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Creating new pathways in translational innovation

Matthew T. Keener, MD on July 10, 2014

As part of the Kauffman-sponsored Energizing Health Collaboration Series, we've turned over eMed to Guest Editor Matt Keener, the chief architect for the Pittsburgh leg of the collaboration conference and a translational clinical neuroscientist. Here's Matt's latest contribution in his role as eMed Guest Editor.


In my first eMed column, I explained the world of translational medicine -- and the opportunities it presents for entrepreneurs in a "translational innovation" space. Many people might not realize that some of this work merging translational research and innovation is already taking place in academic departments.

To start from the beginning: translational medicine is a focus in which medical research is "translated" into health tools and solutions for patients. To take these findings from benchtop to bedside requires teams of individuals, each with their own area of focus. We'll be covering some of this at Monday's Energizing Health where researchers, academicians, clinicians and innovators will convene in Pittsburgh for a symposium examining collaboration models addressing the next-generation of patient engagement solutions.

Although there has been some hesitation from the academic community to embrace a merger of scientific discovery and enterprise, Dr. Amanda Christini at the University of Pennsylvania reports we are seeing the emergence of a new paradigm, "one in which revenue-driven commercialization is replaced by the realization that health systems have an opportunity and responsibility for mission driven commercialization." With this shift, and a prioritization of those solutions delivering value to patients and stakeholders, departments are increasingly utilizing novel methods to mobilize, reward, and train those cutting new paths through the wilds of healthcare innovation.

Dr. Christini, an internist working with Dr. David Asch at the Penn Medicine Center for Health Care Innovation, highlights approaches that they and other top-tier institutions are taking to mobilize how innovative thinking can be cultivated within academic health systems. "In the past, these departments had typically worked in A serial approach. They would take a known asset of [intellectual property], and then pass it on to the tech transfer offices, who would then find a business team to take the product to market."

By leveraging her background in biotech business development. Dr. Christini informed an organizational approach that better mimicked an iterative startup workflow. Using this more dynamic approach they were able to get more accomplished quicker, getting an antimicrobial susceptibility program from concept to patient pilot in six months.

Another approach taken by both Penn and other departments is the growing use of competitions similar to those in startup culture. As one example, the Clinical and Translational Science Institute at the University of Pittsburgh ran a $300,000 Pitt Innovation Challenge competition, looking for novel solutions. Leading QuitNinja, one of the winning teams, was Dr. Ellen Beckjord. Dr. Beckjord is a translational researcher using behavioral research to better inform behavioral change, and has noted the growing attention paid to those junior faculty who are able to bridge translational research with the development of novel programs or innovations that can advance the mission of the university. She cautions however, that for the purposes of advancing the careers of junior faculty "right now commercialization per se is not incentivized; however, doing research that has the potential for commercialization definitely is."

Therefore one of the more exciting developments in this space is when there are junior faculty members whose advances in moving the needle in translational innovation are being recognized and are driving new models. One example is Dr. Armen Arevian, who was just hired as a junior faculty member in the UCLA Health System and the Semel Institute, and will be starting an Innovation Lab in the Center for Health Services and Society. "The idea really is to form a translational lab where we can take the advances from our research and combine them with directly observed challenges in the health system for immediate translation/pilots to improve care, quality, efficiency." Dr. Arevian reports finding a nice balance between academic research and technology innovation within a major health system. "On the one hand, you have the capacity on the academic/research side for the ability to generate intellectual capital and obtain grant funding. This is synergistic with the opportunities provided by the health system that has its own complementary capacity, including access to patients, and refining business models that attempt to deliver value to our patients."

All those interviewed noted that although there were some changes afoot in how innovation was valued in their department, there was no one clear path emerging toward success in this space. And that's why they call it trailblazing.

Category:  Ideation  Tags:  guest, translational innovation

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