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Something ventured, something gained

Chris Zavala and Michael Eller present the Smartbox during the Innovation Challenge.
Northwell Labs' Chris Zavala and Michael Eller present the Smartbox during the 2018 Innovation Challenge.

Northwell is working with i360medical to help identify, evaluate and bring internal medical innovation ideas to market

That positive spin on the “nothing ventured, nothing gained” maxim could be a short-form mission statement for Northwell Holdings and Ventures, Northwell Health’s for-profit division that gives clinicians, researchers and employees an opportunity to commercialize their ideas for health care innovation and improved medical care.

For those among the health system’s 70,000-plus workforce who have aspirations of being an inventor, now you can!

“Our innovation portfolio operates on two concurrent tracks, one that focuses on medical devices and another that focuses on innovations that are not device-based,” said Rich Mulry, managing director and chief operating officer of Northwell Holdings and Ventures. “There is an abundance of ideas generated through Northwell’s Annual Innovation Challenge, as well as other opportunities presented throughout the year.” Non-device innovations in stages of development include the early diagnosis of endometriosis, smarter radiation oncology, delivering real-time patient information in the emergency department (ED) and investigating how to build better peptides to create more-effective drug therapies, among others.

For device-based innovation, Northwell Holdings and Ventures works in conjunction with i360medical, an Ireland-based MedTech intellectual property and commercialization company that helps develop and bring innovative ideas to the health care marketplace. In essence, Northwell’s business arm takes “what if?” propositions and determines if there’s a road to be travelled together that can make hypothetical inventions a reality that can create revenue for both the individual and the health system.

“The differentiator here is that these ideas are developed by and within Northwell by our own faculty. It’s part of an innovation ecosystem that exists within Northwell,” said Mr. Mulry. “With i360 as our external partner, we curate ideas from all our faculty, across all service lines. Engineers from i360 talk to our doctors about anything they might be working on in terms of innovation or an idea for an invention that meets unmet clinical needs.” 

Mr. Mulry said the goal of the for-profit is to bring a differentiated revenue stream to the health system, whether it is trying to monetize intellectual property or identify new products and solutions. “We try to bring our internal projects like the innovation challenge winners along a path toward potential commercialization,” Mr. Mulry said.

He added that it’s all part of the philosophy that drives the health system’s portfolio, which now includes approximately over $32M invested across 15 portfolio companies.

“With each of these companies, which are typically early stage, Northwell will serve as the strategic partner and complete a proof of concept project,” he said. “With each of these companies, some early stage and others with more fully-formed products, we shepherd them through a proof of concept. In some cases, the products are then operationalized within Northwell at an enterprise level. For products originating from our internal innovation pathway, if the product works well, we take steps to bring them to market.”

He explained that the idea behind Northwell Holdings and Ventures flows straight from the health system’s vision of advancing medical care by investing in its own people.

“It ties in with the entrepreneurial nature of our organization,” Mr. Mulry said. “It’s another example of how Northwell breaks boundaries to improve care. It’s our innovation. That’s what we’re most proud of — it’s our own doctors and researchers doing this.”

quotation mark It all originates from the challenges our physicians encounter in their clinical practice. They’re all highly creative individuals. So, if there’s nothing on the market, they probably say to themselves, ‘If it only did this or that,’ and an idea is born.
Richard Mulry

How it works

“For medical device innovation, the way i360 operates is to brainstorm, create and curate the idea around what the potential product is,” Mr. Mulry said. “They try to enhance it with discussion and then put it through an external market test to see what the competitive landscape is. Is there something already out there or is this idea new? They assess the interest level in North America and internationally. If this device came on the market, would it be something they’d be interested in buying?”

Mr. Mulry said that a series of development steps eventually evolves into a prototype and an approximately one-year review to see if a second year of review is warranted. That leads to the stage where the innovation can be pre-sold to the industry — a device company, for example — that would manufacture and distribute the new innovation.

“What happens is i360 takes the first pass and assesses the idea,” Mr. Mulry said. “Then it’s taken through a series of reviews. They’ll tease it through contacts in the industry, saying: ‘In a perfect world, do you see a need for this type of innovation?’ If that’s positive, they put together a detailed work plan that brings you through all the phases and funding. And at that stage, they take it to us and we look at it as an opportunity to (a) invest in our own faculty and (b) monetize intellectual property from the health system.”

He was quick to explain that it’s not necessarily a finished product or service. “We’re taking it at a certain stage of development and almost pre-selling it to industry. We propose to assign them the intellectual property and complete unrestricted use of the product and, then, they pay us.”

The different phases involved in bringing the innovation to market include:

  1. prototype development
  2. a ‘design-freeze’ phase where the product is tested in animals and cadavers
  3. a design verification review to ensure the device can be biocompatible and sterilized
  4. a human trial to get feedback, and finally
  5. a regulatory filing or release to a manufacturer after the ‘first-in-man’ trial, for development

“We have over 40 projects concurrently in review or testing through Northwell Holdings and Ventures,” Mr. Mulry said. “But it all originates from the challenges our physicians encounter in their clinical practice. They’re all highly creative individuals. So, if there’s nothing on the market, they probably say to themselves, ‘If it only did this or that,’ and an idea is born.”

He said Northwell Holdings and Ventures wants clinicians and researchers to keep the ideas coming, noting that i360 is constantly meeting with faculty and curating ideas with them. “We already have certain projects that are in the early stage of reviews. I expect we’ll have one or two of these a year for us to invest in, but who knows? It could be more. The great thing about innovation in health care is our physicians and employees are always looking for something better and they’re in the best position to help make it happen.”

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