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The Pulse of the Pharmaceutical Industry

Lions Health 2017 Takeaways

Written by: | | Dated: Tuesday, August 1st, 2017


Leading healthcare and pharma communications professionals from around the globe convened at the fourth annual Lions Health festival on June 17-18 in Cannes, France. Key trends and issues in healthcare communications were explored during “two days of life-changing creativity.” Following are perspectives on various topics from some of the industry experts who attended the event …



Lions Health 2017 Recap

By George Giunta
VP, Creative Director
Ogilvy CommonHealth Worldwide, part of WPP Health & Wellness

My trip to the 2017 Cannes Lion Festival for Creativity was full of so many amazing moments, but there were two things that stood out for me. The first was a talk by Michael Massimino, a NASA astronaut also known as Astro Mike. The second was a presentation by Bjarke Ingles, world-renowned architect. I liked that these two very different people had one common thread, space. One was in the outer limits of it, and the other was working with the challenges of it every day. Each one of them left me with a soundbite that has been playing in my head ever since I came home.

Astro Mike is about my age and like me was born in Long Island to an Italian family; I immediately felt a connection with him. While I went on to pursue my childhood dream of becoming an artist, Mike pursued his childhood dream of becoming an astronaut. He even showed us a picture of himself with his Astronaut Snoopy doll, the same doll my brother slept with every night in the bunk above me. Mike went to Columbia to become an engineer, and furthered his education, ultimately earning a doctorate from MIT, all with an eye on becoming an astronaut one day.

Mike’s story was focused on his long journey to becoming an astronaut, and the trials and tribulations he experienced along the way. What I remembered most about Mike’s talk was something his friend told him after the second or third rejection letter from NASA. Mike was wondering what all his hard work was for, and if he would ever reach his goal. He contemplated whether it was all worth it. His friend told him to “only hold your regrets for 30 seconds,” then move on. Mike’s first reaction was “that’s not possible,” but his friend’s suggestion stuck with him. After a long weekend, Mike was able to let go and he started focusing on the road ahead, and it changed his life. He said the 30-second part was not too realistic for him although he did realize that the power of moving on would get him to his goal. It was a wonderful message for me to take away, for I too have been faced with many bumps and bruises on my journey in the arts.

The second presentation that deeply affected me was from Bjarke Ingles, an architect I was first exposed to on the Netflix series Abstract. I was so excited to see him speak that I think I elbowed Scott Watson in the ribs as he sat in the seat next to me. Bjarke talked about his process and his company’s philosophy of mixing great design with sustainability. This guy is more of a rock star than an architect: his clients love him, he is literally changing the landscape of the world, and his critics love to rip him apart. It doesn’t help that his company web address is

At one point he was in the middle of talking about inspiration, when he stopped himself and said, “we don’t look for inspiration, we just put our heads down and work.” Bjarke believes great work is accomplished by doing just that, working. It was reassuring to hear this from him because I often come across people who are not connected to the creative process and think we pull ideas out of the air willy-nilly—there is so much more to what we do than that. Great creativity is about putting your nose to the grindstone and working your ass off for years. The process is much more visceral than most people realize. With each creative exercise we complete, we further develop the muscles it takes to build intuition, passion, and sound decision making. Bjarke’s accomplishments at such a young age give a clear example of the benefits of hard work, and what it takes to be a passionate, successful creative.




By Elliot Langerman
Chief Creative Officer, New York, Klick Health

Cannes Lions is always hard on me, spiritually.

I can already smell your objections through the screen. So, let’s first dispel with the obvious. Yes, it’s the South of France. Yes, it’s rosé and corporate expense accounts, and yes, it’s glorious.

But it is also brutal.

Not in the existential crisis way that seems to accompany the show every year and especially this year. See: Sadoun’s announcement; the “this isn’t real advertising” crowd gaining in volume and volume; and an even greater-than-usual number of self-published-on-Medium, the-show-has-gotten-too-big, think pieces.

Or even in the “Boy, I need to exercise greater self control at the bar when traveling with current- and would-be colleagues” way. Although, maybe.

No, for me, the anxiety isn’t existential. It’s Manichean.

On the one, it is a moment of brilliant optimism and inspiration.

