Hello to all you seekers, the curious ones, the pathfinders, the ones who question, the bold ones, the innovators. My name is Ulf Hengstmann, and I feel honored to have this opportunity to write a few lines about myself and my professional life. I’m the Digital Health Innovation Manager of Bayer’s Digital Innovation team, and my colleagues and I are exploring the question of how we can advance the digital transformation of Bayer. What do we really mean by digital health and digital transformation? There are many definitions, none of them exactly clear-cut, but personally I like how Paul Sonnier has tried to define digital health. But I’ll let you judge for yourself: “digital health — the convergence of the digital and genomic revolutions with health, healthcare, living, and society”.
What benefits do we hope to gain through the digitalization of health care?
To put it bluntly, today’s health care system is broken. The system does not put the patient at the center. Instead, the various stakeholders orbit one another in complex constellations, and the patient falls by the wayside. Some of you may remember a German TV comedy show that parodied a former health minister. The actress playing the politician closed each episode with the words, “Bleiben Sie gesund, anders wär nämlich schlecht” (Stay healthy; the alternative would be bad for you).
Digitalization will enable us to not only more effectively monitor, manage, and optimize our own health and that of our family members, but also to lead a more productive life and thus contribute more to society. It can also help to reduce inefficiencies in health care, improve access to it, lower costs while boosting quality, and make the practice of medicine more personalized and more accurate.
After all, development of new drugs entails high costs and considerable risk. The probability of success—from the research stage to market approval—is less than one percent, the development time is more than ten years, sometimes there are late-stage failures, and worldwide development costs average around $3.729 billion (2004 – 2017). But that’s not all. The effects of a medication on patients can vary, because there can be big differences in people’s genetic and metabolic traits. To put it simply, we find three kinds of drug reactions: beneficial, neutral, and harmful. And when there is inadequate differentiation between patients, the harmful reactions lead to adverse events. This is where digitalization offers great potential for the continuing development of personalized medicine, with the aim of developing and administering suitable drugs in the appropriate dosages for the right patient populations. What’s more, being able to use digital technologies to continually measure our own medical parameters makes it possible to identify and treat illnesses at very early stages.
In recent years we have seen how digitalization has disrupted many industrial sectors. One particularly noteworthy instance is Kodak, which, in seeking to maintain its primary business model (film for analog cameras), chose not to market the digital camera it had invented. Another example is the increasingly blurred boundaries between industrial sectors. Google, Apple, Amazon, and Co. are expanding their business models to include the health care sector.
Our implementation at Bayer
For us at Bayer, these blurred boundaries and the advance of digitalization mean not only focusing on operational excellence, but also adopting new approaches and developing business models alongside existing ones. So collaboration with partners is becoming more and more important, the existing ecosystems are changing, and entirely new ones are emerging. I think Bayer’s slogan is wonderful, because it beautifully expresses what the digital transformation is all about – Science for a Better Life.
The implementation is happening through digital innovation, which includes help from innovative techniques like market intelligence and design thinking, enabling us to master challenges and harness fresh potential. Realization of an idea for a prototype by means of a minimum viable product is an example of this.
Our Grants4Apps program lets us work closely with startups worldwide. Networks are taking shape through STEM4Health, for instance, or through digital innovation hotspots (like Silicon Valley and Berlin) and partnerships with the digital health ecosystem. In 2018, for example, we have received applications from more than 1,800 digital health startups from around the world.
This work varies greatly, and in addition to putting me in contact with interesting people, it also offers me the opportunity to constantly learn new things and further develop myself. How did I come to Bayer and why is that the right place for me? You can read about it in the second part.