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Posted: 10 November 2017
Vic Crone, Chief Executive of Callaghan Innovation, reports on a great year for New Zealand innovators

Vic Crone, Chief Executive of Callaghan Innovation
Vic Crone, Chief Executive of Callaghan Innovation

It’s not exactly a newsflash to say that we can be a nation of knockers. You’ll all be familiar with our tall poppy syndrome and its deadening effect on those of us who want to shout good news from the rooftops. So, a quick word of warning, for those of you who prefer to grumble please stop reading now. 

I am proud to lead Callaghan Innovation, and not just because it is made up of some of the finest people with the finest minds in the country. I am proud because the work we do has a powerful positive impact on the economy.

At the macro level there has been a record 29% growth in business expenditure on R&D over the past two years (Statistics NZ 2014-16). Callaghan Innovation customers are investing well ahead of the market with their R&D increasing by 46% during the same period. Our grants are stimulating R&D with $3.70 invested by businesses for every grant dollar received.

One place where we see this investment paying off is in the Technology Investment Network’s annual TIN Report. Released mid-October, it shows that this year has been a record-breaker. New Zealand’s leading 200 hi-tech companies achieved a combined annual revenue of $10 billion in 2017 - and tech remained New Zealand’s third largest exporting sector. 

Blog Infographic - Business investment in R&D

Why does this matter? Because we know that New Zealand is at a pivotal moment in its history. We need to be bold and embrace the opportunities this new era of technology-led change is bringing to strengthen and diversify our economy. This goal is hardwired into our DNA here at Callaghan Innovation, and drives our mission to help our customers: innovative New Zealand businesses.

Callaghan Innovation worked with 67% of the TIN 200 over the past year. This group of companies enjoyed average revenue growth of 19% and added more than 4,000 jobs over that time. That’s nearly four times as much revenue and staff growth on average as those organisations who didn’t use our services in the past 12 months. 

Blog Infographic - 2017 TIN report

We also love it when our customers win awards and are recognised for their successes. Every category winner in the Hi-Tech Awards earlier this year was a customer of Callaghan Innovation. In the recent Innovation Awards, Supreme Winner Rocket Lab has been a customer of Callaghan Innovation since 2013, and 50% of category winners have benefited from one or more of our services in the last 12 months. 

Blog Infographic - 2017 Innovation Awards

My commitment for the coming year is to do two things. First, to help even more of our customers to embrace change and thrive. Second, to call out the knockers, celebrate success and shout about it from the rooftops.

Rocket Lab CEO, Peter Beck, has acknowledged the importance of Callaghan Innovation’s help, saying:

The funding towards the development phase of our Electron launch vehicle was critical, allowing us to invest significant capital, time and expertise into developing all our systems in-house. The innovations that resulted mean we now have a vehicle with an unprecedented low price, which is highly manufacturable.

Team NZ’s Grant Dalton is equally supportive, after the agency helped Team NZ to increase its R&D investment through a Growth Grant:

It is fantastic that Callaghan Innovation has recognised both the importance of and the potential that Team New Zealand has in the research and development of technologies that go into creating an America’s Cup-winning yacht. What we do has a flow-on effect to the New Zealand marine industry as well as to so many other New Zealand businesses where there is crossover in the technology we develop.

Seamus Rowe, Co-founder of Dotterel, the runner-up in Callaghan Innovation’s inaugural C-Prize Challenge with its noise-suppressing technology for drones, says his company now has international success in its sights after being signed up by American technology accelerator TechStars:

Without Callaghan Innovation’s C-Prize Challenge, we wouldn’t be here. It gives you a goal, in our case a problem to solve, and the money to go after it.

Posted: 29 September 2017
Keep track of innovation agency news from around the world with another global update from Callaghan Innovation’s International Manager Cliff Fuller.

 

Australia

Government research organisation, CSIRO, has released a Food & Agribusiness Roadmap for the food industry in Australia. The aim is to promote improved collaboration and knowledge-sharing to generate scale, efficiency, agility and enhance competitiveness. Callaghan Innovation is working on a similar sector plan for New Zealand with its food and beverage team.  