Just look at what is possible! At the breathtaking ambition, ingenuity, and impact of the work! New products spanning the tech spectrum (beads! VR!) that literally will save someone’s (or lots of someone’s) life! Print so beautiful that it transcends advertising and has become art. Stories so richly realized and emerging from such a deep-spouted human truth that tears are inevitable. And of course, damn, they convinced the client to go that way!

A second look at it all and I am intensely humbled. Defeated. It’s all so… good. So then I am jealous. And with a little more time for stewing and perhaps some of the aforementioned rosé, even a little angry. All of this work… so much of it from other agencies and people. Sure, I’m happy for them. I’d be happier were it me.

As a clinically competitive person (so revealed to me at a therapists appointment in the 2nd grade… my mother, she meant well), I can get a little mixed up and it can be tough to swallow.

So, yes, it is hard.

But never because I question its value or “rightness” or what it all means.

The only thing it makes me question is myself.

Only at Cannes does it all glom together in one place to deliver a massive, thunderous brain-and-heart punch of made of equal measures “Anything is possible!” and “Shit, I need to work harder and smarter and relentlessly pursue inspiration and productivity or otherwise see my fragile self-conception crumble and be revealed as a fraud.”

And thus it is essential.

I’d wager I’m not the only one for which this is true.

Because without the mad desperation that comes from it, the rivals and community to spur us on, a shared love for what we do, the inspiration-by-example to do better, the undeniable brilliance of others to see that there is better … (deep breath) … without others fighting the same fights, and incontrovertible evidence of the power of either too-brave-or-too-stupid (but who cares which) thinking to know that the impossible-isn’t-impossible … (another deep breath) … then we’re all just working in banking.

Or somewhere in mid-flight between the bridge and the water.

Viva la Cannes.




Winning at Cannes Isn’t Easy.
It’s Not Impossible Either.

By Rich Levy
FCB Health

Amid the whirlwind that was last month’s Cannes Lions Health festival, three industry insights truly resonated. The first two statistics are interrelated: non-healthcare agencies account for 80% of entries and 90% of wins for Pharma and Health & Wellness. The third number, announced during the ceremony itself, is that only 1.7% of total entries win a Bronze Lion. That number gets incrementally smaller for Silver and Gold Lion wins. The competition is the finest in the world. The judging leaves nothing to chance. Any way you look at it, winning a Lion at Cannes is really hard.

Despite the formidable competition, these takeaways from this year’s Pharma and Health & Wellness juries can improve your chances for winning a Lion.

1. If your entry doesn’t have amazing craft, it won’t win. While this seems obvious, the reasoning behind it isn’t. As jury members assess submissions in the earliest rounds, they’re looking for reasons to eliminate work. With thousands of entries, the first eliminations are those that lack amazing craft. Rather than look for amazing ideas or impactful results, judges are looking for amazing copywriting, art direction, design, illustration, photography, direction, editing and cinematography. If your entry doesn’t pass the craft test, it doesn’t get past the first day. The ease with which 1,000 entries are whittled down to just 250 should speak volumes about the level of craft necessary to get shortlisted.

2. Your local idea should have global appeal. Jurors come from around the world. If your idea is regional, you’ll need to account for its relevance in your case film or write-up. McCann Health’s “Immunity Charm” can attribute its success to the clarity with which the film explained the significance of a charm bracelet and its ability to aid in childhood vaccination. While this idea was specific to Afghanistan, the bracelet’s utility for healthcare professionals had mass appeal.

3. Juries like a good surprise. Most of the multiple-award winners at Lions Health had not been entered in shows prior to Cannes. This means that jurors haven’t experienced “award fatigue” with entries judged at multiple shows throughout the year. Entries like FCB Toronto’s “Down Syndrome Answers” made their debut in the jury room – and the jury was clearly impressed. It won 3 Lions during Lions Health, and 7 more during the main festival. The entry had craft, drove results and was not worn out by the time it was met by the jury.

The takeaways are endless. Emotional work still resonates. Some of my favorite campaigns made me cry, then laugh, then cry some more. Four standouts included “Sick Kids VS,” “The World’s Biggest Asshole,” “Evan” and “Halloween.” If you haven’t seen them, you should. I’m sure you’ll wish you created them. I know I do.

