Inventing New Horizons with Science as a Catalyst

Event Brief: Science in the Age of Experience 

By: Sandra K. Rodriguez, Market Analyst

I had the opportunity to cover “Science in the Age of Experience” in Boston in October.  The annual Dassault Systèmes conference brought together 500 attendees, representing 250 companies.  This year customer presentations focused on new ways of experiencing and shaping science in Life (better living), in Engineering (product innovation) and in Nature (sustainable planet).

Bernard Charlès, Vice Chairman and CEO of Dassault Systèmes opened the event by stating, You can’t have knowledge if you don’t have knowhow.” Charlès continued with, “The biggest challenge in innovation is over-communicating and under-understanding.”  The agenda was filled with presentations by members of MIT and Harvard, plus Dassault Systèmes’ clients who are seeking to not just understand the correlations between product, nature and life… but are inventing new horizons with science as the catalyst.

Standing on Solid Ground with SOLIDWORKS

Hugh HerrHugh Herr, Professor of MIT Media Lab and co-director of the MIT Center for Extreme Bionics; Founder of BionX, Inc., had both legs amputated from just under the knee after suffering from frostbite during a mountain climbing accident in the early 1980s. He pointed out the surgical procedure that doctors performed following his accident had not changed since the late 1800s.  As a result, although he could walk again with the help of his first set of prosthetics, he was unable to associate the feeling of pressure or movement in his ankles or feet.  With both pant legs rolled up to expose his bionic limbs he stated, “From the knee down, my legs are a bunch of nuts and bolts.”   He then informed us that in addition to the nuts and bolts are sensors, and an entire bionic ecosystem that gives him the ability to move, walk, jump and pivot naturally. 

While being able to adjust his height was a novel benefit of his earlier prosthetics, he did not have the ability to move naturally.  Herr began to merge biology and bionic design using SOLIDWORKS (a 3DS computer-aided design and engineering tool).   He pointed out the key to human bionics is first understanding how bionics work.  To date, he has created robotic prosthetics that mimic the way ‘real’ limbs function and work.  In a truly remarkable example during a video clip, we saw a patient move and tap his bionic foot casually during a conversation while seated.

“Hacking the body can fundamentality change human ability both physically and cognitively,” added Herr.  He also spoke of neurological embodiment – when what we design becomes part of us; and the promise of a digital nervous system – whereby artificially activating or stimulating muscles can solve paralysis.  Herr believes that one day humans can be completely free of the shackles of disability.  But he cautioned that ethics will become increasingly important.    Herr walked off the stage with a standing ovation and left the audience with a final thought, “In the future we will use bionic technology – harmonizing product, nature and life.”

Science and Digital Health in the Age of Disruption

Ameet Nathwani, Chief Digital and Medical Officer at Sanofi offered his perspective on digital health. “There is a convergence of biological, engineering and physical sciences to enhance and personalize healthcare,” commented Nathwani.  He also discussed what he considers are the five digital health convergent factors:

  1. The current cost of healthcare is in the trillions; leaving governments struggling. To meet demands, the companies must develop better, cheaper and more effective ways to deliver better outcomes.
  2. Drugs for many diseases are only part of the solution. Technology can amplify outcomes (adherence, post market surveillance, etc.)
  3. Physicians want to use technology to improve outcomes and are prescribing apps to assist with treating patients (digital therapeutics).
  4. The use of big data and artificial intelligence (AI) to understand and predict diseases by regulators.
  5. Technology itself is evolving exponentially.

Nathwani is also of the opinion that today, ‘super convergence’ is fueling the disruption in healthcare.  “The rise of innovative new technologies and new business models are also reshaping medicine.  The time for digital health to disrupt healthcare globally is here,” said Nathwani.   While the possibilities of robotics, drones and AI in medicine are still being developed, the shift to wearables, telemedicine and gamification of adherence have already been implemented and deployed.

Baku Patel, Director, Digital Health at FDA described technology an enabler of a new healthcare paradigm that starts with a person not just being ‘digitized as a patient’ but much earlier.  “Digital health offers better insights about people, physiology and how patients act ‘in the wild’ versus outside of a clinical setting,” noted  Patel.  How do you get ready for the digital future?  “Software is already the key to everything we do,” affirmed Patel.

Personalized Medicine in the Age of Science

Moderated by Claire Biot, VP Life Science Industry at Dassault Systèmes, a panel discussion featured:

  • Peter Bergathon, VP Head of Digital and Quantitative Medicine at Biogen
  • Pierre Frouin, CEO at Bioserenity
  • Erik Gatenholm, Co-Founder and CEO of CELLink

SIAE Biot PanelBiot asked the panel what personalized medicine means to them.  Bergathon replied with  “Personalized medicine is what the human body does.  Today, companies are using technology to do what mother nature has done for billions of years at the nervous system and cellular level.”  Gatenholm commented on the promise of personalize medicine to improve outcomes and answered, “It can take up to 5 years for a patient to get the right treatment for epilepsy, for example. By focusing on personalized treatments, we have the potential to reduce that time to weeks instead of years.”

What do innovations in 3D printing and bioprinting hold for the industry? “Bioprinting is not only printing personalized implants but also using the human cells.  This reduces the risk of rejection of an implant and ensures the fitting of the implant is ideal.  There is also an opportunity to take the patients own cells and expand them to perhaps test drugs on patient specific cells,” added Frouin.

Medidata in the Age of Experience

Medidata’s President and Co-Founder, a/k/a Captain Clinical, Glen De Vries discussed the important role clinical data plays in Life Sciences.  “One of the key things we need to do as an industry is look at data in a new way.  This is an amazing time for experimental therapies… we are taking diseases that were once chronic diseases and are curing them,” said Vries.   It takes on average 14 years and $2.6B to bring a drug or therapy to market. While precision medicine also promises improved outcomes, Vries commented that, “Precision leads to patient scarcity and clinical complexity.”   Additionally, precision also requires abundant data and companies require evidence driven decisions, with medidata.  These data often come from many sources (EDC, Labs, Sensors, RWE).  “By bringing data together we can rethink the science about life-sciences,” averred Vries.

Cleantech: Combining Product, Nature and Life

A tour of greentown-outside-cropGreentown Labs in Somerville, MA offered my group a chance to meet some entrepreneurs who are focusing on Clean Technology (a/k/a cleantech) at one of North America’s largest incubators.

Image Source: WrightGrid
Image Source: WrightGrid

Founded in 2011, Greentown Labs offers 100,000 sq. ft. of wet labs, shared office space, a machine shop and electronics space to 90 start-up companies.   These start-ups are launching next generation clean technologies with the help of SOLIDWORKS solutions.

With phones off to preserve IP, we toured the facility.  Following the tour, I did a quick Google search of Greentown Labs starts ups and came across WrightGrid, a start-up that developed an outdoor solar cell phone charging station.   The current Model Z can be installed in minutes since it is solar powered.

In Brief 

Patrick Johnson, VP R&D, Research and Technology Strategy at Dassault Systèmes, said it best in his introduction to the Science in the Age of Experience Conference “Science is a Journey. Transforming your business is also a journey.”

Digitally transforming not just operational business processes but healthcare and access to next generation products and therapies, requires a new way to develop and rationalize life maintaining and sustaining products. By leveraging platforms that are capable of supporting innovation with product, nature and life in mind, forward thinking companies are proving science in the age of experience and innovation.

An internal-use PDF copy of this event brief is available here.

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