In December 2021, Swiss pharmaceutical and diagnostics giant Roche agreed to a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with Microsoft. The aim is to use the power of AI and cloud technology to improve outcomes for patients across the Middle East, and help healthcare providers embrace early adoption of new diagnostic tools.
Beginning in Egypt, the collaboration is due to be rolled out across the region, with countries including KSA, UAE, Kuwait, Oman, Bahrain, Qatar, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq, and Syria ultimately feeling the benefit.
Leaders within both organisations have spoken of their commitment to ‘improve patient outcomes in ways we’ve never seen before’ and, for Microsoft’s MEA health and life sciences lead Mohammed Saleh, it marks an approach that will drive incredible levels of innovation across the region’s healthcare sector.
According to Saleh, partnerships like these are about pooling not only resources, but expertise, presenting an opportunity to leverage the very best of what both parties offer. Collaboration can also help companies shield themselves when it comes to sticky issues of legality, security, and how to keep confidential or sensitive patient data protected.
How, for example, can decision-makers ensure that their practice or business stays up to date with accreditation and certification, given the multiple health industry standards that exist, and different legislation for different countries?
“The aim of our partnership with Roche is to enable cooperation between electronic medical records, hospital management systems, and clinical information systems,” Saleh explains. “For collaborative applications to work, visuality needs to be enabled, and that’s what Microsoft offers, connecting our AI and machine learning expertise with Roche’s proficiency in healthcare.
“As multinationals with our own processes and complexities ranged across multiple departments and sectors, it’s vital for both organisations to ensure as few barriers as possible for our partnership to bear fruit. This means bringing all stakeholders on board and paving the way for the successful delivery of our respective parts.”
What makes a good partnership?
The key to successful collaboration between technology and healthcare providers, Saleh says, is realising that there is no one-size-fits-all approach, whether it’s treatments, pharmaceutical development, or disease diagnostics.
Different organisations will have their own specialisms and shortfalls, and it’s only through working together that improvements across the healthcare industry as a whole can be realised. This is especially true in the Middle East, where standards of suitable technology adoption and infrastructure vary so widely.
To illustrate the power of leveraging technology, Saleh points to genome sequencing’s ability to transform diagnostics. Deep learning algorithms can be used to process large and complex genomic datasets, and by studying the genome of a patient at clinical stage, treatment specialists can determine whether the origin of an illness is caused by allergy, autoimmune illness, or contracted through infection; all of which shape that patient’s particular treatment plan.
Introducing something as complex as genomics into the diagnostic chain that forms precision medicine requires efficiency and speed, Saleh says, and AI is the best way of achieving that at scale.
“Even within individual compartments of the healthcare industry, we have different specialists for different things, and AI can be used to collate information to make collaboration between specialists more efficient.
“We can enhance the efficiency of treatment, evolve quality of care, and tailor each patient to the individual circumstances of their own illness. Machine learning can also help with things like clinical analytics, which makes predictions and improvements to the healthcare industry from both an operational perspective and a supply chain perspective.”
One of the initial priorities of the partnership between Microsoft and Roche is to deliver improved healthcare outcomes for cancer patients in Egypt. According to the International Agency for Research of Cancer, in 2020 alone the number of cancer cases in Egypt was estimated at around 135,000 with almost 90,000 of those patient numbers resulting in fatalities.
Breast cancer in Egypt accounts for the largest number of cases in females, whilst in males it is second only to liver cancer. Early detection can significantly improve the chances of survival among patients, which in turn can be achieved through early screening, identification, and diagnosis, assisted by the latest AI and machine learning solutions.
Delivering better outcomes
According to Roche Egypt’s general manager, Dr Mohamed Swilam: “The power of technology, data and analytics can innovate the healthcare ecosystem and improve patient survivability in ways we’ve never seen before.
“[We can] help more patients across the Middle East get diagnosed early; especially cancer patients who we want to achieve specific, better outcomes, and go on to lead better lives.”
By pooling resources, fostering an atmosphere more conducive to collaboration, and connecting through platforms which remove the time-consuming, labour-intensiveness associated with manual data management, AI and the power of partnership offer a road map to reforming healthcare provision across the Middle East and beyond.