The long and holistic view
“Life Sciences & Health innovation takes many players many years to complete the many steps from principle to patient. Because it takes long (ten years or more) for returns to be realized, people mistake the investments for subsidies. They are not. Every euro invested in public-private partnerships generates at least four in economic and societal value. Not a bad return, surely. But to realize it you must keep all the different stages aligned and stay the course.
When I started out, research was reductive: you took a plant and tore it to pieces to study its parts. Life sciences today is integrative. It considers the whole system to understand how the parts behave. Life sciences innovation should be similarly understood as a system. It may be a cliché that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, but certainly the parts cannot be seen in isolation. A chain is as strong as its weakest link. Innovation especially depends on the alignment and performance of all its parts for progress from principle to patent to patient. You need every part to do its part.
Currently, that goes for the public-private partnerships. Most have only been in operation for four to five years. Ending them now is throwing that investment away before it can yield returns. It weakens the entire chain from principle to patient. That is not to say you cannot economize. But you must be intelligent about it. Inefficiencies can be removed by combining back offices and better aligning the various parts. It is also possible to make choices – but these must be consistent throughout the system and tighten rather than change focus. One way to bring continuity, flexibility and efficiency to the system is to set up a ‘nursery’ to breed new public-private partnerships that build on Dutch strengths and find them a home in existing structures when breeding time is over. Without an exit strategy for when initial funding expires, initiatives collapse before bearing fruit. It is good to see this idea embraced in the topsector plan.
Dutch life sciences in an integrative system that can be made to work relatively easily. Its partners are very close, both physically and through collaboration. You will not see a topsector plan come about in the US. In the Regiegroep we cover the entire chain. What better opportunity to align its parts, sharpen focus and preserve continuity?”
Nursing innovation along
- Treat innovation as a system and carefully align its parts
- Stay the course to realize returns
- Set up a nursery for public-private partnerships
Colja Laane is director of the Netherlands Genomics Initiative. Before that he was corporate scientist at DSM and professor of Biochemistry at Wageningen University. He chairs and is a member of several international committees and boards in industrial biotechnology and life sciences.