“Innovation is a fragile flower”

Innovateurs en santé

Thanks to new technologies and improved scientific knowledge, researchers are continuously challenging the limits of health innovation. France celebrated its first annual National Health Innovation Day in January this year. The highlight of these days was the “Health Innovators” conference which featured eight leading innovators – including Elias Zerhouni, President, Global R&D at Sanofi. The speakers described their career paths and professional contributions, with a particular focus on the increasingly detailed exploration of living organisms and biotechnologies.

Throughout these varied presentations, conference attendees were continuously reminded of the important need for innovation in health, not only in regards to the strength of innovation, but also its fragility. The speakers emphasized the importance of nurturing innovation if it is going to flourish and deliver tangible results. Let’s look back on these eight very personal presentations.



Balancing power with responsibility in medical innovation


According to geneticist and INSERM Director of Research, Axel Kahn, innovation stimulated by new technologies and the Big Data revolution is taking healthcare into a new dimension in terms of what is possible. The French essayist stressed that the hope that medical innovations offer both patients and practitioners must come with sociological progress, in order to create access to these new opportunities for as many people as possible, as well as to protect personal data.



Healthcare innovations that promote ethical values and give new hope to patients


Researcher and professor in cellular biology and oncology, Patrizia Paterlini-Bréchot, is responsible for the technical development of ISET (Isolation by Size of Epithelial Tumor Cells), which is a technique that enables the detection of tumor cells up to four years before they can be detected by scanning. This innovation promotes significant hope to patients by offering the possibility of early-stage treatment that saves lives and avoids unnecessary suffering.



Cross-disciplinary skills drive innovation in surgical techniques


Jacques Marescaux, Founder of the Digestive Cancer Research Institute, stressed the importance of a combination of specialties and competencies in the operating room, as an extraordinarily powerful driver of innovation that enables the emergence and development of safer and more effective techniques. Examples include the way in which collaboration with IT engineers enables the development of surgical tools that use augmented reality to avoid collateral damage in surgical procedures.





Medical innovation: a frantic global movement that is still in its early stages


Jean-Claude Cadudal, Engineer and Chairman of Carmat, the medical device company engaged in the development of an artificial heart, believes that innovation is still in its early stages. He suggested that the technical and scientific progress made today will enable researchers to ask the right questions about how medicine and our knowledge of the human body will evolve in the future. He specifically highlighted the major challenge that accompanies the frantic global race for innovation: acceleration of medical progress be accepted, both socially and ethically.  



Staying simple is the key to innovation


According to pediatric hematologist and gene therapy researcher Marina Cavazzana, the simplest solution is often the most effective solution to respond to seemingly impossible problems. Cavazzana implied that instead of being a barrier to innovation, obstacles and failures may push innovators into a corner, and force them to go further. Cavazzana even says her own urge to innovate was provoked by anger towards the powerlessness of medicine against the ability of nature.     



Clinical trials: complex, but essential for innovation


Vision Institute Founder José-Alain Sahel stressed the importance of clinical trials to healthcare innovation. As complex processes torn between adaptive design and ethical challenges, clinical trials cannot exist without support from the public, politicians and healthcare industry. Therefore, a law may assist innovation, the availability of public and private funding may lead to new medical achievements, and patients may contribute to research by enrolling in clinical trials.




Innovation and exploration of the human body


French physician Mickael Tanter believes that the future of medical imaging is not realistic without the exponential development of technologies that can potentially push the frontiers of science, and lead us into a world of knowledge that is unimaginable today. As a result of these types of progress, ultrasound already offers us access to new diagnostic data with an enormous scope of application and one day, innovation in imaging will allow us to examine our own bodies using miniature systems embedded in our organs.





“Innovation is a fragile flower”


Elias Zerhouni, President, Global R&D at Sanofi, believes there is not just one Big Bang model which has endlessly innovated since first introduced, but rather three: the creation of the universe, the emergence and evolution of life, and human intelligence. Innovation is specific to humans, and it exists in every country and every society, but it can only flourish where it is nurtured. For that to happen, people must work together, share their knowledge and pool their expertise.




Innovation is everywhere, but particularly in healthcare. Elias Zerhouni says, innovation will leads to more effective medical treatment described as the “Four Ps”: predictive, personalized, preventive and participative.



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