A CSIRO food structure team has just launched a three-year study into the personalised fabrication of smart foods —3D printed and containing nutritional contents customised to the eater. The idea is to develop a personal food manufacturing system that could create “tailored diets” based on an individual’s genetic information, physiological state, and lifestyle. The development of new plant-based synthetic food and nutrition products, a major global trend, is directly relevant to New Zealand’s own future food industry. Read more…

Brisbane company Printed Energy is developing ultra-thin flexible printed batteries for use in new products, including Internet of Things devices, wearable electronics, healthcare products and industrial-scale solar energy storage. The company received $2 million from the Government’s Cooperative Research Council Project (CRC-P) grants to accelerate work on the technology. The CRC aims to improve collaboration between researchers and industry - the University of Queensland is one of Printed Energy’s project partners - to cultivate a more innovative and entrepreneurial economy. Callaghan Innovation’s Energy and Environment sector team is similarly working to bring companies together in New Zealand. 

 

Denmark

Additive manufacturing, or 3D printing, is sweeping the world. In Denmark, Sweden and Singapore the construction industry has recognised the huge flexibility this offers in design, cheapness of materials and speed of production - especially for public housing. A new construction project in Nyborg, a collaboration between the municipality and architect Ivan Moltke, will make use of 3D printed elements. Read more… 

 

Finland

Researchers everywhere are looking at new ways to produce food. A Finnish project has created a batch of single-cell protein using just electricity, water, carbon dioxide and microbes, in a small portable lab. The product is edible and nutritious enough to be used for cooking or livestock feed, and the research team hopes the system can eventually be used to grow food in areas where it's most needed. The project is a collaboration between the Government research institute VTT, and Lappeenranta University of Technology. Read more at newatlas.com and yle.fi.

 

Ireland

The Stroke Research Group at IT Sligo is using mirror therapy to help stroke patients improve the strength and mobility of affected limbs. They use mirrors to “trick” the brain into believing that a weak limb is functioning properly, thus kick- starting a recovery process. Following clinical trials on more than 60 patients, Enterprise Ireland this month granted the team €15,000 to investigate the feasibility of developing the product commercially. Callaghan Innovation’s Assistive Devices team in Christchurch is also very active in this area, with one notable success being collaboration with AbleX Healthcare’s games solution. 

The Medtech sector in Ireland is flourishing, with 39,000 people expected to be working in the industry by 2020, according to a recent survey by the Irish Medtech Association. The survey was published to mark the launch of the Irish Medtech Awards co-hosted with Enterprise Ireland and IDA Ireland (the former Industrial Development Authority). Callaghan Innovation is working closely with the Consortium for Medical Device Technologies (CMDT) and MedTech Centre of Research Excellence in New Zealand, and plans to take a group of medtech companies to Houston Medical Precinct in March 2018. 

Preparing businesses for Brexit and helping them make the most of the new Europe is ongoing, and central to this is managing and recruiting people. "Even those companies that do have a Brexit strategy often fail to communicate it to managers and employees, leaving them in the dark as to where their roles fit," Enterprise Ireland’s Karen Hernandez notes. Enterprise Ireland is supporting SMEs to put in place the HR, management and people practices that will help them scale successfully. They have a client business diagnostic which helps companies identify management and people gaps which could potentially inhibit growth. Read more at siliconrepublic.com

The Internet of Things (IoT) is attracting attention from entrepreneurs, investors and engineers alike. Wia, a Dublin-based start-up that aims to be the “Stripe for the Internet of Things” (IoT), has raised €750,000 in seed funding as it looks to expand globally. Its offering is a cloud platform that enables developers to turn sensor-based hardware into IoT devices. The funding round was led by Waterford-based venture capital (VC) firm Suir Valley Ventures, with participation from Enterprise Ireland. Wia, a former participant in the National Digital Research Centre’s LaunchPad programme, has partnerships with a number of leading technology companies including Twilio. Callaghan Innovation’s own IoT & Data Solutions team is actively working with New Zealand companies to develop their own IoT solutions. 

