Finding the next big medical innovation can be a daunting, Herculean journey fraught with years of pitfalls and patience before finally reaching the market.
Compared to a tech startup, which requires a computer, coding, an internet connection, and a lot of coffee, medical-related startups require more funding, more equipment, government testing, and a larger team, said Tom Luby, head of the JLabs Texas, a medical startup incubator in Houston.
“Discoveries take a long time to get to commercialization,” Luby said. “Startups are where the true innovation happens.”
“Startups are where the true innovation happens.”
Texas has come a long way in supporting these biotech startups, but more could be done as speakers at the iC3 Life Science Summit at the University of Texas at Arlington talked about Thursday.
JLabs was started by pharmaceutical giant Johnson & Johnson to create an ecosystem where startups can flourish and grow. J&J has seven incubator locations, all on the East and West coasts, except for the Houston location, which opened in March 2016.
“Once they’re in, it’s no strings attached,” Luby said. “They don’t have to give up equity or control. They are independent. They’re in a cutting edge facility where the equipment, that’s all taken care of.”
The iC3 conference stands for Innovation, Collaboration, Capital, and Commercialization. Thursday marked the third year for the event hosted by bionorthTX, a trade organization for Dallas-Fort Worth’s life science industry.
The full-day summit included talks ranging from the state of the health-care industry to navigating the steps of getting products from idea to placement in the market.
Terry Foster, executive in residence for bionorthTX, said the goal of bionorthTX is to foster communication between researchers, student, and others in the life sciences community to see what their needs are and how to establish a strong community like other cities. There are currently about 4,000 businesses in the life science industry in North Texas, he said.
“We can listen to the industry and find out what’s missing.”
“We can listen to the industry and find out what’s missing,” Foster said. “Try to pull those pieces together and try to pull in new industry.”
The JLabs concept has him intrigued.
“They have infrastructure, they have the instruments, they have the clerical support, they have the legal support all within one building,” Foster said. “Now, our challenge is to encourage them to open up a center here. They’re all on the coast except Houston. We’re situated perfectly.”
THE FUTURE OF CPRIT
Since 2010, more than $3 billion in research grants have been awarded by the Cancer Prevention & Research Institute of Texas. Called CPRIT for short, the money goes to academic institutions, nonprofits, and private companies.
As of now, the grant program expires in 2023, marking the end of an era unless the Texas Legislature extends the program. There’s about $1 billion left in the program.
“It’s all over by 2023, so we have to look beyond that to the next chapter,” said Thomas Kowalski, president and CEO of Texas Healthcare and Bioscience Institute. “CPRIT has been a huge learning curve for us and we’re just starting to see the true return on investment.”
THE BALANCING ACT WITH PATIENT RECORDS
When a patient goes to the emergency room, one of the biggest challenges is finding that person’s medical records.
If any area is ripe for startup innovation, the experts at iC3 agreed that this was it.
The bureaucracy of sorting through Health Insurance Portability and Accountability (HIPAA) eats away at the time doctors would be spending with their patients.
“HIPAA started that for the right reasons, but it’s become a real barrier.”
“HIPAA started that for the right reasons, but it’s become a real barrier,” Stuart Flynn, founding dean of the new medical school at Texas Christian University. “We may just make this so toxic that the cream of this country no longer wants to go into medicine. Just the day-to-day patient care, we struggle to have time to spend with you.”
Luby experienced this himself when he moved from Boston to Houston. He met with his long-time physician saying he needed to transfer his medical records to a new primary care doctor in Texas. What he got was one paragraph basically saying he’s a healthy male. That was all the doctor could release after 15 years.
Luby, who has his pulse on the issue at JLabs in Houston, said solutions are in the works, but it’s a delicate balancing act between speed of accessibility and privacy.
“There’s hope, I see a lot of potential solutions, there not there yet,” Luby said. “There’s a lot of young, smart people working on it.”
NEW FORT WORTH MEDICAL SCHOOL COULD GENERATE $4B IN ECONOMIC ACTIVITY
For North Texas in particular, the region will soon get a boost with a new medical school
TCU partnered with the University of North Texas Health Science Center to establish a medical school in the city of Fort Worth. Classes will start in 2019 with about 60 students.
“I’ve been given a clean slate to train the next generation of physicians the way they should be trained.”
The school will be a regional partner with the industry and could generate $1.7 billion in economic activity by 2030.
“I’ve been given a clean slate to train the next generation of physicians the way they should be trained,” Flynn said.
That includes focus on teaching future doctors how to interact with patients properly and the business side of running a hospital, both topics not traditionally emphasized in medical education.
LYDA HILL HONORED FOR CONTRIBUTIONS TO BIOTECH COMMUNITY
During the event, bionorthTX also honored the Dallas philanthropist Lyda Hill as the recipient of this year’s Dennis K. Stone award, which is given to honor an individual for their contributions through scientific innovations, investments, mentoring, and assisting in the development of biotechnology.
“It really doesn’t matter what the problem is, I really feel society can address those challenges if they use science and use data.”
“I’m honored to be a recipient of this award for so many reasons,” Hill said. “It really doesn’t matter what the problem is, I really feel society can address those challenges if they use science and use data.”
The award was presented by Helen Hobbs the professor of internal medicine and molecular genetics at UT Southwestern Medical Center and wife of the late Dennis Stone.
“She’s been a major support of both science and education,” Hobbs said of Hill. “Most recently, she donated $25 million to establish the Department of Bioinformatics at UT Southwestern.”
D’Anzia Robertson contributed to this report.
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