I caught up recently with Eugene Borukhovich, aka @HealthEugene. Eugene is Global Head, Digital Health Incubation and Innovation at Bayer. He sees himself as standing at the crossroads of several streams of innovation and human endeavor – the intersection of digital and genomics, online engagement opportunities for patients and consumers, the life sciences perspective of “hacking our bodies from the inside,” and the health IT work being done to understand, aggregate and connect silos of data in a clinical setting – and sees digital health as an integrative superstructure, leveraging data that our bodies are generating 24/7 to make an impact on our behaviors.
Eugene continues to balance entrepreneurship with intrapreneurship, and conveys genuine excitement at the prospect of assisting the proverbial supertanker – a century-plus-old company with 100,000 employees across 100+ countries – to simultaneously “do better things, and do things better.” He observes that if everyone at Bayer were innovating and trying new things, the company would stop running.
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Under the banner of a big company, Bayer has tried a number of different approaches to innovation – both top-down (identifying a problem to be solved internally and then recruiting externally to find a startup to help solve the problem) and bottom-up (encouraging innovation in the startup community through grantmaking, challenges, incubator programs, etc.). The company’s current approach is based on three pillars, all under the G4A (“Grants for Apps”) umbrella:
- Startup program. The team running the early stage accelerator, and the later-stage “dealmaker” “generator” programs runs like a startup itself, pivoting and changing based on the needs of the startup community.
- Intelligence team. While there is a lot of noise in the digital health space (over 25,000 companies claim to be in digital health), evidence is key, and Bayer works hard to identify pain points in the core business, keeping in mind the hypothesis that for every company challenge or need there’s an entrepreneur trying to solve it. The company also seeks to identify areas that is should focus on in order to better help consumers and patients.
- G4A Ventures: This is the latest piece, focused on bringing a startup from an idea or a field of opportunity to one penny of revenue, while putting the health care consumer at the center, using human-centered design. Eugene and his team are just getting this off the ground (Summer 2018).
“Everyone loves change, but nobody wants to change.”
Working within three key areas of interest to Bayer — cardiology, oncology and women’s health — Eugene wants to “expand the swim lanes” as currently defined by the company, so as to make different areas of the company’s clinical focus as attractive as possible to innovators, while seeking to encourage development of the next generation of digital therapeutics – clinically-validated tools that go through a rigorous government approval process (which is still under development over at the FDA).
Thus far, this approach has taken Bayer into such diverse projects as building a better mousetrap for clinical trial recruitment, saliva-based detection of endometriosis and development of compound therapies in oncology.
When I asked him what he would hope to see five years from now, Eugene said he hopes that the more than seven billion people on our planet understand what drives our bodies, what makes them healthy. The only gloss I would add to that is a hope that we collectively act on that understanding.
I spoke with Eugene as part of my ongoing series of fireside chats with healthcare innovation leaders – Harlow on Healthcare, on HealthcareNOW Radio. You can catch me live weekdays at 8:30 am, 4:30 pm and 12:30 am ET. As each new show goes live, the last one joins the archive, available via SoundCloud or your favorite podcast app (iTunes, Stitcher, iHeartRadio). Your comments are welcome here. Join the conversation on Twitter at #HarlowOnHC.
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