Irish biotech company MicroGen Biotech is developing products that use microbes, the broad range of single-celled organisms found all around us, to increase crop yield, improve food safety, and promote soil health. They use a platform technology called the “Constructed Functional Microbiome” to regenerate depleted or polluted agricultural land. This technology identifies a set of microbes that, once introduced into the soil, can reduce pollutants found in crops while improving yields and overall soil quality. Read more…

The Government has set an ambitious goal for Ireland to be recognised as an Innovation Island by 2020. It supports this through agencies like Enterprise Ireland and IDA which assist companies on the journey of digital transformation. With nearly half of business leaders believing digital disruption may render them obsolete within the next five years, organisations need a proactive strategy covering the transformation of IT, the workforce and security. Read more… 

 

Israel

Startup ecosystems are becoming increasingly international. A competition in Ireland to attend Israel’s Start TLV at the DLD tech conference in Tel Aviv (a major tech event in Israel) is now seen as a must-win rite of passage for Irish start-ups. “Ireland and Israel are two small countries on the opposite edges of Europe with many similarities in terms of innovation, entrepreneurship and technology focus,” Clyde Hutchinson of Start TLV Ireland notes. Eight start-ups have been shortlisted for the Irish leg of Start TLV, half of them are led by women entrepreneurs. Previous winners have used the event as a stepping stone for wins in national and international competitions, and to enhance reputation in their markets. Callaghan Innovation’s CEO, Vic Crone, has recently returned from a visit to Israel to learn from their innovation strategies and explore areas for collaboration. 

 

Norway

Data Science is a new discipline now being included in many technology strategies. A Norwegian delegation visited Imperial College’s Data Science Institute in London to see first-hand the possibilities of AI and data science for the public sector. “In every country in Europe big data and digitalisation is high on the agenda,” Vegard Aas, Innovation Chief at Telenor, says. The Minister leading the delegation noted that “International collaborations are very important to Norway. We want to see the best and the brightest studying in Norway and for our Norwegian students to study and work abroad too. It’s important we all learn from each other and become front runners in what we do.” Callaghan Innovation’s data science team at Gracefield is in high demand by New Zealand companies, while global connectedness is increasingly central in the early stages of our hi-tech business development. 

 

Scotland

Micro-fabrication, the art of making things smaller, is now going to microscopic lengths. Scotland’s growing reputation as a hub for micro-satellite manufacturing has been boosted as Glasgow firm Alba Orbital prepares to launch what it claims is the “world’s cheapest, lightest and smallest satellite”.  This PocketCube class gadget, weighing just half a kilo and about the size of a soft drink can, is capable of sending signals across 360,000km of space and will be commercially launched next year. Alba Orbital, founded in 2013 and now employing 11 people, initially relied on crowdfunding for investment. It has since won awards from Scottish Enterprise and the European Space Agency. Read more…

 

Singapore

Multi-nationals see Singapore as a great hub for innovation in Asia. A Norwegian firm, Telenor, has decided to base its centre for innovation in Singapore rather than Oslo.  Why Singapore? “It’s a great hub for innovation in Asia, and it’s where start-ups come when they’re ready to scale, from Thailand, the Philippines and the rest. It’s a great place to be for start-ups, and there’s lots of talent here,” said Vergard Aas, Innovation Chief at Telenor. New Zealand is working on an enhanced relationship with Singapore that could see greater collaboration on innovation in the coming year.

A successful startup is JobTech, an Artificial Intelligence and Big Data Analytics technology start-up that provides real-time labour market intelligence and optimised job matching tools. The core technology took top researchers at the Institute for Infocomm Research (I2R), a part of the Government’s Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR), ten years to build.  JobTech uses AI to guide job fit by providing accurate job openings and identifying in-demand skills in nine key sectors: information and communications technology, banking and finance, electronics and semiconductor, biotech and pharmaceuticals, government, energy and chemicals, marine and offshore, healthcare, and logistics. Read more at marketwired.com

A*STAR will soon launch the Model Factory@SIMTech (SIMTech is the Singapore Institute of Manufacturing Technology) and Model Factory@ARTC (ARTC is the Advanced Remanufacturing and Technology Centre). A*STAR’s '’  simulates production environments where companies can learn and experiment with new manufacturing technologies. This allows SMEs to test new technologies with the help of public sector researchers, before using in their own factories. Read more…

Another A*STAR team, led by Dr Yao Kui in the Institute of Materials Research and Engineering, has been working on a window-mounted sheet of transparent film that plays music and blocks unwanted noise. It is result of collaboration between A*Star, the Housing Board and the National Environment Agency. The A*Star material is piezoelectric – it moves in response to changes in electrical voltage – unlike regular speakers which are set in motion by electromagnets. Audio technologies will play an important role in the future, and are at the heart of the work of Mark Poletti’s team at Callaghan Innovation.

