Harker delivers remarks at Siemens International Healthcare Conference
Editor’s Note: University of Delaware president Patrick Harker delivered the following speech at the Siemens International Healthcare Conference, held at UD’s Clayton Hall on Tuesday,January 25, 2011.
I’m deeply honored that the University of Delaware is serving as your very first U.S. host for this International Key Experts Conference. I know that many of you—certainly those of you who are local to the region—have close connections to Delaware’s dynamic biotechnology community, and I have that community to thank for your presence here today and tomorrow.
I commend Siemens Healthcare for sustaining a business model so resolutely focused on innovation and collaboration. It’s clearly fueled your worldwide leadership.
I read your literature: 760 million euros spent on healthcare R&D annually, an 11% revenue-reinvestment rate, and 65% of R&D dollars going to new product development and breakthrough technologies. And, of course, the active cultivation of this international community of experts who power that research & development and make the investment pay off handsomely.
As the president of a University similarly focused on innovation leadership, I’m excited to see this model in action. Given that I’m in this enviable position—with so many of the world’s leaders in bioscience, biotechnology, and bioengineering gathered together right here in Delaware—I thought I’d spend my allotted time telling you why you should come back.
You should come back for a few reasons.
Delaware is a small state—not even a million people, and the second-smallest landmass nationwide. This gives us considerable advantages that I’ll get to in a minute.
It’s an exceptionally well-connected state—due in part to its smallness, but also to a cadre of public- and private-sector leaders who understand the power that’s gained through tight alignment.
And it’s a state incubating unprecedented interest and investment in collaborative biomedical research and its translation to clinical care.
Maybe most important of all, I think it’s a state that shares your ideas on optimal healthcare outcomes.
Your leadership in bio-imaging, assay diagnostics, and medical IT represents to me the harnessing of technology for better, more proactive patient care—and I do emphasize the word “care.” To most people, medical technology is a behemoth—an expensive, invasive thing. But if we can develop and perfect technology that’s used to make healthcare less invasive and less expensive, we all win.
If we can aggressively deploy technology for true quality-of-life purposes—disease prevention and health promotion—we’re serving our people and our science equally well. It’s a fundamentally optimistic approach to healthcare, and Delaware embraces the same approach.
At the University of Delaware, we’ve done—and are doing—a lot of breakthrough work in biomarkers for cancer and diabetes. But we see the validity in shifting our lens a little, in looking more closely and consistently at individuals’ “bio-signature”—what the biomarkers are, how they change over time, what we can predict, and how we can prevent.
It’s a subtle shift—from protein to patient—but it’s an important one. Not just because prevention-focused, person-centric care yields better health outcomes, but because—yes—it saves money.
This is a country in a battle over healthcare delivery—what we’re entitled to and who foots the bill for it. But it’s not just a fight taken up in Congress. It’s fought every day in hospitals and clinics, emergency rooms, doctor’s offices, insurance agencies. And I’d argue it’s a battle that goes well beyond economics; it conscripts our beliefs and our ideologies.
If the hard decisions we need to make about healthcare delivery, coverage, and subsidies inform our consideration of how well we live versus a hard line on how long—if they reopen a critical conversation on health promotion and disease prevention as cost-effective alternatives to lengthy treatment—then it will have been worth the rhetoric expended.
There’s no one in Delaware who understands this issue better than the man you just heard from, Governor Jack Markell. His new Council on Health Promotion and Disease Prevention will address wellness among Delaware’s population and work to cut the $844 million spent each year in this state to treat chronic disease and preventable health problems.
And the Council has an excellent shot at success because as Governor Markell says, “Delaware does cooperation well.” This goes back to the smallness and interconnectedness I mentioned earlier. Delaware is the ideal place to pilot statewide initiatives and promote the engagement of community populations in research.
We have two dominant health systems—Christiana Care Health System and Nemours; we have a single state Division of Public Health; we have a statewide health information exchange; and we have a broad community here—public and private sector—absolutely committed to improving poor health outcomes.
And, unfortunately, we have a population here in Delaware that needs that help.
While Delaware’s demographics are generally representative of those of the United States as a whole, our citizens are older than the U.S. average, and we’re aging faster—one-and-a-half times the national rate.
We have a largely rural population, which makes the application of technology to delivery important, especially as distances grow—the distance between patient and point of care; between where scans are run and where they’re read; between treatment decisions and the treatment itself.
We need to enhance healthcare quality at all these furthest points.
