In this interview, News-Medical speaks to Ger Brophy from GE Healthcare about the importance of supporting innovation in the life sciences and the development of an "innovation village" in Cardiff, UK.
What is the Innovation Village and why is it being set up by GE Healthcare?
We are very interested in accessing innovation and technology, but we can't hope to do everything ourselves. One way for us to do this is to set up the Innovation Village, to provide space for entrepreneurs and innovators in South Wales. They may use desk space, for example, while they build a business plan and eventually they would be able to use lab space, which will allow them to access shared services.
These are things that are usually difficult for small start-ups to do as they consider how to cross the chasm from an idea to a concept. The Innovation Village allows them to be in a space, where they can have some access to resources and cluster with other like-minded people.
From our point of view, it allows us to get very early-stage insight into innovation. If we do this properly in GE Healthcare, we will start seeing some exciting developments at a very early stage, developments that we may be able to influence.
For example, we might like something that’s being developed, but might want to suggest that it is done slightly differently and build up relationships in the long-term to help innovators be successful. We might also find that something is very interesting to us on a strategic level and want to develop a relationship with the innovator so we can look at bringing it closer to the GE business.
Does that influence how you decide who gets into the Innovation village?
We've been very lucky because the Welsh government has been incredibly supportive. Of course, they want to see Welsh entrepreneurs and innovators having the space to work in, but we can't afford to be too selfish or wear too small a hat in terms of how we think about this.
As innovations do progress, we will have the ability to lean in a bit closer and see how we can align some of them more closely with what we're doing.
Cardiff Innovation Village
Why is innovation so important in life science businesses?
Innovation is going to be a significant pillar for the growth of life sciences and for GE Healthcare in the short, medium and long term. We see the world changing at a macro level in many different ways.
We see innovation being externalized and a degree of networking and connectivity between machines and between initiatives that could not really be contemplated just a very small number of years ago. We see differences in how technology is accessed and even in how manufacturing situations are being set up.
People are moving away from having to own everything onto having access to everything and we see analogies with other industries, the most obvious one being the music industry. People don't necessarily have to own a piece of music or a song if they can access it routinely. That's the iTunes business model versus the Spotify business model.
We have to figure out how our technology can flex to that, so that if a person wants to access technology so they can complete an experiment or set up a pilot plan manufacturing run, for example, we have the technology, infrastructure and business models available to let that happen. That requires a change in thinking because the elements that underpin those new business models will never be invented by us alone.
We have to throw the doors open to change, to creativity and to different ways of thinking about things and allow that to influence how we take forward some of our innovation and development plans.
What are the main aims of the Innovation Village?
For us, the Innovation Village is a stand-alone element supported by the Welsh government, with the aim of encouraging innovation and opportunities in South Wales. The further benefit to us is that it would allow GE Healthcare and lab sciences to see and hopefully influence that innovation at an early stage. This would align it more closely with our strategic goals, to the benefit of both parties.
What stage of development is the Innovation Village currently at?
So far, we've opened up a first phase in Cardiff which is now full, even though the space was only announced and formally opened very recently by Kieran Murphy, President & CEO, GE Healthcare Life Sciences, and Edwina Hart, Welsh Minister for Economy, Transport and Science. It includes a spectrum of tenants from start-up entrepreneurs to an established SME. We have a very strong funnel of people we are speaking to about accessing further space.
Office space in the Innovation Village
Why do you think the Innovation Village has created substantial interest among early stage life sciences businesses internationally?
I mentioned the concept of crossing the chasm and there's been a number of business books written about this. It's relatively easy to have an idea and get to the first step, but then you run out of cash, people, business input and basically just runway. Clustering together some of those elements in something like an Innovation Village can provide much more opportunity to innovators who are attempting to cross that chasm.
There will be like-minded people they can speak to and the potential that GE will be interested in the ongoing commercialization of their invention, as they use access to shared services to develop.
A lot of people see the opportunity to progress innovation using this kind of structure. I'm not at all surprised that a number of stakeholders, from the innovators themselves through to larger companies and regional governments, are interested in this kind of thing.
Were you surprised by the level of interest received?
I think “heartened” is probably a good word. As with most things, you start pitching this out and can convince yourself it's a good idea, but it was heartening to see this degree of interest being expressed.
What advice will GE Healthcare be providing on Lean and Six Sigma?
It will be a while before innovators need strong process tools. There are examples of the kind of tools we can offer and sooner or later people who have this fantastic fire-in-their-hair idea will need to use those kinds of tools.
There will also be other tools that we'll be able to offer. We have technology centers, processes for nurturing innovation and business insights that will be useful to very early-stage innovations.
The idea is for all of these innovations to get some traction and, as they progress to the next phase, for people to start associating the operational excellence, rigor, and global distribution GE will offer with Lean and Six Sigma. Those are the kind of operational tools that will help innovators get to the next phase and realize their dream.
Are GE Healthcare planning to set up more Innovation Villages?
This village is the first in the UK, the first one globally was in Helsinki. It makes sense for us to do it in the right area where we can attract talent, ideas and other sources of funding as people see the ability to grow opportunities within this space. I could see other Innovation Villages progressing from there.
What do you think the future holds for innovation in the global life sciences industry and how do GE Healthcare plan to contribute?
As chief technology officer for life sciences, I'm spending a huge amount of my time thinking about innovation at the moment and how I can sponsor it. I want to make people excited and passionate about innovation.
We're very good at development and operations and I want to make sure that we are as passionate about invention and innovation. Aligning internal people with external opportunities like this is one of the strings to the bow that I think is going to make us successful.
I genuinely see a lot of opportunity in South Wales. We have a big international conference now at BioWales that takes place every March. I had worked in Cardiff twelve years ago. Since then, with the backing of the Welsh government, there's been a mini explosion in biotechnology and life sciences in South Wales, where there are a lot of small and medium sized companies and SMEs.
Where can readers find more information?
SMEs should contact Justin John to find out more.
About Ger Brophy
Ger Brophy is CTO for the GE Healthcare Life Science business, a $4 billion molecular medicine business that provides a broad range of industry-leading technologies and services for drug discovery, pre-clinical and clinical development and biopharmaceutical manufacturing, as well as molecular tools for therapy selection and treatment monitoring in patient care.
In this role, he is responsible for the overarching technology and development strategy of the business – ranging from Research Tools in academia, through Bioprocessing tools in Pharma Drug Development to Imaging and In Vitro Tools for clinical diagnosis.
Ger has over twenty years’ experience in the global life sciences and biotechnology industry. Previously he was Head of New Product Development at GE Healthcare Medical Diagnostics; encompassing the development of in vivo and in vitro diagnostic technologies, with oversight of discovery (research) and clinical development; regulatory and medical affairs; project and portfolio management; product acquisition and licensing; R&D efficiency projects and collaborations across GE. He has also led Strategic Planning & Licensing within the Medical Diagnostics business. He was centrally involved in the expansion of the business into the Personalized Medicine space through inorganic and organic investments in in vitro diagnostics and pathology. Before joining the Medical Diagnostics business, Ger ran the Life Sciences Advanced Systems business in Sweden; focusing on the commercialization of improved tools for drug discovery. Ger joined GE Healthcare through the acquisition of Amersham in 2004. He has had international assignments in the UK, Sweden and in Chicago & New Jersey.
Ger holds a Ph.D. in Molecular Biology from Dublin City University, Ireland.