Singapore’s government has earmarked S$150 million for Cities of Tomorrow, an urban solutions R&D programme focusing on smarter ways to build and maintain infrastructure, create new spaces and enhance the living environment. The initiative aims to address issues of the built-up environment, such as whether you can reduce indoor noise without sacrificing natural ventilation, or cut the cost of underground development, as Singapore strives to move utilities, warehousing and storage facilities underground to free up more land on the surface. The Cities of Tomorrow programme will tap the S$900 million set aside for Urban Solutions and Sustainability under Singapore’s Research Innovation and Enterprise 2020 plan. 

 

South Korea

Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST) in Daejon recently showcased ten cutting-edge technologies it has been developing. Drawing on advances in nanofibers, wearable sensors, data analytics, data security, neuro-imaging, digital software, metrology, robotics and 5G networks. New Zealand recently took part in the fourth New Zealand – Korea Joint Committee on Science and Technology meeting, where delegates discussed the potential for cooperation between Callaghan Innovation and Korea’s National Research Council of Science and Technology (NST). 

 

United Kingdom

The Technology Strategy Board (Innovate UK) is the UK’s innovation agency, has recently published its 2016/2017 Annual Report. Innovate UK is a non-departmental arms-length body sponsored by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy.

Innovate UK has established 11 technology development centres called Catapults. The Catapults focus on specific industries: Cell and Gene Therapy, Compound Semiconductor Applications, Digital, Energy Systems, Future Cities, High Value Manufacturing, Medicines Discovery, Offshore Renewable Energy, Precision Medicine, Satellite Applications and Transport Systems. Each Catapult bridges the gap between research and development in universities or companies, and markets hungry for product innovation, advanced solutions and new ways of doing things. Working with its specialist sector each looks to tackle issues of strategic national significance for future growth, trade and productivity. "We are here to identify the research that needs to be conducted on certain technologies. Conduct the research today so it could be implemented in five years-time or 10 years-time,” Neil Fulton of the Transport Systems Catapult says.  

Innovate UK challenged businesses to develop new digital healthcare solutions, offering £8 million to support successful proposals. The Digital Health Technology Catalyst aims to speed up the development of digital technologies to support Britain’s National Health Service (NHS). The Catalyst will ultimately provide supporting funds of £35 million. Innovate UK is looking for feasibility or development projects aimed at improving patient outcomes, such as through better clinical decision-making or enabling people to manage their own care. Other priorities are to reduce the demand on the NHS, to make it more efficient and create savings. Projects can receive up to 70 percent of their eligible costs, with a range of £50,000-£75,000 for feasibility studies, lasting up to a year, and £500,000 to £1 million for industrial research and experimental projects, lasting up to three years. Read more…

The British government has responded to the changing world of international business and industry by setting up UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) with a of £6 billion budget. “Research is a global activity and operates in an international landscape; no one nation can go it alone and scientists need to be able to work together and pool their knowledge and understanding,” says Sir Mark Walport, UKRI CEO designate. One particular challenge is smart manufacturing. “Industry 4.0 is seeing the fusion of physical and digital science with technology. We are living in a world where business is being driven by the availability of data and the ability to analyse it in new ways. We are seeing a blurring between manufacturing and services and need to maintain the value of resources for much longer in this increasingly circular economy,” Sir Mark says. Callaghan Innovation is giving priority to Industry 4.0 and Internet of Things (IoT), building on the lessons learned from a delegation to Germany earlier this year that included a visit to Hanover Messe.

