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Getting the most out of health innovation

6 Dec 2023, by Amy Sarcevic

The term ‘innovation’ is widely used and broadly defined. But regardless of whether it is a new product, technique, or application, no definition is complete without an emphasis on real world adoption.

That’s according to Dr Joy Francisco, Chief Commercial Officer at Sydney Local Health District, who is participating on a panel at the National Health & Innovation Precincts Summit this week.

“The adoption part of innovation – i.e. whether it is turned into something that society actually uses – is key, but we don’t always see this reflected in definitions of the word, nor in the actions of the broader innovation ecosystem,” Dr Francisco said.

“Because of this, we often see ground-breaking discoveries that either did not have adoption in mind from the outset, or which underestimated the process. In turn, our research is falling short of its real world and commercial potential.”.

At the same time, the pathway to adoption is rarely translated in simple terms, she added.

“Adoption is about addressing unmet needs in your target industry – and whether you are in a health precinct or clinical environment, you have to be clear about what those unmet needs are, early on. The emphasis shouldn’t just be on what you do, but rather why you are doing it.”

The importance of collaboration

To this end, researchers in the healthcare space should always talk directly to clinicians and understand the workflows and pain-points around diagnostics, treatment and patient management.

“Often in academic or research environments, there can be tendency to become so focussed on the technical details that the needs or preferences of the people who might end up using the technology are overlooked or considered as an afterthought,” Dr Francisco said.

“If you have a new discovery, that’s fantastic. But if you want it to be a true innovation, it will need to turn into something that benefits society.

“Without real world conversations with end users, it is very hard to identify what unmet needs they might have and to make your research translatable.”

Equally, researchers need to give focus to the levers that make adoption happen.

“Understanding markets, business models and regulatory requirements often means speaking to relevant industries. There are so many moving parts in the innovation ecosystem and it’s implausible that a researcher would have expertise in all of these domains – so collaboration is key.”

Creating the right environment

Health and innovation precincts foster collaboration, but the infrastructure alone is not enough to guarantee it, Dr Francisco said.

“Health precincts are great for giving touchpoints to people with different skillsets and experiences and encouraging them to exchange knowledge,” she said.

“That said, you can’t just lump people in the same building and expect them to work together. On top of shared working spaces, you need programming, community building, events and joint training opportunities. This is what sparks conversations and crystallises connections.”

High definition example

Seamless connections between people in the R&D, venture capital, and healthcare space was among the drivers for the Sydney Biomedical Accelerator – a joint initiative between the University of Sydney and Sydney Local Health District.

In a bid to grow the health innovation pipeline, the accelerator brings together infrastructure and capabilities from basic sciences through to health system implementation. It does this by leveraging a 140-year strong partnership between a global top twenty university and a premier public health system encompassing a world-leading Australian hospital.

“The Sydney Biomedical Accelerator is a series of interconnected buildings across the University of Sydney and the Royal Prince Alfred campuses that collocates industry partners, clinicians, researchers, and students, and creates the right climatic conditions for exchanging knowledge.

“It helps build that vibrant entrepreneurial culture which is vital for addressing gaps in the innovation ecosystem,” Dr Francisco said.

Australia has good prospects

Alongside promising new developments in the health precincts space, Dr Francisco believes Australia has key advantages when it comes to growing the innovation ecosystem.

“In Australia, there is this quintessential spirit of mateship and giving people a fair go where people are willing to work with each other and help each other out. I think this part of our culture is something that we can really lean in on to ensure any investment funnelled into health precincts is well spent and results in significantly improving health outcomes for our local and global communities.”

Further discussion

Dr Joy Francisco is due to participate on a panel at the National Health & Innovation Precincts Summit this week, addressing questions such as:

• How can we bridge the gap between research and healthcare in Australia?

• Shifting mindsets and cultures – where have we come from and where are we going?

• Collaboration and partnerships – how do we get this right and better leverage outstanding examples of research that change policy or practice?

The panel will be moderated by Dr Adam Walczak, Deputy Director, John Hunter Health & Innovation Precinct, Hunter New England Local Health District and will feature:

• Anne O’Neill, Acting Executive Director, Office for Health and Medical Research, NSW Medical Research

• Professor Julie Cairney, Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Research Enterprise), University of Sydney

• Prof Jason Kovacic, Executive Director, Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute

The conference is being held 6-7 December at the Aerial UTS Function Centre.

Visit the conference website here.

About Joy Francisco

Dr Joy Francisco is a champion for catalysing the translation of research and clinical insights to improve health outcomes and value-based care.

She is the inaugural Chief Commercial Officer for Sydney Local Health District, as well as Chair of the Sydney LHD Intellectual Property Committee and Co-Chair of the Industry Engagement and Commercialisation Working Group for the Sydney Biomedical Accelerator.

Joy is a Registered Technology Transfer Professional with extensive experience in business development, IP commercialisation, industry partnerships, and commercial funding and investment.

She has previously held technology transfer positions at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, National Institutes of Health, National Cancer Institute, University of Melbourne, and University of New South Wales.

Joy’s track record and interests encompass the spectrum of health innovation, including early-stage life sciences venture capital (Uniseed, Brandon Capital), medical product development (the award-winning VentrAssist left ventricular assist device), and health precinct and ecosystem development (Aikenhead Centre for Medical Discovery at St Vincent’s Hospital Melbourne, Randwick Health and Innovation Precinct, and Sydney Biomedical Accelerator).

Joy is a self-confessed multidisciplinary enthusiast with formal qualifications that include Graduate of the Australian Institute of Company Directors, PhD (Medicine/Surgical and Orthopaedics), MBA, MBiomedE, BE (Materials), GradCert (Research Management and Commercialisation).


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