Interview for Techna’s 10th Anniversary
The Techna Phenomenon
I think the biggest part of the Techna phenomenon is that it is an entity that focuses on beginning-to-end productization of health technology in a hospital environment, which is rather unprecedented, but even a bigger part of it is that in addition to having the academic structure, it has the structure of our dedicated technology development team of 50.
We have created a pool of professionals which are available to the community to lead, manage and carry out work in health technology productization. Because of it, UHN is equipped to rapidly advance health technology without having to hire the people for each project in isolation and without having to acquire or develop the skills which may only be needed for a portion of the project.
What drove the need for creating Techna?
Historically, people that had worked in the health technology domain did not really have a unified home where they would think alike, where they would mingle with each other, where they would interact, and there was no organized vehicle to advance health technology development and deployment within UHN.
What feelings/thoughts did you have when working on starting Techna?
Back then, where did you expect us to be in 10 years? Have we under/overperformed?
When we started Techna 10 years ago, we knew the mission, we knew the vision but we knew very little of the mechanics, so the overwhelming feeling was that we were filling a void that was required, but also a lot of unknown as to how will it work, what will be the tactics, what will be the technicalities.
I think we have overperformed in terms of our impact because we are affecting thousands of patients’ lives everyday with the new technologies we have helped to develop or with new processes that we’ve established for treatment, diagnosis or patient management. We have achieved UHN-wide impact. We started with projects primarily in radiation medicine but over the years, we have spread and right now we have very strong presence in other domains of cancer innovation as well as imaging, surgery, and the digital domains.
Where we have somewhat underperformed is that we wanted to do more work with the industry. While we have always had and continue to have projects with industry, it is challenging actually because of the amount of time it takes to document and formalize the deals. Also, the companies usually want their projects subsidized, while we are not in a position to subsidize projects – rather we need to ensure that we fully cost recover our contributions on projects with external partners.
HOW HAS THE HEALTHCARE ENVIRONMENT CHANGED OVER THE PAST 10 YEARS?
The two biggest changes would be the evolution of precision medicine and digital health. Health care is becoming increasingly more personalized, there is more information about diagnosis and treatment, and you need to be able to process these data in order to come up with the proper management of the patient.
Associated with this change in precision medicine is the whole digitalization of health care. Big data and artificial intelligence are in the process of transforming health care over the last decade and will continue to have even larger impact. This opens new avenues and new opportunities. We are on the bleeding edge of that change, designing and pushing forward the solutions in many cases – and it is exciting to see how those innovations will work their way out to the rest of the health care system.
What are some challenges that Techna ran across over the past 10 years and how did you navigate them?
The biggest challenge was that there was no precedent for something such as Techna, or a technology development team with translational mandate within UHN and we had to structure it. So all of our operations related to HR, reporting, impact, belonging within UHN and also, financial model had to be established. It was something new for UHN and for us, something we had to figure out.
Because UHN is a large organization with its rather rigid policies, our needs would often run contrary to the established modus operandi, such as the usual trends that deal with classical research institutes or that deal with the general UHN operations. So we had to introduce the new way of operating within UHN and then enable our stakeholders, friends, clients and collaborators to see the value proposition of Techna. A key to getting it done was aiming to be an honest broker in the sense that we really work with everyone and anyone who wants to advance technology. Those were the biggest challenges.
What is it like to lead Techna?
It is a great pleasure and honour to lead the Techna Technology Development Team. They are wonderful people with whom I’ve had the pleasure to work for the past ten years. It remains challenging as always to keep constantly landing projects, so the lack of steady funding is the main downturn but overall it is a great ride.