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Medical informatics is shaping Switzerland’s digital future

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Medical informatics is shaping Switzerland's digital future

15.06.2023

Switzerland is at the forefront of embracing medical informatics, and innovative biotech hubs – such as the Basel Area – are proving fertile ground for private companies and academic institutions looking to forge a shared digital destiny. This article takes a look at how Switzerland is cultivating cross-fertilisation between the data analytics and medical fields to establish itself as a nation of truly digital healthcare.

Published by the Journal of mHealth

We are generating more digital data than ever before – at an estimated rate of 2.5 quintillion bytes per day1 – and the great strides being made in informatics are helping to excavate ever-more meaningful and actionable information from these data goldmines. Tools like artificial intelligence and machine learning could hold the key to transforming a whole host of sectors, but perhaps none more so than healthcare, where game-changing technologies are under development.2

Building on a rich heritage

Several regions of Switzerland are well known for being bustling biopharma hotspots. The Basel Area in particular is home to industry giants including Roche, Novartis and Johnson & Johnson, as well as many smaller companies that are taking advantage of both the world-class academic institutions and the swathes of life science professionals embedded there. Below the surface of this rich biotech and pharmaceutical heritage is a new wave of digital innovation that has the potential to transform the healthcare industry, and Switzerland along with it. A new breed of entrepreneurs is combining biopharma knowledge with medical informatics to promise a digital healthcare revolution.

Laying the groundwork

It is no coincidence that this transformation is happening in Switzerland, since academic institutions like the University of Applied Science and Arts Northwestern Switzerland (FHNW) have been laying the groundwork for years, by offering forward-thinking medical informatics courses.3 These multidisciplinary degrees are moulding medical, data science and business students into fully-fledged medical informatics experts ready to make their mark on the industry.

aiHealthLab is focused on the emerging field of artificial intelligence in healthcare. We use machine learning to process large amounts of data – obtained through collaborations with hospitals and pharmaceutical companies – to gain insights that can support drug discovery, aid the understanding of complex biological mechanisms, and guide the development of clinical support systems for precision diagnostics. The Master of Science in Medical Informatics program has been a game changer for us. Traditionally, the aiHealthLab would be forced to take on either informatics students with no knowledge of immunology, or medical students with no experience in data science, making it a steep learning curve for new researchers. Now, we have a selection of well-rounded candidates to pick from, and no longer have to compromise.

Prof. Enkelejda MihoHead of the Laboratory of Artificial Intelligence for Health (aiHealthLab) at FHNW

Prof. Miho is also the founder of the ETH Zürich spinout company aiNET – based in Basel – which uses artificial intelligence and large-scale networks to provide immunoinformatic services for the biopharma industry, as well as digital immunity data to aid personalized diagnostics. She continued: “We offer an antibody discovery service via high-throughput sequencing of immune cells and antibodies, using machine learning techniques to select sequences that successfully bind to viruses. We are also developing a digital twin of the human immune system, which evolves over time to mimic the dynamic nature of the real thing, allowing us to accurately model and predict disease progression to enable early diagnosis. We feel extremely lucky to be based in Basel, where there is a healthy collaborative spirit between academics, clinicians and biopharma professionals. There is a true culture of innovation here.”

Help is at hand

Launching a startup like aiNET can be a daunting prospect, as many startups fail within their first year.4 Switzerland is determined to buck this trend by fostering a supportive environment where fledgling companies offering cutting-edge innovation can thrive. Not only is there tax relief for startups, but organisations like Innosuisse and the Swiss National Science Foundation provide grants to help academic researchers and entrepreneurs commercialise their promising ideas, as well as promoting the activities of regional startups and SMEs. Accelerator and incubator programs are also available to provide startups with legal and logistical support, extra investment, and access to a network of experienced biopharma professionals. For example, The Digital Health Nation Innovation Booster program, hosted by DayOne and Innouisse, is fostering breakthroughs in digital healthcare by helping entrepreneurs transform their ideas into solutions that can deliver real value to patients and healthcare professionals. Basel Area Business & Innovation – the non-profit innovation promotion agency behind DayOne – also manages dedicated coworking sites that foster a thriving interactive community of digital health companies and entrepreneurs, such as the Switzerland Innovation Park Basel Area at the Novartis Campus.

Our innovation council has chosen to fund the Innovation Booster in order to identify and promote radical digital healthcare technologies that are likely to have a significant market impact. The successful applicants receive the funding they need to bring their big ideas to life, while mitigating some of the financial risks inherent in early product development. The success of this program is down to the team of experts from DayOne, which provides valuable expertise, logistical support, extra investment and access to its network of industry professionals.

Emile DupontKnowledge and Technology Transfer Team Leader at Innosuisse

Switzerland’s digital destiny

Cutting-edge tools like AI and machine learning are set to revolutionise healthcare by generating remarkable insights from medical data and making previously unimaginable technologies – like immune system digital twins – a reality. By combining multidisciplinary degree programs, governmental support and accelerator and incubator programs, Switzerland is laying the groundwork needed for digital healthcare to flourish. Its thriving biotech hubs are an ideal breeding ground for a new era of startups, and the potent combination of biopharma heritage and novel technologies is set propel Switzerland towards its digital destiny.

References

Article by

Frank Kumli
Head of Innovation & Entrepreneurship, Basel Area Business & Innovation

Valentina Francia
Manager of International Markets & Business Affairs, Basel Area Business & Innovation

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