"We need to think big and act small"
Carmen van Vilsteren and Marco Timmers both work in the Dutch Life Sciences ecosystem to make an impact on the health of people worldwide. Carmen is a connector, stimulating the Dutch ecosystem to make international impact, while Marco drives innovation as CEO of a fully Dutch owned and based biopharmaceutical company. Prior to Innovation for Health, we spoke to Carmen and Marco about their drive, the challenges in healthcare and their vision for the digital transition in healthcare.
Interview by Amber Kerkhofs & Peter Thijssen – Schuttelaar & Partners
Carmen van Vilsteren
Carmen van Vilsteren comes from a background in medical technology and currently holds multiple roles within the Dutch Life Sciences ecosystem. She is figurehead of the Top Sector Life Sciences & Health and director of the innovation center e/MTIC. Having served as the CEO of a university spinoff, she also works in the start-up sector as an investor and coach of female CEOs.
Marco Timmers followed a path through various pharmaceutical companies to arrive at his current position as CEO of Byondis. The Dutch owned and based biopharmaceutical company celebrated its tenth birthday in 2022 by applying for market authorization for their first precision medicine at the US Food & Drug Administration (FDA) and European Medicines Agency (EMA).
You both want to help people live healthier lives. What are you proud to have achieved last year?
Marco: My drive is to invent new precision medicines that only target tumor cells, causing relatively few side-effects and contributing to a better quality of life. I am very proud that last year, after ten years of hard work, we submitted Byondis’ full dossiers to the FDA and EMA for our first precision medicine. This treatment may give people with metastasized breast cancer an additional six to nine months of precious time, which is incredibly meaningful.
Carmen: That is a great example of Dutch innovation. As part of the Top Sector Life Sciences & Health I am driven to leverage Dutch ideas. Sadly, many innovations are still mainly used in a pilot only. While they could contribute to keeping healthcare more accessible and sustainable when used on large-scale. Last year, the Top Sector made plans to deploy promising innovations on a regional scale of at least 1 million people. I am proud that these regional plans now serve as an inspiration for the execution of the Integral Care Agreement (IZA).
The need for accessible innovation is high, as our healthcare system is under considerable pressure. Marco, how does Byondis contribute to keeping quality care accessible?
Marco: Our role as a healthcare company in this complex system is to help ensure that our treatments remain affordable and add value for patients and society. We choose only to develop those medicines for which our data shows they have the potential to make a real difference in patients' lives. Next to that, we invest a lot to make our production process as efficient as possible. Byondis is a spin-off from generic pharmaceutical company Synthon, these roots in the production of affordable generic medicines have created a mindset in which we always strive for cost containment and efficiency when we produce our innovative medicines.
Data is a promising element to contain healthcare cost and help develop affordable medicines. What is your view on this, Carmen?
Carmen: I fully agree, collecting relevant data is incredibly important to realize the right care in the right place. And the great thing is that patients are often willing to share their data if they know it will be used in a meaningful way. According to a study conducted by the Netherlands Patient Federation, 97% of patients say they are willing to share their data – under the condition that they are well informed on what will happen with their data and if it is used for scientific research. The real problem is that only 30% of patients are asked to share data for research.
Marco: That’s a great point, I believe we could make better use of data. Currently, clinical trials compare new treatments to a control group. But imagine we could treat all patients enrolled in a trial with a new treatment. This is possible if we use existing, real world patient data as a reference instead. This practice would generate more evidence, thereby improving research efficiency and containing the costs of medicine development.
Our healthcare system and those of other countries face great challenges and will undergo fundamental changes in the coming years. How can we properly shape this transition?
Carmen: In the case of the challenges in Health and Care our government (Rutte III) started to define moonshot ambitions: in 2040, all Dutch citizens will live at least five years longer in good health, while the health inequalities between the lowest and highest socioeconomic groups will have decreased by 30%. The challenge is to define how to get there. A transition requires that we all take steps at the same time, but planning it out step-by-step is impossible. We should therefore embrace the chaos.
Marco: I recognize this from organizational transitions: in the current times you can’t always plan a transition – and most of the times you shouldn’t want to, either. What is important is to agree with each other on how to shape the process of improvisation.
Carmen: This means that we need to think big and act small. Just start moving and learn fast as you go. And we have got to start moving fast, because there is still a long road ahead.
Source: Innovation for Health