I think it’s important to debunk the notion that U.S. agencies can’t win within the confines of regulations. U.S. agencies won plenty of Lions this year. For the first time, U.S.-based Area 23 won Healthcare Agency of the Year. I hope we can finally put that myth to rest. While winning a Lion is incredibly challenging, especially for branded pharma work, I still believe it can be done. All it takes is a game-changing global idea that’s both incredibly well-crafted and surprising. I never said it would be easy.



The Piano Starts Softly and Slowly Builds …

By Graham Mills
Global Chief Creative Officer
Publicis Health

Editor’s note: Mr. Mills served as a member of the Pharma Lions 2017 Jury

There were 580 entries into this year’s Pharma category at Cannes Lions Health. That’s 580 case films accompanied by a slow, heart-wrenching solo piano track that begins with a few spare notes and builds to an optimistic outcome.

Of course, with judging lasting five days, you quickly tire of the ivories being tickled. This matters, because the way to win is to stand out, to be memorable, to separate from the pack. Looking and sounding the same as everything else is something that tripped up a lot of entries this year. Of course you need a great idea, but the craft of storytelling within the case study is just as important. Without it your great campaign will fade into the background.

Another important distinction is whether the work is Pharma or Health. Unlike most shows, the Cannes Health Festival separates the two, and with good reason. Without the Pharma category there would be no need to have any Health Lions – the work in Health & Wellness could easily just become part of the main show. Indeed, only two the 80 agencies awarded in Health & Wellness were specialist health agencies. This gives the Pharma Lions a real significance.

With this in mind, the jury gave itself a purpose. We set out to “protect Pharma.” This meant recognizing the work that was true to the category. We decided that this meant communications for medicines, products, devices and treatments that required interaction with a healthcare professional; they had to live in a regulated environment and be an agency solution to a client/brand problem.

This purpose made judging easier, and the shortlist shorter. In fact we ended with a much shorter list than previous years.

What was also interesting was the nature of the work submitted. Only a few branded campaigns were entered, in fact there was very little traditional advertising at all.

And that is where the real difference between the Health & Wellness and Pharma categories really showed up. Watching the Gala on Saturday night, the two categories stood in stark contrast. Health & Wellness was almost exclusively advertising in all of its forms – and there was some beautiful work in there. Pharma was a celebration of health experiences. It highlighted really exciting and breakthrough ideas for new products, devices and treatments that transform what health feels like.

In some ways this year’s Cannes Lions Health threw a spotlight on what is already happening in our world. Agencies are shifting and transforming to deliver new kinds of work and health solutions. Yes, the majority of work is still advertising, but then there are the new ideas – the partnerships, use of technology and health hacks.

Next year I expect this difference to be even more palpable. So, if you want to win a Health & Wellness Lion, do great advertising. If you want to win in the Pharma category, look for the new ideas that transform how we enable health.



First World Problems Plague Cannes

By Susan Perlbachs
EVP, Executive Director
GSW-NY, an inVentiv Health Company

Here’s the First World problem that seemed to most vex our industry during Cannes Lions Health this June: We failed to find what it takes to win a Pharma Grand Prix Lion.

It’s well documented that agencies are able to hear Lions roar by delivering life-changing creativity for the developing world. As we likely all know – to the tune of a total of eight Lions, including the Grand Prix for Good – “Immunity Charm” dominated the show. The idea leaned into the cultural occurrence that while local Afghans have biases against vaccinating, leading to 50 percent completion rates, there is an affinity among Afghans for putting evil eye bracelets on newborns.

But winning Lions for solving developing world issues isn’t something unique to this year’s show. Some of the most notable winners over the show’s short history include solving for iron deficiencies in Cambodia with a lucky fish icon. Adding the lucky iron fish when cooking provided the iron families needed. Another winner found a way to decrease iodine deficiencies in women of childbearing age in India: by using culturally beloved bindis as iodine patches. The list goes on.

That said, we haven’t quite cracked the “life-changing creativity” code for issues that most plague the developed world, such as obesity, heart disease, or staggering rates of diabetes (though CDM London deserves props for their work with Ascencia Diabetes Care, which resulted in bronze Lions wins).

