Updated: Nov 19, 2020
The Global Innovation Summit began last Tuesday (17) and explored health technologies developments to respond and mitigate COVID-19 impacts and pathways for a vaccine. Leaders from the US, Australia, Greece, and Japan, working at the scientific forefront, medical research, academia, cybersecurity, and innovation agencies exchanged information, explained case-studies during the pandemic, and outlined challenges and opportunities for the future.
Read below highlights of each session:
GFCC Chairman Charles O. Holliday Jr. and GFCC President Deborah Wince-Smith launched the 2020 Global Competitiveness Principles based on the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. Holliday highlighted the relevance of partnerships based on shared values to strengthen the global response to the crisis. “Not only did we go far, but we went fast in responding because partnerships helped us,” he said.
US Ambassador to Australia Arthur Culvahouse Jr. commented on the importance of trade partnerships between the two countries and cooperation in science, frontier technologies, such as machine learning and artificial intelligence. Culvahouse also emphasized how innovation and technology have allowed a joint space initiative between the two countries, which plans to send astronauts to the moon and on to Mars.
Greg Hunt, Australian Minister for Health, explained Australia’s strategy to fight the pandemic based on containment and capacity boost. The country introduced quarantine measures and closed international borders (except New Zealand) to flatten the curve of the spread of the virus. In parallel, a nation-wide effort to conduct free testing in the whole Australian population involved public-private partnerships, coupled with contact tracing initiatives and the widespread use of telemedicine.
“The telehealth system treated over 4 million cases during the pandemic. It was a decade long proposal we deliver in months. That is innovation in action born from necessity”, said Minister Hunt.
Dr. Mehmood Khan interviews the Australian Minister for Health Greg Hunt
Australia has followed an evidence-based approach with positive results during the pandemic. The country has counted less than 1,000 deaths due to COVID-19, and it has been able to manage economic impacts, standing among the last affected economies worldwide.
For Minister Hunt, preparedness, and timely decision-making ensured Australia could react and managed the crisis. As he pointed out, before COVID-19, Australia had already in place an epidemic response plan reviewed by the World Health Organization (WHO).
The short-term pandemic needs pushed technological advances in healthcare, sidestepping bureaucratic procedures that could slow down innovation.
“The race for a vaccine shows that we can do things faster and safe,” said Minister Hunt. “Humanity is immensely flexible, and urgent short-term needs can be taken with innovation,” he completed.
Panel conversation: “Putting health technology to work”
An ecosystem of emerging health technologies has allowed a fast response to COVID-19. Doctors, scientists, and medical researchers have taken advantage of digital tools, such a machine learning, artificial intelligence, data mining, the Internet of Things, and computer vision, currently widespread worldwide.
“Many of these technologies were available before COVID-19, but during the pandemic, they switched to something else, playing a big role in the response”, points out Karen Holbrook, Regional Chancellor at the University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee.
In many countries, telehealth and telework were possible even decades ago but only became a reality during the pandemic. The urgency of the unusual scenario pushed regulatory environments to adapt to the new reality.
But digital transformation is more than only applying analogic methods to a digital environment. For Mary Foley, Managing Director at Telstra Health, the pandemic has demonstrated the importance of mobilizing technologies fast and investing in tech transfer. “Health technologies can take us to another level as a health system with digital becoming a key connecting part”, argues Mary.
The digital transition must place people at the center, as valued by Stefan Hajkowicz, Senior Principal Scientist at CSIRO. In that sense, investments in digital education and STEM should start even at an early age in schools, and universities should receive initiatives to leverage initiatives with frontier technologies, as pointed by Karen.
Panel conversation: “Vaccines- global innovation and partnerships”
There is a global mission to develop a COVID-19 vaccine development and reduce the pandemic’s health, economic, and social impacts.
Panelists emphasized the importance of public and private partnerships, stressing the need for multilateral action to have enough manufacturing capabilities to produce the vaccine. “We are only as strong as each other,” said Dr. Victor Dzau, President of the US National Academy of Medicine.
Countries and organizations, such as the WHO or the Global Fund, have to facilitate development through collective investments. The role of innovation in the vaccine race is also crucial. The development process was able to be shortened and performed simultaneously as studies and trials because of increased global innovation and capabilities in genomics and proteomics.
Dr. Dzau and John Crothers, Australian CEO Abbot Labs, highlighted the importance of investing in science and creating sustainable financing government structures to tackle financial challenges.
Finally, despite challenges such as misinformation around the vaccine and the struggle to distribute it fairly as well as challenges in regulatory environments, as Dr Victor Dzau discusses what we need transparency around this process, emphasizing the importance of leadership, citizenship, science, early decision-making and clear strategies.
Therefore, the panel stressed the need for strong solidarity and a multilateral approach to vaccine development, with strong emphasis on scientific development and cooperation and investment.
Panel conversation: ‘Paving the way for a safer future’
Medical science and technologies, such as genomics and bioengineering, have played a crucial role in the global response to COVID-19 and preventing the further spread of the coronavirus. The increase in sequencing capacity, new Al tools, and data analytics used by scientists have contributed to the vaccine development process.
Dr. Cathy Foley, Chief Scientist at CSIRO, explained that the scientific agency invested in data analytics to forecast trends and recommend ways for the Australian government to make better decisions regarding virus control.
Dr. Erol Harvey, CEO of ACMD emphasized collaboration displayed by public and private institutions in various countries. Harvey also highlighted the importance of engineering as the future of medicine due to its ability to coordinate different pieces to meet essential targets.
Mr. Simos Anastasopoulos and Dr. Michinari Hamaguchi discussed their countries’ responses, emphasizing the cruciality of successful and efficient government responses to the pandemic in both Japan and Greece.
Participating in the European Union has allowed Greece to invest in a rapid technology transfer to manufacture locally essential items to prevent the spread and mobilize the scientific community.
Japan was also able to contain the spread through its universal health care system and containment measures.
Zuzanna Zak contributed to this article