Fraunhofer and BCB Medical: Finnish–German collaboration in health data accelerates innovation
Bringing together great minds, new technologies, and latest research enables new solutions to support the treatment of chronic diseases. Thanks to Business Finland, Fraunhofer and BCB Medical found each other in the testing phase of the digital twin prototype.
Case study 29.3.2023
Inflammatory bowel disease or IBD is at best an annoyance, at worst a debilitating condition that prevents the patient from working and having a normal life. It is increasing in incidence and prevalence, and at the same time, the shortage of gastroenterologists is getting worse.
To mitigate the situation, Fraunhofer, world’s leading applied research organization, has developed a digital twin patient model in MED²ICIN lighthouse project to help physicians make better treatment decisions faster.
We learned that Finland has excellent data sources, and we met with BCB Medical who has been instrumental in helping us navigate the scene in Finland and understand the Finnish data.
“IBD is a chronic disease, and it often starts when the patient is young. Finding the right treatment early is essential to have the best outcome and save costs – after all, using the wrong medication creates costs but doesn’t help the patient,” says Dr. Stefan Wesarg, Head of Department Visual Healthcare Technologies at Fraunhofer Institute for Computer Graphics Research IGD.
The digital twin brings together the patient’s medical data, population studies, data on disease progression, therapy of others with the same condition as well as clinical guidelines and health economic information.
Digital twin tested with Finnish health registers and data
To make the digital twin efficient and universal, it needs to have lots of relevant data from different sources. Otherwise, its recommendations would be biased.
“In an event organized by Business Finland, we learned that Finland has excellent data sources, and we met with BCB Medical who has been instrumental in helping us navigate the scene in Finland and understand the Finnish data,” Dr. Wesarg states.
BCB Medical is specialized in gathering and analysing real-world clinical data that is used to make healthcare more effective and to create better treatments. It monitors and analyses more than 100 diseases groups, one of which is IBD.
We were lucky enough to bring Fraunhofer and BCB Medical together at just the right time.
“When we got in touch with Fraunhofer and they sent us the 170 variables they wanted for their digital twin, I wondered how many we could cover. When we saw we had them all, I did my happy dance!” says Lisse-Lotte Hermansson, Chief Scientific Officer of BCB Medical.
Dr. Irina Blumenstein – a gastroenterologist at Frankfurt University Hospital – has been involved in the development of the digital twin model, and she will test it further with the data from Finland. With the additional data she will be able to gain more insight and give more feedback needed to bridge the remaining gap between the current prototype and the model’s commercialization as a decision support tool.
“This is also critical to Finland. We are very proud of our great data, but only by testing it in these types of algorithms we can really see, if the data is good enough,” Hermansson points out.
On the path to the global market
From Business Finland’s perspective, Fraunhofer’s and BCB Medical’s cooperation is a textbook case of how things should be done.
“Our job is to promote Finnish expertise and enhance international collaboration, and the best-case scenario is when cooperations starts early in the development or commercialization of a solution. We were lucky enough to bring Fraunhofer and BCB Medical together at just the right time,” says Sanna Sipilä-Axnix responsible for the healthcare activities in DACH region.
There is still some way to go before the digital twin will be market-ready.
“For example, we must convince physicians of the model’s benefits so they will actually use it. And as a decision support system, it will be classified as a new medical device, so it needs to comply with the regulation,” Dr. Wesarg mentions.
Fraunhofer believes that the model will bring 23% cost savings and 35%-time savings in treating patients.
BCB Medical may be of assistance here, too, as its Disease Specific Register software has recently been certified as compliant with EU’s Medical Device Regulation (MDR).
Huge global potential
The potential for the digital twin is huge. IBD is just one disease chosen for testing the model. The twin is a general-purpose data model that needs to be specialized for an indication, and there are countless other diseases it could be applied to, such as cardiovascular diseases.
“Healthcare systems around the world are seeing their costs rising, and at Fraunhofer, we believe that using data efficiently will make healthcare more affordable and stop costs from rising at the current rate,” says Kristin Mieth, Corporate Business Development Manager at Fraunhofer Headquarter.
From patient perspective, Fraunhofer’s model would mean a big difference to their treatment.
According to the results of Fraunhofer’s user testing with over 100 gastroenterologists, they believe the model will bring 23% cost savings and 35%-time savings in treating patients.
“The model provides physicians with comprehensive information about the patient and treatment options, so they can make better informed decisions and have more time for the patient interaction,” Mieth highlights.
Business Finland builds bridges
Business Finland is present in 40 different markets globally, and its 170 advisors help to build the bridge between Finland and global markets every day.
“Our team of advisors are active in the most important export markets for Finnish health technology. They are keeping their ears and eyes open and report about the market developments they see in our marketopportunities.fi service. Through tailor-made events and matchmaking, we can jumpstart new meaningful global partnerships, like the one between Fraunhofer and BCB Medical,” concludes Terhi Rasmussen, Global Opportunity Leader for Health and wellbeing.