It seems we can more easily uncover cultural insights to help “fix” what ails those in poorer, oftentimes less educated parts of the world than uncover the same level of life-changing ideas for issues that consume our neighbors, families or even ourselves. Could it really be that as an industry we are least able to help our own pharmaceutical clients and to solve issues that affect the population we know best? As writers, we are told to write what we know. It seems hard to simply accept that we have the hardest time finding cultural insights to help the clients – and populations – who are closest to ourselves.

When it comes to life-changing creativity worthy of a Pharma Lion Grand Prix, we challenge you to think beyond brand and embrace life-changing insights and strategy.



Why is Pharma so afraid to stand out? And other musings from inside the jury room.

By Gary Scheiner
Chief Creative Officer
ghg | greyhealth group

Editor’s note: Mr. Scheiner was a member of the Health & Wellness Lions 2017 Jury

I had the immense honor of being a judge at Cannes this year, one of only 390 across 23 different juries. It was my second time judging, but my first time on the Health & Wellness jury. I was beyond excited, not because I would be tooling around the south of France, but because I was going to see, firsthand, the best of the best that this industry had to offer, and I was going to help decide the work, the agencies, and the clients we would all revere and envy for the foreseeable future.

We reviewed over 2,300 entries in Health & Wellness. Compare that to the roughly 600 in the Pharma jury. That was the first eye-opener. Why so few entries from a part of our business that is innovating and evolving at warp speed? Biotech. Personalized medicine. Genomics. Revolutionary breakthroughs. Products and devices. There’s no shortage of amazing things happening in pharma and yet, there were only 1/3 the amount of entries as the broader health & wellness.

Every day at lunch, we would see our Pharma jury colleagues and we’d ask, did you see any great Rx work today? Anything that made the hair on the back of your neck stand up? Anything that we can take back home to our pharma clients and say, “See what they did? We can do things like this, too!” And every day, the answer was a melancholy “no.” Lots of inspiring ideas in disease awareness and unbranded, but not Rx.

Days later, after we had awarded the Grand Prix to Meet Graham, we discovered that there were only five Rx entries that made the short list in Pharma, and none that earned a medal. Is this really an accurate picture of where we are; five Rx entries worthy of consideration at Cannes? To be clear, Cannes needs to overhaul their criteria for Pharma and stop accepting entries that aren’t regulated or targeted squarely at the industry. But that is not an excuse for the lack of qualified contenders. Great work is great work. And there was great work that won in Pharma. The Immunity Charm was absolutely brilliant. VR Vaccine and The Fin were inspiring. And the Last Laugh was poignant and brave. But to see so few Rx brands represented was honestly crushing, and sobering.

Why is this the reality? Is it because regulatory and legal are the enemy of different? Is it because pharma clients are afraid to rock the boat? Is it that many pharma agencies have been so beaten into submission that they give up the fight for great too soon? None of these are acceptable reasons. There are no acceptable reasons.

There was talk among members of my jury that perhaps Cannes should shutter Pharma next year and instead fold it into Health & Wellness as a b2b category. I could not disagree more with this notion. Doing that is an admission that great work can’t happen in the regulated space. It would give agencies permission to stop at the first idea and it would allow clients to expect and accept mediocrity. I don’t believe that’s good for anyone.

Cannes, for all its hype and hoopla, is about celebrating the power of creativity as a force for business, for change, and for good. When it comes to health, that creativity can be truly life-changing. No one should be settling for anything, and everyone should be expecting better. I sincerely hope next year the Pharma jury is overflowing with inspiring Rx work. It’s not for the sake of our egos or trophy cases. It’s for the future of our industry and the patients we all serve.



Wins for patients are wins for pharma

By Kathleen Starr, Ph.D.
Managing Director
inVentiv Health Behavioral Insights Group

This was my first year attending Cannes Lions Health, and, like so many, I was inspired by the celebrated examples of life-changing creativity in the health and wellness category. Already having an affinity for health promotion as a health psychologist, I left the festival with a nagging thought: Most people are patients at some point. What are we doing to tackle the big problems patients face?”

In the pharma industry, we spend a lot of creative energy toward making sure people are equipped to talk about available medication options. But if we take a signal from Cannes, there is more to be done. More importantly, if we take inspiration from the patient experience, there are bigger problems to solve. The patient experience doesn’t stop once someone has a basic understanding of their condition or can identify a product by name. Instead, it’s just the start of a life-changing reality for many.

