At the conference "Swiss Health Innovation Day 2023: Empowering Value for Patients", held on 24 April in Riga, experts from the Swiss healthcare system and pharmaceutical industry, as well as representatives of Latvian doctors, patients and healthcare institutions discussed how to ensure early access to the latest technologies in the healthcare system, thereby improving patient outcomes and healthcare system cost-efficiency. "Innovation not only saves lives, it also saves money. This is a concern for every country and every government," said Martin Michelet, Swiss Ambassador to Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia, opening the conference. The conference was organised by the Swiss Embassy in Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania in cooperation with the Swiss pharmaceutical companies Novartis Baltics and Roche.

Highlighting the value of the exchange of experience on integrating innovation into the healthcare system between Swiss and Latvian private and public sector professionals, Minister of Health Līga Meņģelsone emphasised at the opening of the conference: "The need for concerted action and cooperation on health issues has always been topical, especially today. We see that the challenges facing the Latvian health sector persist in other countries and our close cooperation is a key element in addressing them. This is particularly true of the themes highlighted at the conference: research and innovation in medicine, patient-centred healthcare, tackling the causes of rare diseases, promoting innovation in the healthcare system. In this noble mission, we work together in true partnership and our common goal is to continue working towards a healthcare system that empowers patients."

Public-private partnerships, which are always also inter-institutional, promote and deliver new solutions and approaches along the patient journey and demonstrate the impact of change. "Healthcare needs to focus on moving from treatment to prevention. Early identification and prevention of patients at risk can significantly reduce the burden of cardiovascular and oncological diseases as the primary causes of mortality and disability in Latvia. By prolonging and improving people's lives, we keep people active in the labour market, ensuring the growth of the national economy. Prevention and treatment are therefore economically sound and beneficial. It is time to ensure that every patient has the opportunity to reach their full health potential and enjoy equitable treatment outcomes," said Ramunė Lauciuvienė, Chairman of the Board of Novartis Baltics in the Baltics and Ukraine.

Pointing out that one of the important goals of the conference is to talk about the value of patients' lives, Roche Latvia Director Rauls Vēliņš emphasised, "It is really important for us to exchange experience stories in order to implement a real plan based on the findings of the conference. I think this is a great example of Switzerland and Latvia working together. This is the key to success, because we are not afraid of each other, on the contrary, we talk and work together - science, patients, doctors, healthcare professionals - we really are looking for solutions to help patients."

Martina Hirayama, State Secretary for Education, Research and Innovation at the Swiss Federal Department of Economics, Education and Research, shared Swiss experiences in integrating research and innovation in public health. "When it comes to innovation and research, let's be honest, no country in the world can tackle today's big challenges alone. We share many challenges related to digitalisation, climate change, energy, energy scarcity, food security, equal opportunities, sustainability and migration, so we all need to care about these issues. The Covid-19 pandemic has also made us aware of the critical importance of shared scientific progress, including the role of innovation in health," said Ms Hirajama. Ms Hirajama gave further insights into the Swiss research and innovation features, the two-way vocational education system, the simple funding model, the national centres of excellence in research, the performance in innovation and research and international cooperation, among others.

Joshi Venugopal, General Manager of Novartis Gene Therapy Europe, spoke about the paradigm shift in medicine and how to tackle the root causes of rare diseases. "There is a trend of increasing life expectancy. As people live longer, they face more health problems, more often one or more chronic diseases. Our goals are to improve the average quality of life and years lived in good health, while extending life expectancy worldwide. New technology platforms such as gene and cell therapies can help us achieve this goal", said J. Venugopal in his presentation. Rare, genetic diseases are often the main target of gene therapy, but their early signs are difficult to recognise, delaying diagnosis and treatment. For this reason, newborn screening is essential, ensuring early access to treatment and effective care. Early treatment can improve clinical outcomes. By addressing these challenges and working closely with health authorities, it is the potential of gene and cell therapies to save lives, leading to healthier and longer lives for all, added J. Venugopal.

Jörg-Michael Rupp, Head of Roche Pharma International and President of Interpharma, gave a presentation on precision medicine, which promotes a personalised approach to healthcare by providing patients with integrated diagnostics, digital and medical solutions. "How we scale up personalised healthcare innovation is one of the most urgent and important issues facing healthcare decision makers of our generation," emphasised Jörg-Michael Rupp. "If the meaning and value of innovation is to make a difference for patients, working closely with our customers and taking a systems approach to the healthcare system is critical. Only then will it be possible to solve problems and seize the opportunities that innovation brings." 

Additionally, J.M. Rupp pointed out that partnership is important when it comes to identifying the potential of personalised healthcare for patients and health systems, as well as a systemic view of it. Similarly, the future of personalised health is closely linked to the future of health data - it has huge potential to help people live and age in better health and make health systems more sustainable. "This is an opportunity we cannot afford to miss", emphasised Mr Rupp.

The conference concluded with a panel discussion with the participation of Aiga Balode, State Secretary of the Ministry of Health, Valts Ābols, Chairman of the Board of the Children's Clinical University Hospital, Baiba Ziemele, Chairman of the Board of the Latvian Network of Patient Organisations and the Latvian Haemophilia Society, Artūrs Šilovs, Chairman of the Board of the Latvian Young Doctors Association, Joshi Venugopal, General Manager of Novartis Gene Therapy Europe, and Rauls Vēliņš, Director of Roche Latvia. The participants agreed that interdisciplinary cooperation and international exchange of experience, involving not only health authorities and scientists, but also representatives of public and private sector industries, would ensure faster development of healthcare. Moreover, the health system needs to be seen as an ecosystem - where each player has its place to drive innovation. Innovation saves lives - this is not just a slogan, but also an economically provable quantity - when creating political communication, alongside economic benefits the aspect of lives saved must be placed alongside. It is also important not to shy away from using the economic "price of life" in Latvia, or the added value of a life saved for the economy.


Experts called for the development of health literacy education, pointing out that health is not just a medical issue. A shared understanding and awareness of health as a societal value, but also mutual trust and empathy, are needed to ensure a fertile environment for innovation-driven collaboration between professionals. 


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Kate Luisa Muceniece

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