Can disruptive innovation cure the healthcare industry? This question was put forward sixteen years ago by business professor Clayton Christensen in an issue of the Harvard Business Review1 – the arguments he made remain relevant to this day.
Disruptive innovation begins when a company offers a basic product which appeals to the bottom end of the market, or ‘value’ products. As the product gradually gains wider appeal and investment, it gains market share, eventually displacing established competitors. Widely cited disruptive innovators from the entertainment industry include Netflix, Amazon and Spotify.
In his article, Christensen expressed concern about the healthcare industry’s focus on developing advanced technologies that would only help relatively small populations. He argued that by investing money into simplifying complex problems, the industry can develop truly innovative technologies that will benefit most patients.
A lot has changed since Christenson’s millennium predictions. The portable x-ray machine he talks of is now a reality and the industry in general has moved towards more open collaboration. Yet, we still hear about processes, procedures and attitudes that act as a barrier to creative ideas.
Partnering with innovative thinkers who are ready to disrupt the industry is essential to driving revolutionary healthcare solutions for patients. Find out how the Life Sciences licensing team at GE Healthcare is doing just that.
Encouraging early failure
Learning from failures early on is an integral part of developing truly innovative technologies. The Life Sciences licensing team receive over 600 technology submissions every year with less than 10% making it all the way through the review process. Nonetheless, the feedback from the team and potential customers for the product is vital to keep projects moving in the right direction.
“We understand that the best product ideas don’t fall from the sky fully formed,” says Sian Godwin, Head of Licensing at GE Healthcare Life Sciences. “We are interested in hearing about technologies at any stage of development. Even if the technology is not relevant for us to take forward now, there may be the opportunity to develop it in the future.”
Current areas of interest include digital applications for life sciences, tools and reagents for the manufacture and testing of cell therapies and biopharmaceuticals as well as technologies that can improve in-vivo diagnostics for the physicians and patients but the team encourage everyone with innovative ideas from the life sciences field to get in touch.
If a technology submission receives a positive initial review, it goes on to be evaluated by a Technology Evaluation Board. Where ideas can go further, opportunities may arise to develop technology with the Life Science R&D team or GE Ventures with help from Healthymagination or a newly created Life Sciences Innovation Fund.
Address what patients really need
The Life Sciences division of GE Healthcare currently holds 3960 patents and approximately 7000 patent applications. “Whilst these are all great technologies, we can’t develop and commercialise them all ourselves,” Sian explains. “Therefore, we look to out-license a proportion of these technologies to the companies best placed to develop them into products that will lead to effective treatments for patients.”
There are a number of ways that the licensing team identify out-licensing opportunities. A deal may come as a result of an existing collaboration, a request from an outside company, or from engaging with potential partners. These partnerships play a key role in developing meaningful treatments and cures for patients.
Simplify complex problems
Alzheimer’s disease is one of the biggest healthcare problems the world is facing. Whilst we have the tools to identify neurological disorders, the search for effective treatments remains a challenge.
One way GE Healthcare Life Sciences is helping to address this challenge is a new way of partnering which builds on the traditional licensing approach. Partnering with pharmaceutical companies and leading academic centers at the very early stages of the development of a therapeutic provides those GE Healthcare partners with the means of assessing the efficacy of potential new treatments quickly, allowing only those with the most potential to proceed. By working together, industry and academia can accelerate and simplify the process of developing better treatments.
Opportunities to partner may also come in the form of a joint venture. Join ventures involves the formation of a spin-off company around some intellectual portfolio. “By combining our expertise in innovation and understanding of the hurdles associated with commercializing intellectual property at all stages of development, we can support external partners in bridging the translational gap,” Sian explains. “No matter the size of your organization, or the stage of development your technology is at, we want to hear your ideas.”
So has disruptive innovation cured the industry? It is still too early to say. But experience tells us that information sharing must replace competition if the healthcare industry is to make inroads into solving some of the biggest challenges we all face today.