As we analyze this year’s winners, such as “Immunity Charm,” for hints on how to improve 2018 entries, let’s also think about how we can apply key elements of these health and wellness initiatives to shape a better patient experience: 1) Go big. Move beyond developing initiatives that nudge individual behavior to creating social or cultural changes that improve the lives of people living in the face of serious illness; 2) Think longer term. Push ourselves to think beyond promoting awareness to creating solutions that support patients’ resilience throughout their journey; 3) Don’t go it alone. Break down the silos to form partnerships outside the typical circle of stakeholders to enhance reach and impact.

Awards aside, when life-saving medicines are combined with life-changing creativity, we give patients solutions they need and deserve. And everyone wins.



Not winning a Lion, does that mean you suck? Cannes recap 2017

By Scott Watson
Chief Creative Officer
Ogilvy CommonHealth Worldwide, part of WPP Health & Wellness

Not necessarily.

But, going to the South of France, surrounded by all the beautiful people, brilliant creative minds, and not winning, does tend to make you feel like a worthless creative piece of crap. It gets you angry and frustrated and leads you to question your creative abilities. Why is that? Because you are in the presence of the greatest creative work in the world, all at one place, and to make you feel worse, this work is in our healthcare space.

Or is it?

While there are always great ideas to be seen at Cannes, some of the winners and finalists make you wonder if they really belong in the category they are in.

Which has prompted many discussions around the industry as to why there is a Health & Wellness and a Pharma category. There is definitely a blurred line between the two.

My personal opinion is that if they are to keep the Pharma category alive, it needs to be redefined to be more focused. If “highly regulated” is in the description of the category, then the work should adhere to that. When you have 80-90% of the winning work come from awareness or pro bono campaigns, it makes for a frustrating experience for the many who truly go through the painstaking approval processes to get a great idea out there.

Don’t get me wrong, I love seeing all of the experiential ideas – they open your eyes to what can be done and help you to rethink how you might approach an existing brand’s promotion. And it only takes one of these great ideas to move you and change your perspective on what you need to start doing greater work. The Nicorette “One Breath” branded film did just that for me. Having worked in the Smoking Cessation category, I can truly appreciate the beauty of this entry, and the fact that it was a pharmaceutical brand made it all the better. It’s an amazing production that tells a powerful story about the efficacy of the drug through the life of a diver who quit smoking when he saw what had happened to his father from smoking. It’s three minutes of intrigue, emotion and insight, wrapped in a gorgeously produced film, and in a world where we have so many talking head patient videos, this opened my eyes to what we need to begin to strive toward in our day-to-day, heavily regulated healthcare world.

So, off I go with a renewed creative spirit, back into our highly regulated world, to create something great, that I will be proud to say – doesn’t suck.



Disruptive Innovation in Healthcare

By Jean-Marie Dru

Editor’s note: The following passages represent an article written by Jean-Marie Dru based off of the content of his keynote speech at Cannes.

Healthcare systems are not efficient. In some countries, they could even collapse. There is an urgent need for disruptive innovations. Many leapfrog technologies and processes will come from developing countries. The South will inspire the North.


Healthcare is the single largest industry in the world, which is three times bigger than the banking sector, yet it’s not undertaking the deep transformation it needs. There have been of course huge advances made by medical science. But the ways and means that are used to deliver healthcare are often costly, inefficient, ineffective, and are not consumer-friendly.


The healthcare deadlock

America is a telling example. Each year, it spends about $ 2.8 trillion on healthcare, the most of any country in the world. At the same time, it is by far the leading country in medical, scientific and technological research. Despite all this, sadly, Americans have very poor health outcomes. According to the latest Bloomberg index, the U.S healthcare system ranked in 2014 among the least efficient worldwide, 50th out of 55 countries. And on a number of criteria such as infant mortality rate, America found itself far behind countries like Hungary, Slovenia, and Cuba.

In fact, all countries are facing more or less the same challenges. On the one hand, fast-growing middle classes want access to quality healthcare, per capita health expenditure is growing exponentially and the elderly are living longer. On the other hand, governments are under huge pressure, they don’t have the financial resources to increase health budgets.