 

USA

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has played a major role in the development of new technologies in the US, such as employing a network of miniaturised sensors in remote locations which use the absolute minimum amount of power. Matteo Rinaldi, Associate Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Northeastern, was awarded a grant to build a new type of sensor that consumes no power whatsoever in standby mode. When the sensor recognises a specific infrared wavelength signature, it uses the tiny amount of power contained in the infrared radiation to wake itself up. Then it triggers an “output wake-up bit” or a voltage signal, that could alert soldiers or others to an event of interest, such as an approaching vehicle. Rinaldi’s sensor design is described in a new paper, published last week in Nature Nanotechnology.

New defence industry technologies will be showcased at the Defense Innovation Summit  in October in Tampa, Florida. The Summit includes challenges in five priority areas – medical, energy, cyber security, electronic systems and space technologies. Next year‘s summit will be in Anaheim, co-located with TechConnect World Innovation on 13-16 May 2018. Callaghan Innovation led a successful delegation of twelve companies to TechConnect in 2016.

The US leads the world in supporting the growth and scale-up of startups. Startup accelerators have been a critical component in the creation of thousands of businesses, including familiar names such as Airbnb, Twitch, Stripe, Dropbox, Twilio, Simple, Pluto TV and ClassPass. Accelerators combine education, capital, co-working space, product-development support and access to a strong support network. They enable companies that are ready for venture capital to quickly get up to steam. A recent article looked at the unique features of seven of the top accelerators – Y Combinator, 500 Startups, Techstars, MassChallenge, Plug and Play, Coplex and Dreamit. 

Contact Cliff Fuller

Twitter: @cliftonjfuller 
LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/cliff-fuller-5a8b391/

Posted: 26 September 2017
James Muir, Callaghan Innovation's Business Innovation Advisor - Energy & Environment, shares his thoughts on Lightning Lab Electric, energy sector disruption and launching a Digital Energy Hub.

“Whenever I run into a problem I can’t solve, I always make it bigger.” 

Dwight D. Eisenhower, 34th US President.

Eisenhower's comments were echoed by New Zealand social entrepreneur Derek Handley, in his 2013 book, Heart to Start. But more on that later.

Early in September four Lightning Lab Electric (LLE) teams huddled in groups at Wellington’s Michael Fowler Centre, sharp suited and witty, waiting for Demo Day to start. Those set to deliver the all-important pitches stood apart, focused on distilling three months of intense work into five minutes on stage. An hour later, it was all over - the teams stood on stage, rightly proud of their achievements and the audiences' applause. 
 
The LLE teams were:

Ampli which provides analytics to assist lines companies with cost reflective tariffs
Polanyio whose platform streamlines the tender process for commercial energy consumers
MLabs which applies cloud based computing to revolutionise High Voltage electrical protection 
emhTrade which rewards consumers for personal electricity goals and reducing demand peaks.

For more information, see:

How big were the problems that teams tackled?

Each targeted significant issues. Moreover, they and LLE’s sponsors and supporters, demonstrated that even in the highly competitive New Zealand electricity sector, there is still considerable scope for innovation with a strong technological twang. LLE showed the value of having teams, particularly established businesses with start-up ideas but also true start-ups, stepping away from the day-to-day for full innovation immersion. Time will tell how the LLE teams fare but the Demo Day gave us a glimpse of the opportunity for customer-driven innovation. 

It is great to see such innovation in the New Zealand electricity sector whether LLE-related or not. Against the backdrop of real and perceived issues around incumbency, complexity of regulations, timescales for change and diversity, there are many promising signs including international perspectives on access to and the value of end-customer data, the ongoing uptake of new hardware (e.g. solar photovoltaic, energy storage and electric vehicles), the development of new business partnerships, better understanding of customer problems in developing countries and strong agreement on the significance of digitalisation. 

On the last point, we at Callaghan Innovation believe that there will be significant opportunities for New Zealand businesses over the next two years due to disruption in the energy and adjacent sectors from five digital technologies - Artificial Intelligence, Big Data, Blockchain, Cloud Analytics and the Internet of Things.

As a result, we are creating the Digital Energy Hub which from October to July 2018 will offer events and access to digital content. It will feature video and audio recordings from international and domestic experts as well as case studies, infographics and papers. The Digital Energy Hub is an illustration of our commitment to connecting businesses with the capability, funding and networks they need. It will play a part in developing new products and services not just for the niche that is New Zealand’s highly competitive electricity market but as Dwight D. and Derek suggested, products and services that have truly global potential.
 

