When the time-honored business model is no longer beneficial or a black-swan event occurs, it is time to introduce emerging technologies from other domains. It is the perfect opportunity to engage in disruptive innovation and investment via strategic alliances and cross-disciplinary applications to solve the market demands that have been long overlooked.
For instance, Foamagen, an innovative dura reconstructive material developed by Taiwan Biomaterial Co., Ltd, draws inspiration from hair mousse. Traditionally, artificial dura maters are used to reconstruct and repair dura after brain surgery. If it is not applied properly, there is a 32% probability that cerebrospinal fluid may leak. Artificial dura maters are mostly made of organic polymer membranes in conjunction with sealants. However, they are prone to problems such as difficulty in stitching, post-surgery cerebrospinal fluid leakage, brain tissue adhesion and infections, and these issues may significantly affect recovery.
Dr. Chun-Jen Liao, Chief Executive Officer of Taiwan Biomaterial Co., Ltd and former researcher in Industrial Technology Research Institute, and his R&D team came up with the idea of developing Foamagen in a brainstorming session with clinical physicians. Based on inspiration drawn from hair mousse, the team then developed a prototype by integrating a biodegradable collagen gel, the special techniques in foaming of the collagen, and compressed air mini-cylinders for bicycle tire inflation. It only takes three minutes to quickly cover the damaged area after brain surgery by Foamagen. This product repairs the damaged dura and prevents cerebrospinal fluid leakage. It does not only significantly reduce the time for closing the wound, but also the risk of brain tissue damage.
The prototype of Foamagen was debuted in the 80th AANS (American Association of Neurological Surgeons) Scientific Meeting. The chief R&D officer of a leading US neurological materials manufacturer hailed it as “the most innovative biomedical material product in the past decade”. By integrating know-how in clinical medicine, material design, and engineering, this product has successfully addressed the problems associated with traditional products for post-surgery repairs.
Another notable cross-disciplinary innovation is the artificial intelligence (AI) analytics tool to assist in coronavirus COVID-19 medicine development. The pandemic has caused over a billion infections and several million deaths. With vaccines still yet to become widely available, a cross-disciplinary innovative team in Taiwan has applied AI algorithms to study the evolution of viral genomes. The purpose is to stay on top of the pathways of viral infections in order to control the transmission of the disease via state-of-the-art technology and accelerate the development of medications and vaccines. These are all critical elements required to end the pandemic.
Dr. Ching-Yung Lin, a former AI and Big Data analytics expert with IBM and Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Graphen Inc., and his team utilized solutions created for human behavioral prediction and financial information security management in a cross-domain approach to apply to the field of biomedicine. The team was able to collate nearly 400 COVID-19 genome sequences and with the aids of knowledge graphs and AI algorithms to plot a viral genome evolution tree within one week and publish the transmission routes of hundreds of variants of the virus around the world. Using this technology, it is possible to infer transmission paths even when the contact history and travel history of a patient remain unknown or sources of community infection are unidentified. At the same time, the analysis can highlight highly contagious virus sub-types. It is the first information platform in the world for COVID-19 control and prevention platform. Through the use of Big Data, it establishes a solid foundation for the future application of AI in biomedicine R&D.
The medical industry is relatively conservative compared to other sectors because human health and safety are a top concern. It usually takes years of validation before rolling out innovative applications. That is why the pharmaceutical industry is always questing the Holy Grail of ways to accelerate development. The two use cases above successfully showcase the potential of creative thinking that brings applications from different domains to resolve medical challenges. The creative approach by integrating mature cross-domains technologies will be the key transforming route for the Taiwan biomedicine industry from contracted manufacturing to an innovation powerbase.
Composed by creative investigators, innovation drivers, and persistent experimenters, Dr. Chun-Jen Liao, and his team member have proved that is possible to address the pain points and meet the demands of medical doctors and patients by transforming existing technologies from other domains into innovative medical applications.
With the track records of applications in human behavior prediction and financial information security, Graphen brings AI applications into the medical domain to quickly identify the most contagious strains by analyzing the evolution and transmission of the COVID-19. This solution can be applied to assist prevention, control, and treatment the emerging infectious diseases, to improve the resilience of an economy, a society, and a country while faces an outbreak of a contagious disease. It requires an elaborate incubation environment, cross-disciplinary communication and integration, and a robust industrial foundation, to introduce innovative applications from other domains to the medical field. It would greatly benefit industry innovation and development in the future by providing systematic support on the policy front (such as R&D budget and talent, and platforms of cross-domain matchmaking) and regulatory reviews of innovative products.