It looks like the world’s health sector is deadlocked.

This explains why in Western medicine a new focus has been given to something that has always been at the core of Oriental medicine: prevention.


The explosion of self-care

We should stop being exclusively a sick care system. We should move from a sick care to a health care system. Rather than react when patients fall sick, we should be proactive.

Obviously, preventive medicine will continue to soar and with it, the explosion of self-care: self-diagnosis, self-monitoring and self-medication.

This being said, and of course besides all the benefits that preventive medicine can provide us with, it is crucial to give access to the best of curative medicine to the greatest number of people. This is clearly an overwhelming challenge. We must create sustainable healthcare systems that are capable of providing affordable and accessible health and care services to everyone.

And to achieve this, there is only one solution: innovation.


Innovate or Die

“Innovate or die’. This well-known motto takes on even more meaning when it comes to the healthcare sector. A world where unfortunately – and for reasons that can sometimes be understood – the risk-averse culture of regulatory bodies puts a brake on innovation.

It is time to bring about radical transformation. This has become quite urgent. There is a drastic need for disruptive innovation in healthcare.

In the business world, we usually differentiate incremental innovation from disruptive innovation. Incremental innovation means step-by-step improvements like creating a new product formula, launching a high-end product or expanding into an adjacent market.  Disruptive innovation is a breakthrough innovation that brings about radical change, such as for instance, entering a distant product category or changing a business model or distribution channel. Apple, Facebook, Airbnb, Alibaba, Big Bazaar, Tesla, or Haier are examples of companies that have come up with disruptive innovations. If companies need incremental innovations to fuel their business on an ongoing basis, they do also need to regularly come up with disruptive innovations if they really want to stand the test of time.

In fact, there are more and more upcoming disruptive innovations in the healthcare sector, but they are not emerging at a sufficient pace.

Disruptive innovation can be found in medical science, in medical practice and in medical technology.


Disruptive innovation in medical science

Science is obviously the starting point of all progress. Our common future depends on the discoveries made by researchers and scientists in universities, institutes, laboratories and companies. Every day sees the emergence of a great number of scientific breakthroughs. And obviously technology will open up new spaces.

This is the case for personalized medicine. Gene therapy is becoming more and more a useful tool to cure several diseases, and this concerns not only cancer, but also Parkinson’s, HIV, or severe immunodeficiencies. Genetic treatments are slowly but surely entering mainstream medicine, hence offering hope to patients for whom conventional treatments have proved unsuccessful or don’t simply exist.

There is also great interest for nanomedicine. The unique properties of nanoscale materials are opening up promising perspectives for diagnostic purposes and in medical therapy. Nanotechnology offers tremendous potential for treatments that can be as effective as chemotherapy, but without the side effects.

3D printing is also driving major innovations in medicine. 3D bioprinting has been used to generate living cells such as skin or heart tissues for transplantation in humans. In about less than a decade, it will be possible to reproduce with a 3D printer practically every organ of the body. This will help compensate the shortage of available organs.


Disruptive innovation in medical practice

Connected care will progressively transform the way people interact with healthcare. This will bring about changes in medical practice.

Patients will no longer consult with the doctor only when they get sick. Their health will be monitored in real-time. We will be heading towards a Netflix world where companies know what consumers need before consumers know what they need. Vital data about patients’ health will be constantly streamed to their care team and in case of changes in their condition, the team will know before the patients that they need to step in to receive early treatment before their health problem becomes acute.

We will shift from a short-term to a long-term approach that would allow achieving better health outcomes, hence reducing health expenditure. This is all the more important since the challenge we will be facing with in the Western world is the ability to provide quality healthcare to an ageing population living with long-term chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease or cancer.


Disruptive innovation in medical technology

Real-time monitoring will require patients to have more and more connected medical devices like for example the digital stethoscope, the vitamin deficiency monitor or the oxygen level tester. These peripheral devices, some of which are already on the market, will increasingly contribute to patients’ good health and well-being. To be operable, they will lead to the creation of thousands of apps and will facilitate the sharing of health data for analysis.

A new wealth of knowledge will become available to healthcare stakeholders: research scientists, public and private health policy makers, pharmaceutical companies, health product manufacturers, insurance providers, patients and physicians.

