Ideas, Invention & Innovation: Highlights from RANZCO 2022 Brisbane

Experts discussed how to translate ideas into innovation with real impact during the last day of RANZCO’s 53rd Annual Scientific Congress

What is innovation? 

Innovation is critical in medicine. According to chairman of this plenary session Prof. Gerard Sutton, innovation is important for patient care. “It is a holistic approach to medicine, it’s a mindset, it’s a cultural attitude that we have on a day-to-day basis about trying to improve things for patients. Being creative or innovative is also fun and satisfying,” he said. 

According to him, there’s a difference between invention and innovation. “Invention is coming up with a new idea, but innovation is about improving on an existing idea and making it useful or better,” he said. “Innovation thrives with freedom. You need to have the freedom to ask the questions, to explore the question. There has to be a meeting of minds and ideas.”

Meanwhile, Prof. Graham Barrett from the Western University of Australia said that innovation is about problem solving. He shared a few situations where innovation was evident, including reducing astigmatism at the time of cataract surgery, predicting toric intraocular (IOL) power, and improving toric IOL axis alignment. On the other hand, the essence of innovation is curiosity, inspiration and persistence, he noted. 

Case Studies 

To Dr. Jill Hopkins, SVP and global head of ophthalmology development at Novartis, innovation is important for patient care — always putting the patient and the problem in the center. It is also a holistic approach — an intersection of science, biology, technology, engineering, data, compute power, etc. 

Sharing about the port delivery system (PDS) for anti-VEGF treatment as a case study on innovation, she noted that in the past, real world outcomes of intravitreal injections of anti-vascular endothelial growth factors (anti-VEGFs) fell far below those seen in clinical trials; this was due to burden of treatment, and the heterogeneity of individual patients needs and responses, in a one-size-fits-all dosing regime. However, thanks to various clinical trials over the course of numerous years, PDS was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for treatment of neovascular age-related macular degeneration (nAMD) in 2021. “Huge amounts of effort over many, many years, bringing together pre-clinical and clinical people and engineers to see the problem, solve the problem and move forward with a good integrative approach has ultimately brought transformative therapies to patients,” she said. 

She also had the privilege to be involved in the Insight Health Data Research Hub, a network of innovation that brings together the leading expertise in eye care, health technology and data management. “By combining expertise from the NHS (National Health Service), academia and commercial organizations, we have the ability to innovate and progress in a way that no single organization, public or private, could achieve on its own. 

“I think what is exciting is keeping that vision of what you are trying to do in terms of changing the paradigm. And to do that we need to share experiences and support needs — communication is key. Always think about the best possible outcomes, be it for patients, physicians or systems. Be focused on the transformative impact to get you through the long nights and days,” she advised.

Translating Innovation into Clinical Practice

Innovation is crucial for scientific advancement. However, nothing is accomplished in the real world unless it is adopted by the industry, noted  Andrew Batty from Lincoln Consulting Group. “A paper in science cannot save lives. An experiment in a laboratory will not cure blindness. It needs to be translated into clinical practice,” he said. 

He advised researchers to translate and commercialize their research, and validate the unmet clinical needs. “Check it out with your colleagues and make sure that your idea is actually good across the board. Get commercial people involved early on, and define the product and its characteristics, like how and where it’s to be used.” 

He suggested one to propose a business model, and understand the reimbursement route. “I encourage everyone to do a business case. Ask questions like: Can this thing actually be made? Do we have the resources and skills? Can we manufacture a viable product and eventually sell it?”

He also encouraged doing a market assessment early on. “What is the immediate unmet clinical need? Who will pay and buy it? How big is the market? Be realistic. Understand your competitors,” he said. 

In regard to intellectual property, Batty stressed that the product must be novel and have an inventive step. “A good patent allows the freedom to create, a better patent protects a portion of the segment, but the best patent is the one that stops everyone from entering the segment. It also needs to be commercially enforceable,” he said. 

Finally, one needs to assess the product’s performance — whether it works as promised and whether the features are really unique.

Editor’s Note: The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Ophthalmologists (RANZCO) 53rd Annual Scientific Congress took place in Brisbane from Oct. 28 to Nov. 1, 2022. Reporting for this story took place during the Congress.

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