EIT Health’s Zara Pons Vila Forecasts Her Biggest Change For Healthcare Post COVID-19
We caught up with Zara Pons Vila, PhD and Strategic Initiatives Manager at EIT Health Scandinavia to talk about the biggest changes for the healthcare industry in a post-pandemic era.
How would you best describe “a day in the life of Zara” at EIT Health?
As we are all working remotely in EIT Health things have changed, which on one side is making work quite efficient, since we are saving a lot of travel time. But on the other side, it makes it challenging to have your team spread all over the continent.
My day starts after I drop our daughter off at preschool. I prepare a nice espresso coffee and I warm up by reading the last news about LifeScience, pharma and biotech. Getting into the perspective of what is happening in the world gives me purpose: that my work at EIT Health can bring great innovative solutions to society.
Then I have a morning catch-up with my colleges in Scandinavia and continue the day. I try to have some mornings without meetings, but the majority of my time is spent in meetings and planning with different people all over Europe.
What have been your most important learnings from this year?
I have learned to be patient and to trust in science and in all the amazing efforts that the scientific community has accomplished in a short time. Many of my research colleagues had to become experts in Covid-19 and contribute to society, as many other professionals this year had to do as well. All these people coming together from different fields to fight this virus is something that has impressed me a lot.. And for the first time I have seen it from the outside, since I am not a researcher anymore, but I have definitely learned to trust science and remain calm, in times of uncertainty.
Few sectors in the world are developing as fast as healthcare this year, what do you see as the biggest challenges and the biggest opportunities for 2021?
This year we have seen the amazing capacity and flexibility of science by redirecting our efforts to fight the pandemic. At EIT Health we managed to quickly adapt to the pandemic moving our resources and setting up funding schemes for startups (€7 million in funding) and innovation projects, as well as, connect innovators across Europe and beyond to work together in building and strengthening tools, knowledge and resources to combat COVID-19. At EIT Health in Stockholm we have since March collected blood samples from recovered positive SARS-cov-2 patients (confirmed by PCR), in collaboration with Karolinska Insitutet and Thermo Fisher Scientific. The samples have been used to create a Pandemic Verification Sample set — a panel of high quality serum samples that will be used for verification of sensitivity and specificity of different diagnostic tests. The samples will be available for distribution in the coming months for our partners.
The learnings from this past year will have a positive impact on other fatal diseases. We are seeing the change already with new mRNA vaccines being developed. The mRNA COVID-19 vaccine is a game changer and I am looking forward to seeing all these new opportunities materialised also for other diseases.
More than ever, society is becoming more interested in science, humanity is a priority for the first time ever and scientists are leading whole countries and that is something that gives me hope for the future.
This year has shown that we can work efficiently remotely and travelling is not necessary. This has not only been beneficial for the environment but also for the health and work-life balance for people. People used to travel 2–3 hours one way to meet with clients and spend a whole day for a 30min meeting. Now, you can just log in to a meeting online and still have the rest of the day left for other work. The down side can be that you tend to work too much and it’s difficult to let go. Post-COVID I am expecting a more sustainable world with more remote working.
What will be the biggest change for the healthcare industry in the post-pandemic era?
I think healthcare digitalisation and the remote care of patients will be the biggest changes. In a connected country as Sweden, it may have started earlier but now it is also happening in Europe faster than we could have anticipated.
What do you look for in healthcare innovation?
I look for scientifically-based solutions that make problems simple to solve. I look for simplicity, it is not easy for a scientist; but this is the sweet spot where I would like to help other scientists when commercialising science to business.
What advice would you give to healthcare workers navigating Covid-19?
I have so much respect for all the healthcare workers and for their efforts this year. It’s a complex situation, and I don’t dare to advise on anything. There are not enough words for their commitment this year and I really hope that the world’s governments will recognise their efforts and compensate them.
What has been your overall experience with TorTex PPE fabric?
I became familiar with HealthTextiles in 2018, when it was still a local company in Sweden, without an international reach, but with a huge potential, as I saw it. In my previous role at EIT Health Scandinavia I tried to help them navigate through the programs of EIT Health and encourage the company to expand to other markets within one of our programs called Bridgehead. HealthTextiles was successful in their application and their scale-up has been exponential since then.
The antibacterial and antiviral fabric Tortex is of particular interest and I have been even asking Tomas Persson, the founder and owner, for some samples of the fabric, so I can sew my own garments. With my daughter going to preschool, having scarfs or t-shirts made from antibacterial and antiviral fabric to decrease the amount of infections between kids and the teachers, even stop the spread of COVID19, would be an excellent business extension. Instead of GoreTex it would be garments by Tortex!!! Parents are mindful about their treasures and I believe many parents would be interested in buying them !
I was not able to convince the HealthTextiles team to become their small local garment producer (yet!) but I am really pleased to see that TorTex is now used in facemasks and sports clothes.
I am using my TorTex mask in public transport and shops. I feel safe when wearing it and It is comfortable, ecologic, and environmentally friendly. Most importantly, I have seen the data regarding the testing against bacterial and virus and I trust the science behind this smart textile.. TorTex could be a game changer for the fabric industry and I am looking forward to following TorTex product development i
Why do you think the future of PPE is smart textiles such as TorTex?
There is little or no competition to smart textiles like TorTex to my knowledge. Environmentally friendly, ecological and intelligent garments that are certified to eliminate the most common bacterial and viral particles for humans have a huge potential and have so many application areas especially in healthcare settings, elderly care homes, kitchen staff etc..
Apart from healthcare workers and patients, smart antibacterial and antiviral textiles could also be used for bed linen, curtains, towels, and even sofas.
What’s your innovation mantra?
The simplest solutions are always the most efficient and elegant ones.
HealthTextiles is a leading Swedish manufacturer with a mission to save lives and decrease costs for the healthcare sector by developing innovative new healthcare uniforms and textiles. Offering unique anti-bacterial uniforms with Swedish quality and design, their uniforms can be found in hospitals, health clinics and care homes across Europe, with the company set to expand globally in 2021. HealthTextiles is supported by EIT Health .
Interviews may be coordinated upon request. Copies of the certification documents, scientific studies, research, photographs, and graphics are available.
About EIT Health: Together for healthy lives in Europe
EIT Health is a vast, vibrant community of world leading health innovators backed by the European Union. Working across borders, our network connects approximately 150 world-class partner organisations, as well as entrepreneurs, start-ups and SMEs from the worlds of business, research, education and healthcare delivery. Our ambition is to enable people in Europe to live longer, healthier lives by transforming businesses and delivering new products and services that can progress healthcare in Europe and strengthen our economy.
Tomas Persson, CEO
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