New practices and new advances in science and technology will reshape the healthcare landscape. Companies will rethink and shake up traditional ways of delivering health and care services. Like Sherpaa, the American telemedicine start-up that replaces the patient’s physical visits to primary care doctors with a year-round 24-hour virtual access exclusively via email, app or text messages to a panel of up to six doctors for an annual fee. Or Capsule, that other American start-up that has reinvented the pharmacy to get your medication delivered on demand to your doorstep.


The uberization of healthcare

These two examples show how the traditional role of doctors and pharmacists will be transformed. A lot has been said already on the “uberization of healthcare”. Yet, I think that its scope and importance have been exaggerated in many respects. Despite the huge and growing impact of big data, the doctor’s diagnosis will remain key.

What will change is that data, artificial intelligence and all the new connected-patient technology will help physicians make a more timely and accurate diagnosis and prescribe the best available treatment at the lowest possible cost. This is why it is vital to accelerate the pace of innovation.


Innovate in all shapes and forms

We must dramatically foster innovation. We must ignite massive mobilization of the scientific community. We need to deeply integrate science, technology and practice. We must better leverage talent and practices among the best scientists and practitioners. We must nurture the hundreds of start-ups that have entered the healthcare sector and support the emergence of new ones. We need to convince governments and policy makers to come up with disruptive health policies in order to drastically improve delivery of efficient health and care services. We must innovate in all shapes and forms. Because when it comes to healthcare, the critical need for more innovation takes a whole new dimension: it becomes a moral imperative.

To boost innovation, we have to open up new paths. In a book that I published last year, I noted that the pace of innovation of companies that are not born of the Internet, and they still represent by far the majority, is insufficient. This can affect their long-term sustainability. And I explained that they should innovate the way they innovate.

I proposed fifteen paths to disruptive innovation such as structural innovation, revival-based innovation, insight-driven innovation, business model innovation, open innovation and reverse innovation etc.

Among those fifteen paths, the last two seem particularly relevant to me when it comes to healthcare: open innovation and reverse innovation.


Open Innovation

Open innovation is about collaboration between peers on open-source platforms. For example OpenICE, a platform that allows a community implementation of an Integrated Clinical Environment (ICE) across all care settings ranging from the home and the general hospital floor to the operating room and the intensive care.

Or, mPedigree, a mobile phone technology solution available to consumers living in ten African countries to help them differentiate between genuine and fake drugs that they purchase at pharmacy stores. This was made possible by the open collaboration between major pharma groups such as Sanofi-Aventis, electronics companies such as Hewlett Packard, regulatory agencies such as the FDA in the United States and its equivalents in countries where mPedigree operates, and mobile telephony players such as MTN.

Open innovation provides forward-looking policy makers, entrepreneurs, researchers, healthcare organizations, academic representatives and industry players with the opportunity to work together, break silos and  come up with disruptive innovations.

The other type of innovation that I believe is the best way to build a real pipeline of innovation is reverse innovation.


Reverse Innovation

A widely accepted definition of reverse innovation is an innovation seen first or likely to be used first in the developing world, before spreading in the industrialized world.

Until the beginning of this century, the greatest number of innovations came from Western countries. These innovations were then adapted to developing countries, not always in the best convenient way, to address their needs. Because of the income gap between developing and developed countries, price is the fundamental driver of reverse innovation. This is why it is also called frugal innovation in India. It is in that sense that reverse innovation, which makes it possible to do more with less, will help Western countries deliver better, less costly healthcare, more efficiently.

But it’s not only a matter of cost. Reverse innovation often brings significant progress. Because they were lagging behind in infrastructure development, developing countries have leapfrogged past the fixed landline technology or oil-based energy sources to mobile phone or solar energy. Scientists from developing countries don’t let themselves get stuck in rigid and irrefutable ways of thinking and doing. They are more inclined to develop leapfrog technologies or to come up with breakthrough innovations. They often invent out of necessity.

If you look at the hundreds of affordable innovations in healthcare – whether it is a disruptive technological or non-technological innovation –, you will find that a large number of them comes from developing countries, such as those seven examples.

The Himalayan Cataract Project, born in Nepal, has improved cataract surgery and brought down its cost from $3500 in the U.S to as little as $20, allowing to restore eyesight to 4 million patients in 24 countries.

