovation + access = impact.

Making Access Happen

Sandoz, a division of Novartis, has made great strides in improving access to health, especially in relation to treating people with TB and Malaria. Sandoz takes a multi-stakeholder approach investigating quality and reliability of drug supply, financing models, and governmental collaborations.

Steffen Kurzawa explained Sandoz’s 3-prong approach:

  1. A major push for biosimilars–versions of powerful biologic therapies, or a medicine which matches a biological reference– will have a huge impact on chronic conditions such as cancer, diabetes, arthritis, multiple sclerosis and anemia, as well as rarer diseases.
  2. The Novartis Access Program delivers baskets of medicines for only $1 and has increased treatment of cancer in Africa, where SMS messaging is helping spread awareness, and in the Philippines, whose many islands pose travel challenges for care.
  3. Finally, what really got my attention was the HACk challenge program. It is not a commercial venture, but rather a way to identify and support innovative ideas that increase community access to medicine. Their #Making AccessHappen platform, moves beyond innovation to actual access. It is about crowdsourcing solutions to get the right medicine to the right people at the right time. Fiona Cook, Senior Manager at Sandoz International Global Corporate Responsibility Program, announced how a social media campaign and competition was so successful last year–inspiring 150 ideas from 30 countries– that they decided to run it again. The pioneering young people who stepped up with solutions were awarded money and a platform to execute their good ideas.
“Pharma doesn’t have all the answers,” says Cook. But they are working to solicit the right solutions from communities who need more access to basic medicines. The challenge’s six finalists showed remarkable camaraderie and winners came from the Maldives, Philippines, and Ghana.

Open Innovation Benefits All

Eugene Borukhovich, Global Head of Digital Health Incubation and Innovation at Bayer, presented ‘Hacking Corporate Culture.’ Eugene is a results-driven futurist. He talked about Bayer’s Grants4Apps initiative (G4A), who brings out the innovation spirit from a company 100,000 strong. G4A has over time, morphed into a movement.

Eugene believes in doing things better, and doing better things. He mentioned 3 ways this mantra has become a reality:

  1. Bayer’s G4A launched a STEM4Health Meetup which now reaches across 23 countries and has 10,000 members. Meetups bisect science, technology, engineering, and mathematics to converge on a health focus. The group connects stakeholders across a wide spectrum who share interest in life sciences, healthcare tech, and business; this includes digital health and biotech startups, students, developers, technologists, scientists, bioinformaticians, data analysts, business intelligence analysts, designers, social media networkers, freelancers, companies, institutes or organizations, venture capitalists, and entrepreneurs. Wow.
  2. Co-Working: G4A believes startups that come through their acceleration program must be IN the Bayer building to facilitate the best kind of interactions and growth. Check on their impressive list of startups here.
  3. Dealmaker: For those who can answer real pharma challenges, deals and revenue await. This one-day event cuts though the typical big pharma pace by matching 40 selected startups with business challenges, legal, and procurement and results in signed letters of intent. It’s a no-nonsense approach to supporting startups in connection with Bayer’s reinvention of itself.
Some seasoned recommendations from Eugene? Be customer-first; be direct about what you need, want and provide; show data early on, not just pitch.
David vs. Goliath? Or can pharma and startups see eye-to-eye and accomplish great things…
Takeaways: Involve communities who are affected by health access shortages in describing solutions that actually meet their needs. Create communities that can cross-pollinate ideas in the direction you want to move. Develop both intrapreneurial and entrepreneurial support systems that scale.

That’s a Wrap

Frontiers Health is a tour de force of a lot of people committed to peering into the future of digital health. I’ve barely scratched the surface of learnings that emerged here. I went home feeling inspired by my encounters with the international digital health community, tons of notes about what is takes to make an impact in this space, and with some top-notch reading from publications like Cofounder Magazine’s Health Special.

Robert Ascione, CEO of Healthware International, and his team were instrumental in this event and deserve special mention. This conference captures the spirit of Healthware International, now 20 years in the making, whose mission is to innovate the healthcare industry.

If you expect a conference to generate memorable interactions, leave you inspired, and provide guidance on innovation, add this event to your 2018 New Year’s resolution list. You’ll be glad you did.

The space lent itself to a transcendent mind state, transforming from meeting into evening ambiance.
The Berlin Jam Session: after the daytime gathering, people got a chance to unwind by listening to music made by fellow attendees.
The hosts and sponsors who made this conference a reality. Thank you alldigi.

Follow @FrontiersHealth on Twitter for updates on next year’s conference.

If these insights were useful, feel free to clap, share, or follow me Elisheva Marcus