Posted: 19 September 2017
Could a digital revolution break down barriers to medical innovation?

GapSummit is Global Biotech Revolution’s (GBR) international and intergenerational leadership summit in biotechnology. Callaghan Innovation’s Max Thompson attended as one of 100 young leaders of tomorrow selected from 40+ countries to engage with more than 30 international speakers and leaders in the life sciences industry on the most pressing challenges and gaps in the bioeconomy. 

Part two of his blog series explores how technologies and regulators are working together to bring biotech solutions to market.

Leveraging digital platforms emerged as a key solution for addressing many of the issues of rising costs, access to patients, real-time monitoring, and dealing with ridiculously large datasets.

Precision Medicine and Diagnostics

Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. 

Dr Vik Bajaj, GRAIL

Precision medicine has been a hot topic for some time. Now digital and medical technology advances, massive investment by the big players (Amazon, Google, etc), and a willingness to trust these solutions by both regulators and patients, mean very exciting advances.

Dr Vik Bajaj’s keynote address outlined future perspectives on cancer immunotherapy, analysing entire genomes to diagnose early and predict effective treatments. Noting that "extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence” he reinforced the need to plan and maintain rigorous scientific evidence and clinical validation to maintain trust in new approaches that claim to "detect cancer early, when it can be cured." 

Dr Bajaj emphasised the future needs related to personalised medicine: powerful tech platforms, large clinical trials capacity, and rigorous data science. 

The panel discussion which followed canvassed the next steps in the evolution of genomic medicine - next generation sequencing, autologous cell and gene therapy and much more. 

Key questions included how to prove and interpret genomic information at provider level, how to enforce regulation for products made from autologous patient tissue when the protocols for ‘living drugs’ are being written in real-time, and price. 

It became very apparent that personalised healthcare not only redefines the way we treat patients, but fundamentally disrupts how we develop, regulate, and deliver medicine. Within this there is plenty of opportunity for startups. The key message for those venturing in to this space? Make sure your evidence supports the claims you are making, or risk losing trust. 

Science Policy and Regulation

Maybe we aren’t as regulated as we pretend to be.

Dr Bahija Jallal, Head of MedImmune

Are regulators actually working with us to enable biotech?

Regulators have had to consistently adapt current regulatory models to accommodate breakthroughs such as personalised medicine, digital health, and gene therapies. 

Speeding the journey for innovations to go from ‘bench to bedside’ through reducing regulatory hurdles and improving the regulatory regime were a hot discussion topic. The advice? It’s important to act early and engage directly with regulators to limit surprises. MedImmune chief Dr Bahija Jallal challenged the dogma of the regulations hurdle, however, saying  “maybe we aren’t as regulated as we pretend to be.”

For New Zealand biotech startups – don’t let the regulatory environment scare you away. The FDA and other regulators are more flexible than many believe, and continue to demonstrate this. You need to think about your regulatory strategy early and approach the appropriate agencies to get feedback and guidance as you develop it.

Of course, with the conference being hosted Washington DC, there was plenty of discussion around the political landscape and how changes there might affect science policy.

Some New Zealand technology companies also made an unsolicited appearance at this conference – both LanzaTech and Adherium were namechecked by various speakers – demonstrating the world class research and commercialisation capability we have here. What will the next New Zealand technology successes be?

The Technology Gap Keynotes 

This is a time for a digital revolution in healthcare through cognitive computing that understands, reasons, learns and interacts.

Dr Philip Nelson, Google Accelerated Sciences

This session examined the process of innovation and the partnerships necessary to launch successful products. GapSummit 2017 Leaders of Tomorrow had an opportunity to engage with different players in the field including tech startups, accelerators and incubators, VCs and pharmaceutical partners. 

The speakers were optimistic about the gathering momentum towards a digital health future, and soaring investment in digital health care. 

