"We treat people, not diseases"

Since October 1, 2022, the Styrian human technology cluster has had a new boss in Lejla Pock.
In a conversation with "botenstoff"-Editor Franz Zuckriegl outlines her plans for the coming years and reflects on the changes in the life science industry and in the cluster.
Lejla Pock
Lejla PockLabel

The health expert Siegfried Meryn writes that in the course of the change in health systems, old systems have to be "let go" or "unlearned". In your opinion, which "old, no longer suitable systems" should be replaced as soon as possible? forget?

Lejla Pock: There are many. In principle, we must ensure that, in addition to treating diseases, we focus more on maintaining health. In Sweden, people live healthy for an average of 70 years – in Austria it is only 58 years. Digital innovations can make an important contribution to the prevention and early detection of diseases and provide very efficient support in diagnostics and therapy, in care and aftercare.

In addition, digital applications also enable completely new supply models. In our healthcare industry, it takes a lot of staying power to bring digital innovations into the system. Markets on the fringes of Europe have made a virtue of necessity: They are struggling with the brain drain of medical staff and labour, and consistent healthcare is particularly difficult due to geographic conditions. They are therefore very open to new, digital health technologies and are now positioning themselves as “early adopters”. 

It would be a pity if our investments in R&D were only used here via a detour abroad.

Two fields are mentioned again and again when it comes to the "big changes": digitization, but also sustainability. What "changes" do you see in the near future for the healthcare industry and the life sciences?

Here I am thinking of the increasingly individual and personalized approach to medical care. "Precision medicine" benefits greatly from digitization - just think of the automated analysis and diagnostic systems! Here in Styria we have a great deal of know-how that we would like to make even more visible internationally.

On sustainability...

I see our focus in sustainable health care, after all we are a life science and health cluster. A major challenge in production is to reduce CO2 emissions in the life science and pharmaceutical industries and to focus on a circular economy overall. In the field of science and research, it is important to focus on future topics. In Styria we have excellent research that is ahead of the game when it comes to future topics.

What topics would that be?

All topics that represent global challenges of the future: resource availability, climate change, resilience and sustainable healthcare. In this context, we will also deal with the topic of digitization and data use, data availability and handling of sensitive data. This is playing an increasingly important role in modern health care. We don't treat diseases, we treat people.
Access to patient data plays an important role here. And just as we all donate blood, we should all make a data donation. One thing is clear: without research, there can be no innovation in the life sciences.

The third area that companies and institutions see as a significant change is demographic development, i.e. the "aging society".

The proportion of older people will continue to rise over the next few years, and so will the number of chronically ill people who need help and support in everyday life. It is becoming increasingly important to increase the number of healthy years and to focus more on prevention and early detection.

In addition, people should be able to live fit and in their usual social environment for as long as possible. New technologies can provide a great deal of support for the people affected – patients, relatives, caregivers. It is obvious that there is a lack of qualified workers in this field. The attractiveness of certain professions must be increased, such as the nursing professions in view of the shortage of nursing care.

How do you see the ideas around the topic "new work"?

Digitization has created new working environments and thus also new framework conditions: The working environment has to fit, there have to be flexible working time models, the work has to be meaningful - we will also promote all these aspects as a cluster organization. And yet: where innovation is supposed to happen, people also have to be physically together. Inspiration comes from the energy and personal exchange between people. As a network organization, we can significantly promote these effects.

What exactly can the cluster contribute to this?

First of all, we can create awareness and sensitize everyone involved to the topic. And we have to help the strengths of the location to attract international attention. If we are known internationally as an exciting life science location, then the talent will also come to Graz and Styria. That is why strong companies, an attractive R&D environment, a lively start-up scene with the appropriate infrastructure and services, all coupled with a high quality of life, are as important as lighthouse projects.

What specific projects are there to increase international visibility?

First and foremost, we will strengthen international networking, make existing know-how and projects more visible and initiate new ones that are unique in the regional, national and international context.

A special asset is the excellent research and development, coupled with the close-knit infrastructure and the networked know-how at the location. The Med Uni Graz in connection with the LKH University Hospital Graz, the company centers ZWT I and II as well as the Biobank, all the competence centers, research facilities and incubation centers - this physical proximity and concentration in a small space together with an extremely good culture of cooperation - all that is also rarely found internationally. One goal of the HTS in the coming years is to convey this value much more to the outside world and make it visible.

What will happen in this regard in the next two or three years?

We would like to establish ourselves as a point of contact for national and international SMEs and start-ups in the life sciences and Styria as one of the 10 life science hotspots in Europe.

What else do you want to do as the new head of the cluster?

First of all, we have to implement our “HTS 2025+” strategy, which we developed last year with stakeholders in focus groups. In addition to medical technology and pharmaceuticals and biotechnology, the focus areas are also health and sustainability. For me it is particularly important to expand our role as a networker, scout, initiator and enabler. But I don't want to reveal too much just yet!

Thank you for the talk!