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Partnerships with medical institutions can foster medical device innovation

on August 31, 2011 Source: Healing Innovation

Nurjana Bachman, Ph.D., from Boston Children’s Hospital, has made the case that pharmaceutical companies are changing their approach to partnering with academic medicine and working as a team. How about medical device companies?

Dr. Bachman explains that the academic community provides long-term commitment to specific disease processes, which allows them to make well-educated guesses about which new treatments are likely to work. Academic medicine thrives on early stage projects, while pharmaceutical companies are risk-averse. The pharmaceuticals industry has the molecules, chemistry optimization, clinical development, etc., while academic medicine has target discovery, early animal testing, clinical trials and the patients who can be treated and tracked.

It makes great sense for therapeutic companies to collaborate with academic medicine, so why not medical devices? Clearly, there are major differences between medical device product development and drug development, not the least being a magnitude greater cost for a therapeutic program and its much more speculative nature. Unlike drugs, if a medical device can demonstrate preliminary feasibility in an animal model, we have a reasonable level of confidence in human success.

In reality, medical device companies have worked closely with clinician innovators since the early days of commercial medical products, both in research and business strategy. What we can learn from this new metamorphosis in the drug industry, however, is the willingness to collaborate in partnership and not solely include clinicians and their institutions as supporting contributors (i.e. advisors).

The same mergers, changing priorities and downsizing of internal R&D that have affected big pharma are impacting big medtech. Medical device companies are relying on products developed externally and expanding their product portfolio through acquisition or licensing. Just as large medical device companies need to find more efficient ways to work with startup companies to commercialize new products, medical institutions offer strategically valuable resources and synergies that may be better tapped through partnership with aligned incentives.

Major medical device companies have technology, fabrication methods and resources, testing equipment and procedures, and regulatory management, while academic medicine has clinicians and scientists who are invested in understanding disease states. Putting the clinicians closest to the patients in leadership roles during the early stages of medical device product development has the potential to pay great dividends, including improving medicine and patient outcomes.

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