Our team recently attended the Forbes Healthcare Summit 2022 in Bulgaria, which focused on innovation and the latest developments in healthcare in Central and Eastern Europe. Speakers and panelists at the event were unanimous in their belief that the local ecosystem has made huge steps in the past few years, catalysed by the COVID-19 pandemic and that healthcare should be a main investment area, rather than just be viewed as a public expenditure.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Science and Healthcare – Where Do the Visionary Innovations Reside
Brave developments by product companies that work on innovations with a global impact – that’s the vision for the HealthTech sector in Bulgaria, according to Prof. Dr. Ana Proykova, Head of HPC laboratory at the Sofia Tech Park and Spas Kerimov, co-founder of biotech company Printivo, that is working on a 3D bioprinted human tissue technology.
According to them the formula of success consists of these factors:
- Data- and tech-based healthcare. There is a lot of existing data and by digitizing it, gathering it one place and making it more accessible, truly powerful innovations can be created
- Products as a business model. The local technology ecosystem is good at providing high-quality service and implementation of existing systems, but working on daring novel products is the only way to put the local ecosystem in the global spotlight
- Deep science and unexplored territories. There are still underexplored areas of healthcare and by establishing strong collaboration mechanisms between the university communities and the business, the local ecosystem can win on the unique R&D projects. An example for such a collaboration is the joint project between Printivo and the science community that researches ways to impact the human genome and has huge potential applications, such as fighting ageing and hereditary diseases.
Venture Capital as a Tool for a More Effective Healthcare System
Healthcare in Eastern Europe, and specifically in Bulgaria, lacks behind in terms of innovation. The sector faces difficulties in adopting new technologies and bringing them to use because of the lack of investments and government support.
The discussion was led by Angel Angelov, Managing Partner at Innovation Capital, Georgi Mitov, Managing Partner at BrightCap Ventures, Valeri Petrov, Managing Partner at Eleven Capital and moderator – Hristo Petrov, editor at Forbes Bulgaria.
Panellists agreed that healthcare on a global scale is a conservative system, which alone creates a hidden barrier for quicker adoption of innovations and new technologies. And whilst that is true, a black swan event, such as 2020s pandemic, could catalyse the processes of technology implementation and wider use. For example, back in 2019, only 2.5% of health care seekers were relying on telemedicine, compared to 85% one year after the pandemic hit.
Other panel highlights:
- Digitisation within the sector must be looked with a more holistic perspective, where automation of processes could be pushed by both public institutions, entrepreneurs and risk funds.
- Lagging behind other markets in terms of innovation adoption is not necessarily a bad thing and could be easily overcome by rapid investments and public support – both branch and government.
- The change is partially reliant on people’s perception and thinking, and a good example is the amount of unused resources and ways to improve and quicken the workflows in healthcare’s administrative system.
To attract investors’ attention, a project must solve a problem, but not only. To get the funding, each startup must prove they can complete the project, and further roll it out into the healthcare system. A successful implementation might mean not only providing the technological ecosystem and training, but planning for future regulations and certifications that might put lives at risk, should these have not been properly conducted and acquired in time.
Redesigning the Healthcare System
The next panel shifted the discussion towards the results compared to all investments made so far. Slaveyko Dzhambazov, Managing Director at Health Technology, highlighted the core of the problem could be discovered in the way the system receives funding.
The current state of healthcare is divided into two very contradictory directions – the patients want to receive quality health services and care, whilst the quality of the services provided is not being measured. The way the system works at its current state rewards quantity, rather than quality.
The first step towards achieving better outcomes in healthcare, hence attracting funding and investments towards improvements, innovations and healthcare technology, is measuring the results.