Once, there were two girls: Anna and Sophie. A cancer diagnosis is always devastating news, but it’s even more tragic when you’re just a kid, and it’s supposedly untreatable. Anna was lucky – she lived in Holland, her doctor was connected and well informed, and she managed to undergo an experimental treatment that saved her life. Sophie’s ending, however, wasn’t as lucky.
This story is difficult to digest and a disconcerting reminder that modern society’s benefits are not distributed fairly. You’ll hear it over and over from Susanne Baars, Founder and CEO at SocialGenomics, who has had enough of the chaos that comes with organizing and understanding information. Her disruptive startup uses genomics and AI to connect patients to research in one globalized system and thus give them a fighting chance.
Quality healthcare is, shockingly, still a luxury
Be it the lack of funding in developing countries or the USA’s ever-problematic access to expensive healthcare, your health and where you pay your taxes correlate. “I believe every person in the world has a right to get access to the best healthcare possible,” says Susanne.
It sounds like a no-brainer, but reality paints an entirely different picture. According to WHO, up to 3.5 billion people – half the world’s population – still don’t receive the health services they need. And 800 million people spend at least 10% of their household budgets on health expenses for themselves, a sick child, or another family member, sending 100 million of those people into extreme poverty.
Many treatments are ineffective to make things worse: as Susanne explains, that’s particularly true for cancer patients. Everyone’s disease is unique, which requires a personalized treatment, which, unfortunately, isn’t everyday reality.
Why are we waiting for ages?
Despite the popular narrative fueled by conspiracy theories, pharma companies aren’t withholding the groundbreaking treatments on purpose. It simply takes too long to bring a drug to life under normal circumstances.
Susanne outlines that it would take a million years to find personalized treatments for all individual patients. Primarily, it relates to cancer patients and patients with rare cases because, with the current drug discovery & development pipeline, it takes approximately 14 years and more than 3 billion USD to get them on the market. “Many studies fail, and many diseases are so rare that there won’t ever be a study. But these people deserve a chance too, and we need a system that provides opportunities for them,” she stresses. “When you think about it, each course of treatment starts with access to understandable, valuable data. If we can match data, we can use AI to identify patterns and develop cures faster,” she describes, stressing that she strongly feels that we are wasting resources and the precious time we have on this earth to cure the world’s diseases.
How exactly could the future where everyone has an equal chance to understand and tackle their diagnosis? From Susanne’s perspective, matching patients based on their molecular data profile with patients worldwide, combining that knowledge and giving them access to it, as well as connecting people with global research to accelerate finding cures, is a little step in the right direction.
“We can’t help every patient with every disease yet, but we can help match patients with gene mutations, especially related to cancer,” she says, stressing that technology is completely changing the game. And in the next few years, billions of new minds will enter the internet: just imagine what could be possible. “We can use science to bring personalized medicine to the hands of the people. Just as we were building roads in the past, we are now creating these digital connections that allow knowledge transfer to create access for all and save lives throughout the world,” Susanne concludes.
Susanne Baars has a strong vision to make healthcare accessible and affordable for every person on the planet. Her disruptive startup SocialGenomics MOONSHOT has designed a globally connected AI data architecture to connect patients to research in one globalized system and thus give them a fighting chance. The project aims to generate awareness about gene mutations and precision medicine patients, clinicians, and passionate scientists globally. It intends to provide better information about personalized treatment options, accelerate the discovery & development of customized therapies, as well as help patients who are desperately searching to find answers.
How We Solve Tomorrow’s Diseases | Susanne Baars | TEDxINSEAD
Saving lives together | Susanne Baars | TEDxEindhovenSalon