Sharing Solutions, Improving Life through Citizen Innovation
13 July 2015, 1st Patient Innovation Awards, Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, Lisbon
Carlos Moedas - Commissioner for Research, Science and Innovation
Check Against Delivery

President Santos Silva, Professor Veloso, Professor von Hippel, Professor Oliveira, Esteemed guests, Ladies and gentlemen,

Senhoras e Senhores, É um prazer estar hoje aqui convosco, neste evento que celebra a inovação de todos e para todos. Hoje irei falar-vos do impacto destas plataformas de inovação, das pontes entre Mundos diferentes: em inglês, naturalmente.

Good morning!

We find ourselves in the perfect setting for today's Awards ceremony. The Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation improves people's lives through the arts, science and education: supporting many innovative projects in the name of an extraordinary man. A man who brought East and West together for the peaceful exploitation of natural resources, and who fostered unlikely cooperation. Calouste Gulbenkian built bridges, connecting two sides of the world. And today we're celebrating a much broader connection, a much needed bridge, from one world to another. You are bridging the world of the patient and caregiver, to that of the medical professional. I believe it was Isaac Newton who said, "we build too many walls and not enough bridges"!

Ladies and gentlemen,

I have three messages for you today.

First, I'd like to congratulate the Patient Innovation project for its incredible work (and I'll come to that later). Second, I'd like to remind everyone that you are doing nothing less than empowering our most innovative citizens (something Professor von Hippel will explain far better than I can). And third, I'd like to tell you a little about how your work is – very concretely − inspiring my efforts to see Europe embrace open innovation of all kinds. We'll hear later today about the Aortic Root Support patient innovation. I believe it will be presented by President Santos Silva. I must have retold that story 10 times since I heard it. That's how much it moved me. That's how much I've considered it, in my day-to-day work.

But before I touch upon each of those three things, I'd like to tell you a story about a wrestler. A wrestler called Johnny "Bull" Walker. An Italian-American "strong man", who worked carnivals and even won a few titles along the way. Looking at Johnny after a fight, with his black-eyes and scraped knuckles, he'd probably be the last person you'd expect to be a gifted physician. In fact, you'd probably want to keep your distance from his beefy fists! But the Bull's real name was John J. Bonica. He wrestled to put himself through medical school. Two lives he kept entirely separate. One as a crowd-pleasing entertainer. The other as an intelligent medical intern.

Bonica became a truly brilliant doctor. But he took punches and punishment from his opponents to fund his medical studies. Professional wrestling took a huge toll on his body and pain was a way of life. It was this, real-life, experience of pain as a wrestler, which meant that pain occupied his mind as a doctor. And what occupied him most, was how little pain was understood or treated in the 1940s and 50s. He even saved his wife's life during childbirth, when an incorrect dosage of ether − that was meant to ease her pain – stopped her from breathing. But it was while attending wounded soldiers, in a hospital for WWII veterans, that John J. Bonica became the founding father of modern pain relief. He asked himself questions like:

  • Why do amputees still feel pain in their missing limbs?
  • Or how can pain be felt, if there is no injury?

So he did what all great innovators do! He brought knowledge and colleagues from all over the hospital together. He built bridges between colleagues from different disciplines. And set out to change the way the medical profession treated patients in pain, as well as pain itself. Bonica's innovations led to the first ever pain clinics, to new fields of medical study, and resulted in over 200 articles and over 40 books, where there had been almost nothing before. For the first time, doctors treated pain by considering both its physiological and psychological attributes. Taking a comprehensive and practical approach to all areas of pain management, Bonica conceived the medical practices he would need later on in life for his battered body. But if it wasn't for Bonica's circus wrestling career − and the pain he endured as a patient – we wouldn't have his masterpiece 'The Management of Pain', still a mainstream text used by physicians today.

I like this story because it was Bonica's suffering as a patient that led him to revolutionise the way we deal with pain in modern medicine today. Bonica's ideas were able to change the medical profession irreversibly, because he was able to share his unique, experiential understanding of pain with other medical professionals. As a respected doctor, he was able to share his solutions and improve the lives of his patients. And, in so-doing, the lives of patients across the world.

Which brings me to my first point.

I want to congratulate Professor Oliveira, the Católica-Lisbon School of Business and Economics − and everyone who has made the patient innovation project a reality − for connecting patients and caregivers to doctors and each other. Connections which mean they can share their solutions with the noblest of intentions. The intention of seeing others benefit from those ideas! Now that you've done all the hard work, the idea of creating a non-profit platform and social network seems so beautifully simple, doesn't it? But I think what you've achieved is nothing less than astonishing! The simplest innovations are the game-changers. And game-changing innovation doesn't always come easily to a sacred profession like medicine.

Not many people are willing to put in the effort it takes to prove something can be done differently. Particularly, when the world around you seems to think that 'the way it's always been done' is probably good enough. So I congratulate you − I respect you immensely − for being the pro-wrestlers of change! The heavy-weights of patient innovation! I can't wait to see what the future has in store for this project and its impacts on citizens!

Which brings me to my second point.

You are empowering patients and caregivers. And that will change the medical profession irreversibly, just like Bonica's work did.

  • You are democratising healing.
  • You are empowering the patient and the caregiver to heal others.
  • You are bringing medicine into the 21st century, by harnessing the power of citizen innovation, and bringing it to doctors' attention.

The kind of innovation Professor von Hippel is helping us understand better every day. Why will this change the medical profession? Because now every patient, with a good idea of how to heal themselves can also heal others. Every caregiver that makes an insightful observation can share it with others. There is a huge multiplication effect in play. Imagine how many ideas could come out of just one hospital? One clinic? One therapy centre?

You will have heard the saying "doctors make the worst patients". Maybe, in the future, patients will make the best doctors! Patients who are inspired to innovate their way out of a problem − with the right encouragement, and in a safe environment to share those ideas − won't threaten the medical profession, they will transform it.

Which brings me to my third point.

Its projects like yours that the word 'inspiring' was invented for. Its projects like yours that have inspired my priorities. I want to see more projects like this. I want to see more open innovation in Europe. I want to see us harness the collective genius of our citizens at all times, in all sectors! Because their potential to bring both well-being and prosperity to Europe, and the world, is huge! Well-being and prosperity. The two mystical things politicians say they want to achieve all the time. You're showing that they don't have to be mystical. Open innovation is all about communities interacting and networked across all walks of life: digital and physical. You're example transcends medicine and I hope it will inspire projects in politics, economics, in transport, in education, in city planning and more.

I want to see more opportunities for people and businesses willing to try something different, like you have. So I want to develop one or more European Fund of Funds. Funds that will invest in new generations of great European innovative companies. And I need you to tell me how I can better support projects like this one. I promise you, I'll always be listening.

In conclusion, ladies and gentlemen, never underestimate the power of how you are, and will, transform people's lives. It's no small thing to show the world that what's always been done, can be done better. So, spread your story far, wide and fast! Even the smallest of patient innovations can bring hope and happiness!

Last week an article was trending. Sarah Ivermee has a beautiful 3 year old son, who is profoundly deaf in his right ear and wears a hearing aid. Sarah noticed not every child was as good at wearing their hearing aid as her son. Some deaf children were embarrassed or put off by how they looked. So Sarah designed them to look like racing cars or flowers or movie characters and children love them. Now she has her own business with orders coming in from as far as Australia! Sarah has brought well-being and prosperity to the world through patient innovation! She's a pro-wrestler, She's a champion! And your work is helping more people like her share their ideas with others.

So, thank you!