First published in AMS business magazine. Author: Alex Hibbert

Leading the way in the fight against cancer

The Dutch openness to collaboration stretches back to the Middle Ages, when people worked together to prevent flooding. Today, that openness to working towards a common goal is helping put Amsterdam at the forefront of scientific research.

One shining example of this collaboration is Oncode – an independent oncological research institute that brings together the work of the Netherlands’ leading researchers. How Oncode operates is a new model for science: it works as a virtual institute, creating a digital platform for collaboration and debate between top researchers and leading public and private partners.

 

This innovative approach keeps the institute’s environmental footprint as light as possible, and ensures new discoveries make their way into treatment clinics quickly. Oncode’s mission is clear: to help more patients survive cancer, to improve the quality of life for those afflicted and, ultimately, to cure the disease. "It’s a thrill to see a whole country come together around a disease that everyone hates," says David Livingston, of the Dana-Farber/Harvard Cancer Center.

Amsterdam centre for advances in science

Another key player in Amsterdam’s scientific and academic advances is the Amsterdam Science Park. One company that is continuing to make breakthroughs in the fight against cancer is Kite EU (formerly Kite Pharma), which is headquartered at the park. It is currently in the process of gaining EU approval for YESCARTA, a revolutionary treatment for non-Hodgkin lymphoma that modifies patients’ white blood cells to recognise and attack cancerous cells.

Hanne Nijhuis

The Science Park welcomed 39 new companies in 2017, from startups to multinationals. And its visionary tech startup initiative, Startup Village, now houses more than 20 companies at its 150 workplaces. In fact, the village has been such a success, the Science Park will add another 150 workplaces this year.

A pioneer in treatments and medicine

Amsterdam also has a long and proud history of scientific research on HIV and AIDS, much of which involves working with marginalised populations to prevent new diagnoses and help reach the ambitious goal of ending AIDS by 2030. That heritage was a contributing factor in the city being named the host of the International AIDS Conference 2018. In total, more than 15,000 delegates from more than 160 countries are expected to attend the July event. "We are delighted to convene the conference in a city and country so committed to fighting the epidemic," says Chris Beyrer, the former president of the International AIDS Society (IAS).

In addition to creating new models of collaboration and research, the Amsterdam Area remains a world leader in innovative medicines and treatments. Companies currently thriving by tapping into the area’s innovative DNA include NuVasive, a leading medical company that is transforming spine surgery with new technologies that offer minimally invasive, procedurally integrated spine solutions. The company, which employs over 2,400 people in more than 40 countries around the world, has its international headquarters in Amstelveen, just south of Amsterdam’s city centre.

Dutch are some of world's happiest and healthiest

Besides leading the way in innovation and research, companies working in the Amsterdam Area are making a positive impact on society as a whole. Senioren Society is a family-run business that focuses on helping the elderly live a safe, happy and healthy life in their own homes. Along with creating a forum for elderly people to share information and answer questions they may have about living independently, the society offers specialised advice to its elderly members and recommends suitable services. Similarly, Senioren Zorg Plan specialises in providing homecare for elderly people suffering from all forms of dementia. Its team of dedicated professionals takes care of everything from washing and dressing to preparing food and spending quality time keeping their residents’ company.

The Dutch are some of the happiest and healthiest people on earth, mainly because they care for one another. That mentality has inspired VraagApp, an online platform that helps empower some of society’s most vulnerable citizens, such as the elderly or those living with mild disabilities, to live more independently by enabling them to ask questions about issues such as debt management, public transport or using a computer. This also takes some of the burden away from their prime caregiver. "More and more vulnerable people experience society as complex," Frank Shalken, VraagApp’s founder, explains. "VraagApp connects people so they can ask everyday questions to flexible volunteers, resulting in avoidance of stressful situations and problems escalating." The app was one of the winners of the Amsterdam City Fellowship, which will make the app available to 400 vulnerable residents in Amsterdam this year.

Like the people who worked together to fortify flood defences all those years ago, the Amsterdam Area is fostering an environment where people work together for the greater good.