CREST makes its mark in digital healthcare

  • Latest MOU with Ministry of Health to boost innovation in healthcare
  • Digital healthcare innovations at heart of addressing healthcare challenges

 

(From left) Ministry of Health Director General of Health Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah; Malaysian Minister of Health Dr Dzulkefly Ahmad; Mida CEO Azman Mahmud; and CREST CEO Jaffri Ibrahim

 

IT STARTED with a voice from the back, interrupting the technologists who were talking excitedly about how they were going to change healthcare in Malaysia, for the better, through IoT or the Internet of Things.

“Don’t you think it’s better achieved if we work with the practitioners of the field, with their input and ideas?” It wasn’t a eureka moment but the penny certainly dropped, recalls Jaffri Ibrahhim. It was 2014.

The CEO of CREST since it was launched in 2011, Jaffri likes to remind people that CREST or Collaborative Research in Engineering, Science and Technology is industry-driven. Its 12 Founding Members comprise the likes of Intel, Motorola Solutions, AMD, Broadcom and Universiti Sains Malaysia. It has since added 55 more industry leaders and universities for a current total of 67.

[Para updated: An earlier version gave the wrong number of industry leaders and universities.]

And while it was previously exclusively focused on the E&E sector, its members have started pushing it to be more relevant to the various sectors that the E&E industry touches. With microchips beginning to invade almost any electronic product, that literally means every sector of the economy.

Outside of technology, it is in healthcare that CREST seems to be making the most impact.

The day after the voice at the back had spoken, Jaffri picked up the phone and called a former classmate, Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah – who happens to be the director-general of the Ministry of Health (MOH). An appointment was quickly made for CREST executives to brief Hisham on the work CREST does and how they hoped to work together with MOH.

What was supposed to be a 30-minute briefing stretched to 90-minutes with Hisham sharing his own aspirations and vision of where he hoped to take Malaysian healthcare. And it ended with him asking. “How can CREST help?”

Fast forward to Oct 4 and we have the CREST and MOH signing which, if the execution meets the aspirations of both parties, will see the Malaysian healthcare system leap into the digital age with better health outcomes for patients, practitioners and the government.

The goals are lofty indeed. Both sides want to collaborate in research & development that focuses on commercialisation as the end result (R&D&C), specifically in terms of digital innovation in healthcare delivery.They want to boost cluster development, tighten industry engagement, spur manufacturing alliances, accelerate talent development and spark digital innovation hubs.

Cluster development here does not mean there is going to be a physical location with a concentration of digital healthcare companies. Rather, Jaffri explains that it is the bringing together of companies be they multinational, local, or startups, academia and government entities including those in health policies, administration, practitioners to jointly develop the field of health through opportunities brought about by digital technologies.

There’s a lot on the plate but Jaffri is excited and confident. After all, this isn’t the first time CREST has collaborated in healthcare. It partnered with Microsoft in 2016 to launch an innovation Hub in Penang where digital health entrepreneurs have access to Microsoft platforms and tools such as Azure, IoT, Advance Analytics and Cognitive Services for prototyping, solution trials and product demos.

The outcome of this collaboration has been a promising pipeline of digital based healthcare innovations that are in various stages of coming to the market.

To date, CREST has nurtured 12 collaborative R&D projects in support of digital healthcare involving three multinational companies, five local small and medium enterprises, two startups, 12 universities both public and private plus partnership with public and private hospitals to help accelerate research to trials by medical professionals.

Strengthening collaboration

One of the collaborative projects is an embedded patch called HarTTrek with FlexTTech Innovations Sdn Bhd whose co-founder and CEO, Keith Moey shares: "When we started, we needed funding for most of our activities. It was difficult because most funds in general want to fund projects close to commercialisation. CREST has been very forthcoming and we formed a kind of partnership quickly. CREST's focus in R&D and its collaborative network has made our entrepreneur journey possible."

Moey is unequivocal in his belief that, "CREST has been a key enabler for us technology entrepreneurs, not just from a funding aspect, but also its network of researchers and industry collaborators."

The strengthening collaboration between all parties reinforces Jaffri’s belief that digital healthcare innovations are at the heart of addressing the healthcare challenges faced by Malaysia today. “We are thrilled to collaborate with MOH in realising cost-effective, quality healthcare solutions and services using IoT.”

In reality though, this goes beyond IoT, as analytics and big data and artificial intelligence (AI) all play a role on the digital products coming down the pipeline.

No matter the underlying technology, all the products in digital healthcare go through a body called Telemedicine Development Group (TDG) that was established in 2016. TDG plays an active role in regulation/policy, knowledge dissemination, clinical trials & go-to-market for digital healthcare in Malaysia.

However, despite being a regulatory body, TDG was created with a different mindset. “Instead of putting up obstacles for products to get to market TDG looks at how it can help get the products to market,” says Jaffri. “It’s a totally different mindset and its role is to help any of the innovations that the various agencies under MOH like and want to see introduced to the market.”

Loosely speaking, it was the first regulatory sandbox in the country, ventures Jaffri. The group is co-chaired by the Director General of Health and Chairman of Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC). This may seem an odd combination but the MCMC does play a key role in overseeing and promoting Malaysia’s Digital Economy and the CREST-MOH tie-up is all about healthcare from a digital angle.

Commenting on the MOU, Minister of Health, Dr Dzulkefly Ahmad believes that CREST and the MOH, through TDG, could support and complement the National Healthcare Transformation to provide equitable, affordable and accessible high quality health services to the rakyat.

For Jaffri, that is further proof that the E&E space can create meaningful value in various other verticals through collaboration instead of being in their silos.

 
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