"Pushing prevention from the Polder

Sustainability in our healthcare system is the central topic for this year’s Innovation for Health conference. In anticipation of the conference, our exhibitor Schuttelaar & Partners spoke with Oscar Franco (Professor of Public Health at UMCU) and Koenraad Wiedhaup (CEO of Leyden Labs). Both are speakers at Innovation for Health this year and have devoted their professional careers to prevention, a key aspect of a future proof health care system with our aging population. The life science system is characterized by collaboration: academic innovations spill over to commercial success. Oscar and Koenraad emphasize: “this is also very much true for prevention, and the Dutch are well-positioned to drive this change”.

Interview by Peter Thijssen – Schuttelaar & Partners

Oscar Franco

Oscar Franco is Professor of Public Health at UMC Utrecht and serves in various academic positions in institutes such as the University of Bern, Harvard T.H., Chan School of Public Health, and more. Franco has published over 800 publications and has a H-index of 110 (WoS).

Koenraad Wiedhaup

Koenraad Wiedhaup holds a MSc in Life Sciences and an MBA from Columbia Business School in New York. He co-founded Leyden Labs, which is developing a platform that targets commonalities of viral families. As CEO het leads Leyden Labs’ energetic team of biotechnology veterans and fresh talent.

Prevention in Focus

Oscar is a medical doctor by education. As a surgeon he used to live by the saying: “if you don’t cut it, you can’t cure it.” In other words, he was educated with the notion that you cure patients by removing a tumor or fixing an artery. A master’s in clinical epidemiology made him start thinking in terms of people instead of diseases. During his 25-year career, he shifted toward helping people to live longer and healthier and produce robust science in this area. He now lives by the saying: “if you prevent it, you don’t have to cure it.” 

We have come a long way.”

Like himself, Oscar explains how society has shifted its focus towards prevention. “In 2012, when I was appointed professor of preventive medicine, prevention was not a common word. Nowadays, policy makers are talking about prevention and the integral care agreement (IZA) of the hospitals mentions prevention as a top priority. Moreover, you have heroes like Koenraad trying to make a business out of prevention. This shows we have come a long way and the changes we’re seeing in society are occurring faster than I ever expected.”

Preventing the Next Pandemic

Koenraad Wiedhaup founded Leyden Labs at the dawn of the COVID pandemic, in the early stages of the first lockdown. He and his cofounders discussed their ideas for developing a product that could protect against existing viruses and prevent a next pandemic. Now, they are developing their ideas into a prophylactic nasal spray, preventing respiratory infections ‘at the gate’. A biomedical version of a face mask. The pandemic and societal shift toward prevention provided the momentum for Leyden Labs to turn their ideas into a business.

A biomedical version of a face mask” 

I recognize the shifting mindset Oscar highlights since 2012. The COVID pandemic made the relevance of finding preventive measures even more clear,” Koenraad explains. “But it’s not easy. You need a very strong business case for medical prevention to attract investors. The market however is huge as infectious diseases don’t stop at the border. It’s our drive to make products that are accessible to everybody. The pricing for preventive products reflects this, and I’m happy about that. Because it means we can try to realize our ambitions of reaching societies worldwide, and our impact becomes worldwide as well. It’s great that our investors share these values.

Collaborating on Prevention

The international aspect of medical prevention is on Oscar’s mind as well. “My academic career provided me the opportunity to work in different countries, and I’ve experienced that the Dutch are ambitious. Yet, they are not fully conscious of their potential. The density is one of the biggest benefits of this country. To use the full potential, academic and private research organizations need to work together more. They should, quite literally, cross the street more often. And big companies need to be involved in prevention as well, as they have the capabilities to bring medical prevention to societies worldwide.” 

The Dutch are not fully conscious of their potential

Koenraad adds: “Indeed, t’s amazing what we have achieved with modern medicine by working together. Vaccination has been one of the biggest contributors to our health and increased lifespan. To continue making impact with medical prevention, I believe accessibility is crucial. And we should support this in society – in the end, preventive measures like a flu shot save us money. We should maximize access and continue investing in these kinds of products. I firmly believe that our Dutch system is uniquely positioned to unlock the potential of prevention.”

Both Oscar Franco and Koenraad Wiedhaup will speak at the 2024 edition of Innovation for Health conference on 28 March in Rotterdam de Doelen ICC. For more info and registration, click here.

Curious to hear more from Oscar Franco and Koenraad Wiedhaup ? Join them on 28 March and register for Innovation for Health.

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