New technologies in medicine, a scientist’s opinion
Interview with Michel Goldman, founder of the Institute for Interdisciplinary Innovation in Healthcare (I3H) and former Executive Director of the Innovative Medicines Initiative (IMI).
How was the idea of I3H born?
At the Innovative Medicines Initiative (IMI) the main goal was to bring together pharmaceutical industry and universities, patient organizations, and regulators, to move forward innovation in the pharmaceutical sector. When I ended my mandate, I thought that professors, students, and academia researchers should be prepared to really engage in this joint effort. Very often in research, in academia, people are quite focused on their own CV, on their career. But in order to move medicine forward you need teamwork, you need to educate people to go across their comfort zone, across disciplines. I3H aims at creating a new educational environment, a new interdisciplinary program where we bring together students from different sectors. It is also important to explain to them that there are interesting opportunities outside universities and that moving, for example, from academia to industry should not be a difficult passage.
Also, we bring the students to work as teams on specific subjects. Currently, our main research topics are the opioid crisis, vaccine hesitancy and pricing of breakthrough therapies.
Your programs deals also with new technologies in biomedicine. Do you think it will be a difficult process, or will new generations find it natural to go that way?
You have to start early. That’s why I think we should educate master students and PhD students. And if you anticipate what the future healthcare will be, with precision medicine, artificial intelligence and the other innovations we are seeing at the horizon, it’s essential that students are trained and educated to go across disciplines. What is hard is not to train young people. Young people are just waiting for this. What is hard is to convince the teachers. We need political decisions to change attitude in the universities. If you look at the programs, very often you notice that they are the same today as they were 20 years ago. This is hard. There is a form of conservatism. The academic world is always difficult to move. Here we have a very important role to play for STOA and the European Parliament. There should be a conversation with universities, maybe just saying “we will help you, we understand that you need more resources. But we see that you should change the way you operate”. I think that European Institutions are the best place to start this process.
Is there a clear message you think doctors should receive?
Doctors will lose, to some extent, their monopoly. In operating theatres you surely will have doctors, but also engineers to guide the way you make your surgery or to identify where exactly a tumour is. Doctors will not be alone anymore to decide where and how to operate. This is just an example, but it defines the new landscape in which future practitioners will move. Again, it is time to prepare for the future, and not a distant one. Again, new approaches to education are not only necessary, but urgent.
What about patients? This technological revolution will affect them as well as health professionals, maybe more.
That is another important message for the European Institutions. I prefer to talk about citizens than patients. Indeed, all citizens will, one way or another, one day or another, become patients. We should empower and educate them. Education about the importance of vaccines and the detrimental effects of smoking and alcohol, are important examples. It is all about health literacy, making citizens savvy about their medical condition. But it is not only a matter of adequate training. It is the entire landscape of research and healthcare that should start changing. Interdisciplinarity – continues Goldman – is still a problem when you apply for grants, or for new positions. Maybe they will say “ah, you are not focused enough”. Well, we are trying to explain to policymakers and stakeholders that they should do more to support people who are ready to go interdisciplinary. That is still a challenge.