The Cardiopad, a portable touchscreen tablet from Cameroon where there are less than 50 cardiologists for 20 million inhabitants. It allows performing heart examinations in a span of twenty minutes in remote or inaccessible locations.

Practo, a medical platform of about 200 000 physicians and 10 000 hospitals that helps cater to 25 million patients each year in India. Patients can book, reschedule and cancel doctor appointments and can pay for their consultation anytime from anywhere.

Zipline, a start-up whose drones are used to deliver blood for life-saving transfusion to 21 clinics in Rwanda. Each drone can make between 50 and 150 emergency flights a day and can carry 1.5 kg of blood. Zipline has inspired two hospitals in Switzerland, which will start using a similar drone-delivery service in 2018.

3nethra, a portable, low-cost, non-invasive digital imaging device for the eyes developed by the Indian start-up, Forus Health. It detects the five major eye diseases that cause blindness. 3nethra Neo detects retinopathy in prematurely born babies, which if left untreated, can result in the permanent blindness of the child.

Sense Ebola Follow up, a mobile app that enables the GPS-tracking of the Ebola virus, making it easier to get potentially contaminated people do a test faster. The test results shared in real-time via the application has helped reduce the time between identification of a suspect case and result from 72 hours to only 2 hours. This invention has been of an unequalled effectiveness in the fight to eradicate the Ebola virus in Nigeria, Sierra Leone and Guinea.

Accompagnateurs, health workers from inside the community are trained and paid to accompany sick patients until their recovery. First used in Haiti, Rwanda or Mexico, and later in Boston, this model based on community health workers has reduced spending on hospitalization by two-thirds and treatment costs by 36 %. Medical authorities in other countries might be reluctant to use this care model. They should not. According to WHO estimates, the world will need an additional 40 million doctors by 2025, an unreachable target. So the world needs community health workers.

I work for the French National Academy of Medicine Foundation, which organizes bilateral medical forums to exchange ideas on the progress of medicine across the world. We have held forums in Brazil, China, India, Mexico, Russia and we were two months ago in Senegal. The vibrant creative spirit and the breadth of skills of the young Senegalese professors struck me.

One of them has developed Illumigene Malaria, a new test that diagnoses malaria in a very short span of time. Results of the test are available within one hour with an accuracy rate 400 times higher than existing tests. This invention has revolutionized the detection of malaria and is helping eradicate it.

More and more disruptive innovations will come from Africa on topics such as prevention, nutrition, safer and better access to medicines, telehealth, and rapid detection of infectious diseases, but also from all over the world. We have to leverage all these resources.


Integration is the issue, access is the challenge

Science has obviously enabled huge progress to be made over the past years. And at the same time, the world needs a much more rapid inflow of revolutionary inventions or discoveries.

However, even if this happens, science alone will not provide to the healthcare sector a way out of the current deadlock in which it is. Scientific progress only is not sufficient to compensate for the inadequacy in the delivery of healthcare by existing systems. And this is true for a majority of countries worldwide.

There is an urgent need for integration between science, technology and practice. It’s time for the healthcare sector to take a decisive step forward towards integration, which is the issue. This is the hardest step because doctors and regulatory bodies, sometimes for legitimate reasons, often adopt a conservative and skeptical attitude towards too deep transformations.

It’s only through better integration that the healthcare sector will be able to meet the key challenge, access. Access by the greatest number of people to the best care at the lowest cost. A world where cutting-edge medical care is made available to only very few people and where there is growing disparity in the access to healthcare will inevitably lead to declining health. This will in turn generate more health expenditure that will weaken existing healthcare systems, some of which may collapse in the long term.


The future of healthcare will come from everywhere

There is no doubt that better access through stronger integration of science, technology and practice is one of the best ways to break the deadlock.

The seven examples of reverse innovation that I listed in this paper are all about access, facilitated either through better organization or lower price. The healthcare sector will find a sustainable solution to this access issue only if it treats on an equal footing all innovative ideas, whether they stem from developing or developed countries, only if it takes full advantage of all the great minds that the world has to offer.

The seven examples all come from new economies. In other words, the South will export ideas to the North. The South will inspire the North.



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