Medical knowledge is renewing and changing itself while growing at a tremendous pace. In order to remain up to date and create space for top scientific feats needs economic stability, security, and knowledge carriers. Franz Feichtner, HEALTH’s new director from the beginning of August 2022, explains his vision and where he sees the HEALTH institute in the future.
How would you define your new function?
In my role as director, I am responsible for business and operative topics. I don’t see myself as a researcher or as someone who assumes the leadership of scientific topics. The scientific management of the institute lies in the hands of Thomas Pieber. Since he originated in the field of metabolic research, this topic is naturally at our core, and he is a strong driver. However, there are also other fields that we work in that are driven by our key researchers and my predecessor Frank Sinner. My job is to keep everything together and to create suitable structures and frameworks so that we function profitably and can still develop further scientifically.
Does this mean you are an advocate of dual management systems in scientific institutions?
Yes, absolutely. We see that the dual role in a leadership position, in other words the organisational, sales, and management talent in parallel to researcher spirit and scientific depth is a difficult one to beat, and not just on a management level, but also on the research group management level. I think it is best for our team if key personnel can concentrate on their core competence and less on having to do things they are not good at or that they dislike doing. Good teamwork can achieve good results and profit.
The confirmation of a researcher is scientific publication and the visibility in the community. However, it is impossible to keep the focus on this if one also has to concentrate on topics such as management, business, marketing, personnel management, or patents. Of course, exceptions confirm the rule and there are people who are indeed successful in all these aspects and can manage everything at once. However, in my experience, they are a minority. I prefer to see specialists rather than generalists.
Your goal is to create a framework in which creative and viable ideas, as well as innovative personalities, can grow. How are you going to achieve this?
I propose a strategy of defining and building products and services out of our research work that are amenable to commercialisation. In order to score scientific points in an international setting, we need space for creativity and a certain level of budgetary freedom. We can only achieve this if we offer products and services that are standardised in everyday research. This will allow us to create a buffer for new development to generate a market advantage. Examples of this are data management and biostatistics that originated from an internal necessity. Numerous clinical studies were needed to bring our most important technology, the open microperfusion (OFM), to this level. The resulting data, which corresponded to the defined quality criteria, now form the basis for standardised research services. I want our researchers to be really able to conduct research. They need space and time to drive our core competence forwards, and that is research. The organisation of all that is needed should be done by people who are good at it and who want to do it. That is efficient and expedient while strengthening our expertise.
In your model, who speaks to the customers?
Either the person who deals with the business development aspects of a standardised product or the person responsible for the project with the appropriate expertise. It depends on the customer. Which topics will you focus on in the future? We are currently in a strategic process. Four large topics are crystallizing out in which we are strong and upon which we will build our future: dermatological and neurological research, research into metabolism, and a digital health laboratory. We will align our research topics with these core fields and use inhouse budgets. This will enable us to specialise and subsequently develop methods and products that we can standardise. This is the path that will make us fit for the future. On your journey along this path, will anything be left behind? Yes. We have always had to adapt ourselves to changes in internal and external boundary conditions and, as a last consequence, this can also mean that we need to let go of certain topics. In concrete term, this means that right now we have to let go of the topic of sensors. This is in part also due to the fact that our key researcher, Martin Hajnsek, is leaving the company.
Do strategic decisions depend upon staff?
Of course. Research topics are driven by people and excellent staff are our most valuable capital. In this case, not exclusively since we have not found an industrial partner who is prepared to develop a product such as a potassium sensor all the way to market readiness. It is a shame, as I am still convinced that it is a product that many people need. However, we cannot travel alone along the whole path from idea to product. Where do you see HEALTH in an international context? We are thanks to or perhaps even because of our strong regional cooperation partners, very internationally active and recognised in dermatological, neurological, and metabolism research. In terms of business, we currently generate our largest turnover in the USA. Nationally and regionally, there are many excellent scientific cooperation, but comparatively low business turnover. We wish to increase this regional value creation in the short term and to this aim are implementing the Digital Health Lab, which is planned to spawn regional projects as a priority. In the future, we wish to work more closely with domestic companies and partners, above all regional health service providers.
Thank you for the interview!