The technology keynote addresses were presented by Dr Philip Nelson, Director of Engineering, Google Accelerated Sciences and Michael S. Weiner, Chief Medical Information Officer, IBM Healthcare. Both highlighted the vast amounts of data being generated by high tech devices, and the challenge of how to apply this information to improve healthcare. “This is a time for a digital revolution in healthcare through cognitive computing that understands, reasons, learns and interacts," Dr Nelson said.

He noted, however, that “it’s very easy to do machine learning wrong. Doing the right experiments is critical...machines fail in unusual ways – but there is a lack of understanding about what the failure modes are, and how to update the models. Ultimately [machine learning] is the detection and understanding of deep correlation structures. The challenge can be finding out exactly what that correlation is.”

He also pointed to acceptance issues. “With a magic black box, it’s a little disturbing.” 

Michael Weiner summarised a healthcare system accounting for 20 percent of world GDP, yet lacking providers and funding for challenges including ageing populations. 

So how do we take technology and improve healthcare across the globe?

Plugging in new technology to old healthcare business models has increased costs, not reduced them. Quality of care remains poor despite best efforts and intentions, and diagnosis and treatment rates are low. Between clinical, genomic, and exogenous data, there is also data overload. On top of this scientific publications keep coming at a rate which makes staying up-to-date nearly impossible. 

The future of health and biotech is intertwined with digital technologies that will help address these issues. Successfully integrating them will require collaboration at all levels of the value chain. Ultimately, we will require a new paradigm with new models of care that optimise new technologies to deliver better patient care and better population health at a lower per capita cost.

It's a great opportunity for New Zealand, with our scientific and digital capability. 

I left GAPSummit ‘17 absolutely inspired by the connections I made with people from many countries, all working towards making the world a healthier, safer, and more sustainable place in their lifetimes. 

Let’s change the world through biotech!


GAPSummit 2018 is currently searching for 100 Leaders of Tomorrow to be hosted at University of Cambridge, UK, in April next year. Individuals with a passion for biotechnology and who are on their way towards impactful careers and would like to attend may find more information here.

Max Thompson is Callaghan Innovation’s Strategic Partnerships Advisor, Startup Team. Contact Max on Twitter @maxdougal

Read Part 1 of this blog series: Leading tomorrow's bioeconomy

Posted: 13 September 2017
What are the most pressing challenges and gaps in the bioeconomy? Callaghan Innovation’s Max Thompson found out when he attended GapSummit as one of 100 young leaders of tomorrow

GapSummit is Global Biotech Revolution’s (GBR) international and intergenerational leadership summit in biotechnology. Callaghan Innovation’s Max Thompson attended as one of 100 young leaders of tomorrow selected from 40+ countries to engage with more than 30 international speakers and leaders in the life sciences industry on the most pressing challenges and gaps in the bioeconomy. 

Part one of his two-part blog series will explore the capability challenges facing biotech today.

Biotechnology is one of the game-changing technology platforms that will be central to addressing many of the world’s current and future problems – in health, medicine, agriculture and environment. Already biomedical advances are responsible for half of all economic growth since 1960, and will continue to be a driving force in global economic growth. In New Zealand, Biotechnology (alongside Digital) is the largest grouping in the next wave of high-technology startup companies emerging from Callaghan Innovation’s technology incubator programme. (See Kimberlee Jordan’s recent blog series for more).

GapSummit 2017, hosted over three days at the historic Georgetown University in the McDonough School of Business in Washington DC, was about identifying some of the challenges to global competitiveness. 

It was an extremely well-organised conference, offering an incredible experience for all who attended and highlighting the number of players – researchers, large and small companies, regulators, thought leaders, institutions – whose co-operation is critical to biotech success.

GAP: Beyond Education: Success in the 21st century Life Science Industry

On top of technical chops in a rapidly shifting scientific landscape, a remarkable set of transferrable skills and experiences are required for success in today’s bioeconomy.

Commercialisation of lifescience technologies faces a complex set of challenges which are unique to this industry, including long development time-frames, significant regulatory challenges and incredible cash burn rates. This means both that business education is critical for people starting careers in the lifescience industry, and that the business and legal sectors must recognise the unique challenges. It’s critical that we expose business and law students to the distinct challenges in the life sciences (and vice-versa), to develop realistic expectations for ground-breaking discoveries, to recognise the hurdles of existing healthcare systems and the limits and assumptions embedded within cutting-edge technologies.  

