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Digital Health in the Time of COVID

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Yan Fossat Klick Applied Sciences

Yan Fossat, Vice President, Principal Investigator, Klick Applied Sciences on developing, launching, and supporting life sciences brands to maximize their full market potential.

First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times? 

Yan Fossat: Thank you for asking. We have been more fortunate than many so far during these pandemic times. We are healthy, and I am working from home. I get to spend more time with my kids. For my wife, it has been a lot harder. She is an operating room nurse currently redeployed in the hospital’s ICU. She spends a lot of nights and 12-hour shifts in the hospital. This combined with school closures, makes for an interesting homelife.

Tell us about you, your career, how you joined Klick Applied Sciences.

Yan Fossat: I joined Klick Health in 2016 to lead Klick Labs, our digital health innovation hub. Prior, my career oscillated between science and business. I started in basic research, eventually moved to computer graphics, animation, and simulation, and co-founded a medical visualization agency. After 16 years in the industry, I was ready for a new challenge and jumped at the opportunity to be back in research and innovation with Klick. Last year, we launched Klick Applied Sciences, and I am Principal Investigator, working on digital health research for our consulting, ventures, and agency teams.

How does Klick Applied Sciences innovate? 

Yan Fossat: Klick Applied Sciences is grounded in research. We are the “R” from R&D. In our view, innovation and research are two sides of the same coin. We also believe that innovation is all about solving problems, not about shiny, new objects, which unfortunately leads to too many startups to fail. 

Our secret sauce is problem definition and cross-disciplinary thinking — positively identifying the problem and not being tied to a specific domain of expertise. With a well-defined problem, the solutions become a lot easier to recognize. We are firmly cross-disciplinary in our skill sets, too, with team members whose backgrounds include data science, biomedical and electrical engineering, applied mathematics, extended realities, as well as physiology and behavioral science.

We partner with academia to stay up to date on research and the best talent. In fact, we currently have a couple of graduate students doing their Ph.D. and Masters degrees while working on our Lab team.

Lastly, we collaborate extensively with hospitals. We always look for problems to solve. Hospitals are a great place to meet clinicians and patients who encounter real challenges that are begging for innovation. At the beginning of COVID, for example, my wife’s hospital was exploring options for intubation safety, and she connected us. After discussing their requirements with the Chief of Anesthesia, we quickly prototyped and produced acrylic intubation boxes for them in accordance with North American hospital standards. Then we donated hundreds of units to hospitals in need across Canada and the U.S.

How has the coronavirus pandemic affected your business, and how are you coping?

Yan Fossat: Our work includes brainstorming sessions, prototype development in the lab, as well as performing clinical studies on individuals or patients. All these have been affected by the pandemic in a way or another. 

Since we have all been working at home for over a year, we have reimagined our ideation sessions. We have codified our methodology to tear down a problem and work towards creating hypotheses. This was surprisingly effective, and I envision retaining the bulk of these “remote” frameworks even when normalcy resumes.

Because we are not able to be in the lab, some of us have built mini-labs at home with 3D printers, soldering stations, various manufacturing and electronic tools, as well as our own GPU render server for Convolutional Neural Net and computing heavy projects. We have built investigational medical devices, run pilot studies, and even performed a successful CRISPR-Cas9 experiment from a kitchen.

Clinical studies have been the most challenging. We work with hospitals and Clinical Research Organizations for clinical access. Our work in this area has been a lot slower, of course, since patients must rightfully take precedent and resources are stretched very thin. So, we have to adapt and plan around these unavoidable challenges.

Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?

Yan Fossat: It’s ironic, actually. In some cases, choices that look difficult at first can end up being quite beneficial. For example, over the last year, we have all learned to live without business travel. This hasn’t been as detrimental as many originally anticipated because most (not all) in-person meetings can, in fact, be conducted via Zoom or Microsoft Teams. I will admit, however, that I used to enjoy attending and presenting at industry conferences and have learned that there is no substitute for actually being there.

What specific tools, software, and management skills are you using to navigate this crisis?

Yan Fossat: We use Zoom, and then more Zoom, as well as Slack, Trello, Miro, and the whole Google Docs suite. I can’t imagine what work would have been like in a pandemic just a few years ago without all these tools… We’ve had to communicate and manage our teams with less spontaneity. After all, walking up to a colleague’s desk for a two-minute conversation is just not the same with Zoom. It is also harder to keep up with my team’s well-being. As a result, we have developed new, more frequent meetings (many on Zoom), sometimes without any agenda, just to catch up and check on each other. 

Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?

Yan Fossat: We focus on our competitiveness, not competitors. But the truth is we have very little competition. We perform applied digital medicine research for hire (Lab As A Service), and we conduct fundamental research for ourselves and develop commercially viable IP. Some of our work parallels academia, but the benefit of being part of a commercial entity is that we get to do science at the speed of business.

Additionally, our cross-disciplinary structure extends beyond the scientific domain, and we get to work directly with our consulting and venture teams.

Your final thoughts?

Yan Fossat: This pandemic continues to be an extraordinary stressor on all of the world’s institutions and practices. Beyond the horrible, incalculable human cost, I have to believe that globally we will come out stronger. Antifragility is at play here. We are witnessing rapid uptake and acceleration of what works effectively (such as telemedicine, vaccine development) and abandonment of what works less effectively (such as long commutes, in-person doctor’s appointments for medication refills). In a sense, these are not merely interesting times, and they are accelerated times.

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