Delaware’s adult obesity rate doubled between 1990 and 2007, and 40% of our children are overweight. Nemours is now targeting childhood obesity with a great prevention campaign.
Our cancer-incidence rate is nearly 10% higher than the U.S. average. And yet our cancer mortality? Down 19% in five years.
The Delaware Cancer Consortium took top national honors for cancer control through a comprehensive program of screening, prevention, and treatment programs. The Consortium could show its impact: the state’s steep rise in screenings—colonoscopies, mammograms, pap and HPV tests. It could document the clients served in treatment. It could catalogue those who’d completed smoking-cessation programs. It could disaggregate the input and outcome data any way one needed.
And this is where we shine. We can take an initiative, an application and roll it out statewide. We can show real numbers and real impact. Most states and districts would be hard-pressed to show demonstrable change on a scale to rival ours.
We’re ready for broad and meaningful community collaboration in research.
In this living laboratory, we can shorten the time and distance from discovery to delivery. We can go from bench to bedside—and back again, continually refining research, practice, and technology.
But our aptitude as a site for breakthrough translational research and informed clinical care goes well beyond population need and demographics, beyond our compactness and capacity for large-scale implementation.
The fact is we have here in Delaware the scientific expertise and innovative inclination to blaze a trail. We have the interdisciplinary institutes that are influencing the national conversation in translational medicine. We have an unselfish predisposition toward collaboration.
Maybe it’s because we don’t have a medical school in-state. Maybe we’ve created something to compensate for that lack—or perceived lack, since Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia serves perfectly well as Delaware’s medical school.
And what we’ve created is something much more important than a bricks-and-mortar med school: We’ve created a culture of interaction among disciplines and institutions. That culture has yielded an architecture for partnership.
Nearly two years ago, the University of Delaware joined with Thomas Jefferson University, and with the state’s leading healthcare providers—Christiana Care and Nemours—to form the Delaware Health Sciences Alliance.
The Alliance pools our assets and expertise so that we can jointly pursue key priorities: improving health sciences education in Delaware, and enlarging our pipeline of healthcare personnel; building a strong biomedical research platform; and improving healthcare delivery throughout the state and the region.
The Alliance builds on years of collaboration among the partners, but this formal framework makes us more competitive in the national arena and boosts our efforts to really grow Delaware’s health and medical services industries. Plus, it gives potential collaborators a single point of entry into a network that will yield maximum benefit.
The Alliance has already launched or absorbed several centers: the Delaware Center for Cancer Biology, the Delaware Cardiovascular Research Center, the Delaware Valley Institute for Clinical and Translational Science, and the Center for Translational Cancer Research. Next month, we’ll inaugurate the Delaware Rehabilitation Institute.
What we’re building is a true BIO community—and what we’ll build next is its home base. The University of Delaware is redeveloping 272 acres adjacent to our South Campus—property that used to belong to the Chrysler Auto Assembly Plant.
Where the car plant used to stand, a dense Science and Technology Campus will rise, housing University- and partnership-based research, along with private mixed-use space. The University of Delaware’s College of Health Sciences and several arms of the Delaware Health Sciences Alliance will be key tenants.
Thomas Jefferson University will put a health education campus on the site, and 3rd- and 4th-year students—medical, pharmacy, nursing, occupational and physical therapy, population health—will do their clinical rotations right here in Delaware.
But the campus won’t be an academic exercise alone; it will be our interface with Delaware’s booming bioscience and biotech community—from small startups and spinoffs to established companies—because we understand the extraordinary benefit that’s gained by locating this much creative capital in one place, by concentrating intellectual assets and creating opportunities for collaboration and cross-pollination.
We understand the problem-solving potential of individuals working in close proximity to one another. And, like Siemens, we understand what a legitimate, long-term investment in people and innovation can yield.
This land is big—it grows our campus footprint by 22%. But the opportunities it gives us are even bigger: to stimulate discovery, invention, innovation, and entrepreneurship; to expand strategic partnerships and foster collaboration; and to power an economy that will become increasingly reliant on bio-sector resilience and growth.
The University of Delaware and Siemens do have inlets for collaboration—in research, in clinical roll-outs, in technology applications. We’re training your workforce—med-tech students, graduate students in biotechnology and bioinformatics. I hope we can explore what working together here in Delaware might mean because global power deployed locally is powerful indeed.
I wish you productive conference and a pleasant stay in Delaware.