Space station model can deliver personalised cancer treatment at scale

Innovations in cancer treatment have developed at pace in recent years with some of Scotland’s world class universities at the forefront of state-of-the-art research. Cell and gene therapies are now a reality with medical facilities creating the ability to design bespoke treatment targeting specific cancers unique to each individual. In theory, this removes the need for blanket radiation therapy which can damage healthy cells in its attempt to destroy cancerous cells.

Challenges with scale

However, it’s not quite that straightforward. The highly individualised nature of these therapies often means there are a huge number of steps in the process with information being handed off between various suppliers and systems. This can lead to a higher risk of error as information is passed along the chain – and significantly slow down the overall process for the patient. It also creates a barrier to market for some of Scotland’s most innovative businesses with large scale delivery being cost-prohibitive or simply too slow to be practical.

What’s more, with the number of new cancer cases per year expected to exceed 23 million worldwide by 2030, cancer remains one of the world’s most pressing healthcare challenges. This problem will be exacerbated by an aging and growing population with more patients with cancer seeking treatment in the future.

Driving growth

We are extremely lucky that we can learn from and work with the world’s fastest-growing businesses. We’ve distilled that knowledge and data collected over several decades to create the EY 7 Drivers of Growth. The 7 Drivers represent a broad set of strategic levers a business must pull in order to unlock its growth potential in any given market. An important Driver for solving the scale conundrum in healthcare is investment in and development of data management technology.

One-size-fits-all to individualised treatment

One of the key requirements to shift cancer care from a one-size-fits-all approach to an individualised treatment model is to have an operating model and supply chain in place that can improve how each therapy is designed, manufactured, delivered and administered to the right patient and at the right time, every time.

International space station

Recently I have been working as part of a global taskforce to implement a new digital ecosphere, Pointellis. Much like an international space station, the technology is designed to allow secure collaboration between healthcare providers and support a supply chain as bespoke as the treatment itself, one for each and every cancer patient. Suppliers such as hospitals, manufacturers and logistics companies can “dock” into the system at the relevant point in the treatment journey and Pointellis will validate every information handoff from patient through to manufacturer and back again – reducing the risk of error as information is passed along the chain and significantly increasing the speed at which the patient is treated.

Crucially, the platform creates a uniform method for recording and managing secure information, offering peace of mind to patients and enabling some of our most innovative healthcare businesses to scale internationally by plugging into a system which can be deployed on a global scale. This is akin to multiple shuttles using one international space station rather than each project team having to invest in building its own every time there’s a new mission.

Deployment in Scotland

The system is already in operation and is currently being piloted in the USA. However, I am particularly excited about the potential it offers to the Scottish market where we already have a booming healthcare innovation sector and certainly no shortage of world-class research facilities.

Add to that the fact that we have a uniform healthcare service already established in the form of the NHS, meaning a docking station such as Pointellis could be deployed across the sector much faster than in other countries, and Scotland could become the global frontrunner of individualised cancer treatment.

Of course, that’s not to say it would be without its challenges, but the potential is certainly there and I am really looking forward to more discussions with suppliers in the Scottish market to explore what can be done to help.

Neil Whyte, director and workforce advisory lead for medical devices at EY Scotland

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(Photo credit: NASA) with link to  license CC2.0 here