One thing that struck me was an extremely high prevalence of entrepreneurship among attendees –  led by those from the East Coast USA. Nearly everyone I met was starting or involved with a biotech startup! 

Think Big Be Brave Deliver

This level of entrepreneurship in life sciences was bolstered by the support that Universities and Institutes in this region have managed to deliver – growing a vibrant deep-tech startup environment for long-time-to-market innovation. They have achieved this by valuing and encouraging entrepreneurship and exploration as part of the curriculum in scientific and technical pathways. It was awesome to see the impact and momentum created when real fluency in multi-disciplinary thinking is combined with institutional support for risk taking.

The New Zealand startup environment has come a long way over the last decade to understand near-to-market innovation very well. The next step to maturity will be greater comfort with high impact, and long-to-market technology companies. What’s great is that we are seeing the beginnings of this activity in New Zealand.

The next GAP I attended explored an emerging organisation-level capability failure and illustrated that, particularly in the pharma industry, the traditional R&D model is completely unsustainable. The number of new approvals is low, failure at clinical stage trial is all too common, R&D spend is high, and time to market is prolonged (30 years is not uncommon). 

GAP: Research and Innovation

The pharmaceutical R&D model is broken, with an exponentially increasing R&D spend resulting in a flat-line rate of innovation. 

There is a disconnect of R&D spend to commercial output in pharma, coupled to increasing complexity of stakeholders and diseases – we need a new collaborative model to see accelerated therapeutic development.

Anthony Coyle, Senior Vice President / Chief Scientific Officer, Centres for Therapeutic Innovation (CTI)

Anthony Coyle, Senior Vice President / Chief Scientific Officer, Centres for Therapeutic Innovation delivered a strong indictment. “There is a disconnect of R&D spend to commercial output in pharma, coupled with increasing complexity of stakeholders and diseases – we need a new collaborative model to see accelerated therapeutic development.” 

The focus has to shift to innovation and how R&D dollars are deployed in a collaborative and strategic way, rather than how much money is tipped into the R&D pit.

An effective innovation strategy harnessing the best of the collaboration between Industry, academia, and research institutions is key – we need to build a sustainable ecosystem leveraging collaboration to fulfil the current needs of patients.

There are some really interesting tech solutions coming through that will help – my favourite was the ‘body on a chip’ approach. This uses breakthroughs in cell culture to allow testing on human cells in early clinical trials (Phase 1/Phase 2) that will better reflect how a small molecule or biologic will respond in a human context.

Body on a chip

But first we can take some simple behavioural learnings from the experiences of big pharma. These include ensuring that pre-clinical teams are speaking to clinical teams (i.e. removing silos), and changing the incentive structure to encourage sharing failures rather than allowing them to be repeated multiple times by separate groups. (This is in both academic and industry contexts.)

Biotech is yet to be disrupted in the way many other industries have been, and it takes too long to get a medicine to market. In her inspiring keynote address, Dr Bahija Jallal (Head of MedImmune) challenged us to think about how we ethically iterate in biomedicine to maintain robust scientific and clinical evidence, ensure safety, and do it all much faster! She says the first step is “to allow experimentation and out of the box thinking, encourage disruption, measured risk, and behaviours that don’t squash innovation.”

“We need to allow experimentation and out of the box thinking, encourage disruption, measured risk, and behaviours that don’t squash innovation.” 

Dr Bahija Jallal, Head of MedImmune

To meet this capability challenge, leaders need to embrace diversity of thought and collaboration and respond to failure to encourage learning behaviour.

Thanks for reading! Part two of this series will explore how technologies and regulators are working together to bring biotech solutions to market.

Let’s change the world through Biotech!

GapSummit group

GAPSummit 2018 is currently searching for 100 Leaders of Tomorrow to be hosted at University of Cambridge, UK, in April next year. Individuals with a passion for biotechnology and who are on their way towards impactful careers and would like to attend may find more information here.

Max Thompson is Callaghan Innovation’s Strategic Partnerships Advisor, Startup Team. Contact Max on Twitter @maxdougal

Read Part 2 of this blog series: Bringing biotech solutions to market