Doctor and nurse inventors who work for 17-hospital system OhioHealth have a big advantage over their counterparts at many university-affiliated medical centers, when it comes to commercializing their innovations.
If the innovations take off, the inventors aren’t required to give OhioHealth an ownership stake in their intellectual property.
There are a couple of good reasons for taking that approach, according to Patricia Eisenhardt, manager of commercialization and technology transfer for OhioHealth Research & Innovation Institute. For starters, OhioHealth’s employees typically have more pressing matters at hand than dreaming up the newest medical devices.
“Our people are not hired to invent,” she said. “Our people are hired to care for patients.”
In addition, OhioHealth’s arrangement ensures that doctor and nurse innovators carefully consider a project’s merits before committing themselves to move forward. That’s because OhioHealth doesn’t pay the fees associated with filing for patents, which can run between $8,000 and $12,000, according to Eisenhardt.
So what does the program do for OhioHealth clinician-inventors? First, commercialization staff help would-be entrepreneurs research their ideas’ market potential, and connect them with investors and industry experts. If the ideas move forward after an analysis of the products’ regulatory and reimbursement pathways, innovators are invited to test prototypes in OhioHealth’s simulation center, and then meet with a clinical trial team to design and conduct studies. Finally — if ideas makes it that far — OhioHealth helps entrepreneurs begin to form companies and identify sources of funding.
OhioHealth has been running the commercialization program for about three years, beginning with the arrival of Eisenhardt, who previously founded two early stage biotech companies. Despite the short time frame and a staff of just four people, the program already has enjoyed some success. Ten new companies have launched, with eight of them receiving small grants from TechColumbus, an incubator that assists OhioHealth with due diligence and market research.
The commercialization program’s sweet spot is simple medical devices and bedside products, in part because those make it to market faster than complex devices or drugs. Perhaps the most notable early success is Minimally Invasive Devices. The company founded by Dr. Wayne Poll has developed a device called the FloShield, which stops liquid from gathering at the tip and obstructing the view of a laparoscope.
Poll leveraged OhioHealth and TechColumbus to design the device, and draw up the statistical design of a safety and feasibility study with 20 patients. The company also conducted its clinical studies at an OhioHealth hospital. The FloShield was cleared by the Food and Drug Administration in late 2008.
Other promising projects to come through the OhioHealth program include SyberMed Enterprises, a company that’s developed a Velcro strap to hold a patient’s IV line in place; and the EpiGlare Tester, a device used to test patients’ eyes for visual impairment. Both were conceived by OhioHealth doctors.
Perhaps the biggest key to the commercialization program’s approach is that it begins with an observable need from a clinician who works directly with patients.
“It’s very much about customer insights,” Eisenhardt said. “It’s a process that begins with validating the need, and then that’s followed by inventing to meet the need.”
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