ASEBIO - Asociación Española de Bioempresas

04/04/2024 | Press release | Distributed by Public on 04/04/2024 04:53

The Spanish AI Healthcare Landscape


The Spanish AI Healthcare Landscape

While not yet a global player, Artificial Intelligence (AI) is increasingly being integrated into the healthcare landscape in Spain, with the potential to significantly enhance patient care and innovation.

04 April 2024
Access to innovation
Rare diseases
Personalized medicine

With its robust public healthcare system and commitment to innovation, Spain stands at the forefront of healthcare advancement in Europe. However, challenges such as an aging population and rising health concerns necessitate new approaches, such as Artificial Intelligence (AI), which promises to enhance patient care and drive innovation. From initiatives like the Digital Health Strategy 2021 to groundbreaking projects like IMPaCT, Spain is embracing the potential of AI. This blog delves into the evolving role of AI in the Spanish healthcare landscape, highlighting its applications, challenges, and transformative partnerships, with a special focus on Owkin's collaboration with a top center in the region to optimize cancer treatment.

The Spanish healthcare system and AI

Spain is a country with 47.5 million inhabitants and the Spanish National Health System (SNHS) is a public institution covering 100% of citizens. The SNHS is a decentralized system, driven by the 19 Spanish regions locally (managing purchasing, operations and provision). But the system is coordinated at the country level overall, as exemplified in initiatives like the Digital Health Strategy 2021 or the Public Health Strategy 2022.

Although Spanish expenditure in healthcare is slightly lower than the EU27 (10.7% GDP versus 11%), life expectancy is the highest in Europe (83.2 years, in 2022). This is because Spain has one of the lowest EU mortality rates in preventable and treatable diseases, reflecting a relatively strong primary care system and prevention programs. However, like other EU countries, high life expectancy and a decrease in birth rates turned out to make the population pyramid clearly regressive. Furthermore, in the case of Spain, obesity is a rising concern besides cancer and cardiovascular diseases, historical main sources of mortality and morbidity.

In light of the aging population (19% over 65 years in 2019, to 29,4% in 2068), the SNHS aims to prioritize personalized medicine as a key strategy. This is crucial due to the higher prevalence of obesity, cardiovascular diseases, and cancer among older individuals. In this regard, establishing a national Data Space is identified as one of the four axes of the Spanish Digital Health Strategy 2021.

Another example of personalized medicine and data driven healthcare approaches is the IMPaCT project. IMPaCT is a three axes project that aims to:

  1. Enroll and characterize 200.000 patients prospectively.
  2. Establish a country level data collection and interoperability good practices.
  3. Sequence and analyze the IMPaCT data.

By leveraging a vast amount of data, in a comprehensive way, the IMPaCT project aims to pave the way for the effective implementation of data driven healthcare and biomedical approaches, like Artificial Intelligence models [4].

The practical application of Artificial Intelligence in Spanish medical context

While not yet a global player, Artificial Intelligence (AI) is increasingly being integrated into the healthcare landscape in Spain, with the potential to significantly enhance patient care and innovation. There is a growing demand for AI technologies in the healthcare sector, as currently, 11% of healthcare practitioners in Spain use AI, but an additional 42% have explicit intentions to do so in future.

The Spanish government has launched initiatives to promote the use of AI in healthcare, such as the AI Strategy in Health program and the AI Observatory in Health to further drive the integration of AI into the healthcare system. Additionally, Spanish universities and research institutes are actively involved in developing AI-based healthcare solutions, with a focus on areas such as medical imaging and prosthetic devices. On top of this, Spain is gaining attractiveness for international companies in setting up AI hubs. Microsoft has chosen Spain as the location for its new R&D hub specialized in AI, which will be located in Barcelona and aims to attract talent from across Europe. This decision is a testament to the high qualifications of professionals in Spain and their ability to attract international talent, positioning the country as an emerging tech hub in Europe.

The application of AI in healthcare has the potential to improve patient care through various means. For instance, AI-powered medical imaging can enhance diagnostic accuracy and speed, particularly in the context of diseases such as cancer, which is prevalent in Spain.

Furthermore, AI algorithms can aid in identifying patients at high risk of developing specific conditions, and AI-powered virtual assistants are being developed to help patients manage chronic conditions, providing personalized advice, medication reminders, and symptom tracking. For example, Grifols, a Spanish global healthcare company, has partnered with Google Cloud to use AI technologies, including large language models, to expedite the development of new biopharmaceutical therapies. This collaboration aims to strengthen Grifols' therapeutic pipeline and enhance its innovation culture by applying AI across the drug-development life cycle, from identifying potential therapeutic candidates to managing clinical data. Additionally, the Spanish pharma Almirall's partnership with Absci to use AI for rapidly developing novel treatments for dermatological diseases. This collaboration leverages Absci's AI-powered drug discovery platform to advance Almirall's research and development efforts in dermatology.

