A lack of technology-driven innovation is not the most pressing issue in rolling out powerful new approaches in healthcare. Neither is it about access to funding. Critically it’s about building fruitful development partnerships between companies, governments and researchers to enable the most promising and impactful deployments. Networking giant Cisco exemplified this partnership approach in helping patients in the Intensive Care Unit of University Hospital Galway (UHG) in Ireland stay connected with their loved ones, which became difficult or impossible as the pandemic that began changing the world in 2020 forced patients to maintain physical isolation.’
“The psychological or emotional aspect is a huge part of the health care journey, so we wanted to connect patients with their families,” explained Derek O’Keeffe, a UHG consultant physician and professor of medical device technology at the National University of Ireland Galway (NUIG). Now facilitating tech-enabled conversations between various patients and their families, this successful program underscores how collaboration can profoundly push healthcare forward.
Cisco’s state-of-the-art video conferencing technology was the vehicle, the project was called ICU FamilyLink, which was part of the CARE CONNECT partnership between Cisco, UHG, NUIG and Science Foundation Ireland (SFI). “The parties discussed Cisco’s interest in connected health research and SFI matched the funding available for the project,” said O’Keeffe. “Such collaborations are already making a real impact by enabling medtech innovations that have resulted in improved patient care.”
Cisco, like many other U.S.-based technology companies, is becoming a key partner within the healthcare value chain, adding its expertise to innovative approaches from medtech, pharma and other firms in this huge life sciences arena. Cisco is just one of many American tech and medtech companies tapping into the scientific expertise available in the Irish R&D ecosystem. For example, IBM has joined with University College Dublin to transform the diagnosis and surgical treatment of colorectal cancer using artificial intelligence, a camera and dyes, which enable surgeons to ‘see’ tumors in real time and have a far better chance of fully removing them. This research is being supported through the Irish Government’s Disruptive Technology Innovation Fund, a €500 million fund designed to drive and support collaboration between MNCs, SMEs and academia in Ireland.
Improved cancer treatment is also the focus of collaboration between University of Limerick, University Hospital Limerick , Dell Technologies, New Jersey-based medtech leader Becton Dickinson and Irish researchers—to establish a new cancer research center that aims to use digital technologies for cancer treatment in Ireland. Located at University Hospital Limerick, research at the new Limerick Digital Cancer Research Centre will include the use of high-powered microscopy and artificial intelligence to digitally profile biopsies taken from a patient’s cancerous tissues, as well as development in the area of statistics, AI and machine learning for the large-scale mining of genomics and molecular data.
Advances in technology-enabled data gathering are a forceful element in the healthcare R&D world today. “The human body is becoming the biggest data platform that has ever existed,” explained Pat Dempsey, head of business development within SFI’s Insight Research Centre for Data Analytics (Insight). “Technology can capture and build databases from this valuable information.”
For example, Insight’s staff of 450 includes more than 70 leading scientists across a range of disciplines. “We bring a lot of collaborative stakeholders together,” explained Dempsey. “In the healthcare area, we’re involved in projects about drug development from data, clinical trials, and remote monitoring, telehealth, personalized behavioral intervention, diagnosis and clinical support systems. The evolution of the life sciences world and the investment world is being underpinned by access to data and data tools.”
Among the U.S. companies working in the digital health space that are taking advantage of Ireland’s R&D-focused, collaborative environment are 3M, which has established a technology center in Ireland aimed at healthcare and health IT supplier Cerner, whose new Irish innovation center is working in predictive analytics.
According to Professor Brian Caulfield, a Director also at Insight at UCD, “Along with other research centers, we are a valuable hub for researchers who are inside the system wanting to expand out, but equally for companies who want to look in. Insight is a window, and it’s a window that is bidirectional.” The overall focus is for different types of industries, companies and academic centers to come together, with funding available to make a whole greater than the individual entities.
“I think interdisciplinary collaboration is the lifeblood of innovation,” Caulfield noted, with tomorrow’s successful medtech breakthroughs being the important result.