During our last conversation with Brigitte Nolet, she shared her thoughts on health data and the role it needs to play in evolving our healthcare systems. She emphasized the need for better legal, regulatory and policy frameworks for data-driven healthcare decisions. She also called for increased collaboration, so that together, we can solve the most pressing healthcare challenges by sharing knowledge and healthcare data to better inform patient care and health system decision making.
Now, in this second blog of a four-part series, we continue to look at other healthcare solutions that can contribute to stronger healthcare systems. As health data is such a large topic, we’d like to focus on artificial intelligence (AI) and why this is a critical and yet relatively underused tool in healthcare delivery. In essence, AI is the use of computers to ‘think’ like humans so that machines or devices can complete tasks in an “intelligent” way, at a speed that human minds can only fathom.
Below, Brigitte shares Roche’s commitment to AI in healthcare and why we need to better leverage this tool to empower our health systems in Canada.
Q. How did we end up using AI and machine-learning in healthcare?
A. In the past, we’ve seen the power of AI in applications such as language translation, stock trading and space exploration. Daily, we use AI unknowingly when we try to get directions when driving (such as Waze!). While many of the more public-facing uses of AI have been driven by the tech sector, scientists around the world have also been working to harness it to ask bigger questions and address previously intractable challenges in human biology and disease.
In healthcare, AI and machine learning solutions have the potential to enable patients, providers, and systems to make better, faster, more informed decisions for accelerated and equitable access to health. AI is also about making sense of the health data that is available - by clarifying these insights and helping all of us make stronger decisions to support patient outcomes.
Q: What impact do you think AI can have on Canadian health care?
A.One key way that AI could impact Canadian healthcare would be to gather and make sense of all the health data we have in a fraction of the time and cost needed today. This will be absolutely critical to the evolution of our healthcare systems. And in the many conversations I’ve been having with our industry and government partners over these last few months, the countries who understand how to upscale their systems the fastest and thoughtfully harness this evolution will be the ones where we will see large advancements in life sciences investments and the most impactful change in healthcare efficiency - meaning better outcomes for patients faster.
In Canada, the federal government recently announced a willingness to increase healthcare funding to provinces and territories contingent on those regions committing to a national health data system as a measure of accountability. This is going to be critical to pushing AI forward in healthcare. I really hope that an agreement is reached soon, because the development of a national, world-class health data system for Canada, with all stakeholders, both public and private, working together across provinces and territories, will ultimately enable better health outcomes for all Canadians.
Q. What role does AI have in the vision of a more personalized healthcare experience for patients and stronger, more resilient healthcare systems?
A. AI solutions won’t replace a clinician, but augment their knowledge, and timely access to information, for decision making. On the front lines of healthcare, AI can help automate time-consuming processes and allow burnt out healthcare staff to spend more time doing the work they signed up for – like caring for patients.
In personalized healthcare, AI can be leveraged to generate next generation therapies (these include vaccine, cell, gene, regenerative and nucleic acid therapy products) that better fit individual patient needs. During the recent pandemic, we all saw the potential of AI in helping to build stronger healthcare systems – when AI contributed to COVID-19 vaccine modeling and timely medical imaging diagnosis (such as chest and lung imaging).
We need to keep learning from the successes and setbacks that we experienced during COVID-19 and add to this momentum as we continue to explore AI’s full potential in the deployment of healthcare solutions.
Q. How is Roche Canada enabling better, responsible AI in our healthcare systems?
A. At Roche, we are already using AI in many ways across our business. Internally, we use it to streamline business operations, reducing the cost and time to do the work we do. Externally, we are developing products that leverage AI to, for example, accelerate clinical and diagnostic workflows, so that patients receive faster, more responsive treatment.
AI will also allow us to proactively look at the use of Real World Data (RWD)/ Real World Evidence (RWE) to inform regulatory and access decisions. This is a huge area of priority for Roche, because a data-enabled system that actively uses data and evidence will better serve patients and their caregivers, and support a learning health system.
As we challenge ourselves to explore new methods and solutions to improve health outcomes for our communities, we recognize the great potential AI may bring to every part of the patient journey. With the launch of AI with Roche (aiR) in 2020 - a partnership with AI institutes Amii, Mila, and the Vector Institute- - we’re bringing together the AI community in Canada to accelerate early data insights in order to bring tangible beneﬁts to patients now and for the future. This partnership is combining Roche’s notable history of leadership in health and life sciences, and the AI Institutes’ established track records of excellence in AI research and industry applications.
Together, we can accomplish much more, and do so faster than we could ever do alone. Partnerships and collaboration in the Canadian AI space are critical.
Q. How does Canadian AI compare globally ?
A. Here in Canada, we have incredible leadership in artificial intelligence and machine learning, and the ability to leverage this for drug discovery. Both Toronto and Montreal are innovation hubs, within our country but also internationally. These are strengths that we have to harness and not be humble about.
We cannot sit idle as many other countries are also developing their skills, and we will be battling for talent in this space if we are not careful. Rwanda, for example, announced an AI Centre of Excellence last May. We need to get moving and put our strategy into action.
Q. What’s next?
A. We look to our governments here in Canada to help us build and foster a mature AI environment so that all stakeholders, public and private, should be empowered to contribute to bring innovations to life. We are excited to collaborate with all of these partners to set national data standards to ensure that health AI research, infrastructure, and policy evolves in a way that fosters innovation, ensures AI products are developed responsibly and ethically, and provides equitable access to solutions for all Canadian citizens.
There is a pan-Canadian AI strategy, where Roche is an active and willing partner in working with all governments across the country (federal, provincial and even municipal) as well our industry partners toward three things: solidifying the country’s capacities to conduct high quality research in world renowned AI research institutes; attract acclaimed researchers and train new remarkable AI talent; and translate research into commercial applications adopted by Canadian businesses.
But we need to implement this strategy now, because timing is of the essence. Concrete action is needed. Patients are waiting.
In our next sit-down with Brigitte, we take a closer look at why we need to keep increasing the quality and quantity of public-private partnerships we have (and not just for Roche) so that all stakeholders – industry, academia, governments, non-traditional healthcare groups, and many others – are able to come to the same table, at the same time, and work together to tackle the most pressing healthcare challenges of our time. Together, we will go further, faster.