Rob van Leen

Focus on excellence and results

“The topsector plan appears to have been generally approved by the sector. That is good, for it is a sign that consensus on direction and ambition is emerging. It is also good to see the plan focus on areas in which the Netherlands excels. In the past we tried to bridge gaps with other countries and make up for deficiencies, and we often ended up throwing away good money. We should instead bet on our strengths – and by definition these must be few in number.

Another welcome feature of the topsector plan is its focus on cost-effective innovations. The choice between quality and cost is a false dilemma. More often than not, better health outcomes and more efficient processes also mean lower costs overall. Unless innovations are cost effective, healthcare systems and its patients can quite literally not afford them. So we must focus on what we are good at: that is where we can make a difference.

For the Regiegroep this means dedicating ourselves to producing not more reports or new entities but working examples of cost-effective innovation. We should select a few areas with high healthcare costs and relevant Dutch excellence, target the costs to eliminate and the quality to improve. Conflicting interests often make cost reductions impractical – for example because one stakeholder has to invest for another to benefit. However, the Regiegroep unites all stakeholders. If we can set aside individual interests, we should be able to demonstrate that large-scale savings can be achieved by removing certain barriers. The examples we decide upon should offer scope for significant savings, fall within our competencies and allow relatively quick results.

The topsector plan also makes much of ‘crossovers’ with other sectors. Indeed, the link with food will grow ever more important; diet is important to both therapy and, especially, prevention. Food is another area in which the Netherlands possesses real strengths. The Regiegroep should reach out to such sectors like agro-food and other life sciences sectors (e.g. the topsector chemicals) and seek close interaction and collaboration where possible. Such crossovers will prove crucial to healthcare innovation and cost containment in the long run.

It is now up to us to show results. Where innovations have already been successful, we must make that success explicit and tangible to wider audiences. Where not, we must dedicate ourselves to demonstrating working examples. It is important that politicians and the general public see what we achieve; this will inspire and show them that investment in life sciences innovation is (public) money well spent.”

Let’s make it work

  • Select a few topics to demonstrate cost-effective innovations in practice
  • Reach out to other life sciences sectors, especially agro-food
  • Show off examples of successful cost-effective healthcare innovations

Rob van Leen is chief innovation officer for DSM and head of its Innovation Center. He is a member of the Technology and Innovation Committee of VNO-NCW.