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New Chairwoman of CONNECT

Hege Edvardsen from GSK is the new chair of the CONNECT consortium. Photo: GSK

Hege Edvardsen from GSK takes over as chairwoman of the board from the healthcare industry side in the consortium CONNECT.

"For me as chairwoman, it will be essential to engage people so that we increase the pace and enhance the impact of the collaboration. The goal of CONNECT is precisely to contribute to the introduction of precision medicine," says incoming chairwoman Hege Edvardsen, who is currently the medical director for oncology and acting medical director at GSK Norway.

Edvardsen takes over the chairmanship from Steinar Thoresen, who until recently was the medical director at Merck and is now the medical director at Nordic RWE. When asked if he has any tips for the new chairman, he replies:

"As chair of the board of CONNECT, it's important to see the big picture, remember that personalized medicine also includes diagnostics, and include the whole of Norway while maintaining international collaboration."

Steinar Thoresen was the previous chairman

Two chairs for the collaboration

Since its inception in December 2020, the consortium has had two chairs, one from the public and one from the private sector. Hege Edvardsen shares the chairmanship with Sigbjørn Smeland, head of the cancer clinic at Oslo University Hospital, who represents the public partners in the consortium. He continues in the role he has held for the past three years.

How CONNECT balances the public and private sides of the Norwegian healthcare industry in general, and the introduction of precision medicine for cancer patients in particular, is well illustrated by having two chairs.

"Public-private collaboration is essential if we are to address the challenges we face in our common healthcare service. This is recognized by both the players in and around the service, and from the highest political level. The field of cancer in Norway has, over several years, led the way in this area and shown how it can be done," says Edvardsen.

Building on lessons learned

Edvardsen emphasizes that CONNECT builds on lessons learned from previous projects and the national clinical study IMPRESS, which has had enormous support from both university hospitals and pharmaceutical companies in Norway. In addition to this study, she highlights the Cancer Registry projects on drug cancer treatment, called INSPIRE, as important steps towards a more open and trusting dialogue between actors in the Norwegian healthcare system and the healthcare industry. Edvardsen herself was involved in starting INSPIRE together with the Cancer Registry and served as a board member in the project for several years. She also led the industry's side in establishing NorTrials as a public-private collaboration for clinical trials.

"These projects have been central in changing the collaboration climate and increasing understanding across the board. We haven't necessarily always agreed, but we have come closer to each other, and we have become more open to listening to each other. Thus, the work that has been done, and is being done, in these collaborations has been an important prerequisite for the cultural change that has occurred over time," says Edvardsen.

Setting the level of ambition

2024 is an active year for healthcare policy in Norway. Since CONNECT is a consortium aimed at working towards political awareness of precision medicine and improvement for cancer patients, this is also an expected active year for collaboration in the consortium.

"This year is a crucial year for oncology and precision medicine in Norway, with both the new national cancer strategy and the priority message under work. Therefore, it is important for CONNECT to raise the issue and help set the level of ambition where Norwegian patients and the Norwegian professional community deserve it to be," says Hege Edvardsen.

Structure and people

CONNECT will also have a more efficient structure this year, with three working groups instead of four. These are established with the themes they support, as illustrated in the figure in the picture below.

The work shall firstly make Norway more known and attractive as a study destination so that more new clinical studies in oncological precision medicine start here. Secondly, the work shall ensure the implementation of clinical studies in oncological precision medicine in Norway, deliver inclusion figures and speed, and maintain Norway's status as an attractive study destination.

In addition to the three working groups, the consortium has two sub-boards (one private and one public) and a project for sharing and structuring health data, called INSPIRE-BIO.

Read more about INSPIRE-BIO here.

"CONNECT consists of committed people with various backgrounds from many environments. After three years, it is now important for the consortium to bring in new perspectives and ideas so that we can continue the good development we are in and further develop our common ideology," says Hege Edvardsen.

The article is translated from Norwegian to English by AI and Margit Selsjord.

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