Despite the potential benefits, challenges such as a lack of trust from medical staff and the need for high-quality data to train AI tools have been identified. However, with the continued growth of the AI in the healthcare market in Spain and the ongoing development of AI-based healthcare solutions, the integration of AI has the potential to drive innovation and improve patient care in the Spanish healthcare landscape.

Owkin's role in the Spanish Healthcare scenario

Owkin is a pioneering company at the intersection of AI and Biology, dedicated to transforming the drug discovery and drug development processes. Owkin applies advanced machine learning techniques to multiple types of data to better understand patient complexity. Owkin's AI drug discovery and development initiatives are poised to revolutionize the traditional, time-consuming, and costly process of discovering targets and developing new drugs. Additionally, the company's AI diagnostic capabilities enable the pre-screening for biomarkers and the prediction of patient outcomes, providing healthcare providers a more comprehensive understanding of a patient's disease. This, in the future, will enable more effective targeting of therapies, ultimately benefiting a larger number of patients.

In the context of precision medicine within the Spanish healthcare landscape, Owkin leverages multimodal data and AI to introduce an innovative approach. This methodology adopts an impartial stance towards the complexities of individual patients. By harnessing diverse datasets to train machine learning algorithms, Owkin strives to eliminate bias from the analysis. Relying solely on clinical data may inadvertently overlook crucial interactions, such as those between physiology and gene regulation. Hence, embracing multimodal datasets becomes paramount for a comprehensive understanding of patient complexity.

Moreover, this approach empowers Owkin to develop tools capable of addressing multiple disease features; but ultimately only requiring specific variables to produce consistent results. For instance, Owkin's CE-IVD marked diagnostic tool MSIntuit® CRC, which adeptly estimates microsatellite instability from tumor biopsy images. Through a blend of images, genomic data, and patient outcomes, the model was trained to discern intricate connections between tumor molecular traits and their visual manifestations. Subsequently, the tool could classify patients solely based on imaging data, surpassing human abilities in this aspect.

Success Case: partnering with IRYCIS
The excellence of the Spanish healthcare system establishes a robust foundation for the implementation of AI tools. While there remains a need for further standardization, digitization and data curation efforts, it is within this evolving landscape that Owkin works together with Spanish institutions and their exceptional healthcare and research professionals to drive future innovation.

Owkin has launched a partnership with the Fundación para la investigación Biomédica del Hospital Universitario Ramón y Cajal (IRYCIS) in Spain to optimize cancer treatment using AI. This collaboration aims to improve patient outcomes by leveraging AI to optimize therapeutic strategies for early-detected prostate cancer. This involves identifying which patients would benefit from specific therapies, typically used for different stages of the disease. Additionally, Owkin is assisting IRYCIS in setting up a secure database to harness the power of their data for future AI research while ensuring data governance and patient privacy.

The partnership represents a significant step in the application of AI to advance cancer treatment and underscores Owkin's commitment to leveraging cutting-edge technology to improve patient care. By combining the expertise of Owkin in AI and the research capabilities of IRYCIS, the partnership aims to drive innovation in cancer treatment and contribute to the growing field of AI-driven healthcare. This initiative not only highlights the potential of AI in transforming cancer care, it also emphasizes the importance of strategic partnerships between industrial partners and healthcare institutions, to accelerate the development and future implementation of innovative medical solutions.

This project marks a significant milestone in the use of AI to optimize cancer treatment and exemplifies the success of such partnerships to drive meaningful advancements in healthcare. Owkin's entry into the Spanish market through this partnership with IRYCIS, stands to positively influence the future of cancer care in the country, presenting new avenues for enhancing our comprehension of disease heterogeneity and advancing medical research.

With the increasing demand for AI technologies, coupled with government initiatives and ongoing research and development efforts, Owkin can help organizations reach their full potential. The company's commitment to leveraging the power of AI and biology is transforming the traditional paradigms of drug discovery, development, and patient care. Owkin's advanced machine learning techniques also offer a unique opportunity to understand patient complexity on a deeper level. Get in touch with us to explore how Owkin can help accelerate medical research and shape the future of healthcare in Spain. Let's revolutionize healthcare together!

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