business

Ohio doctors get help turning inventions into products

A health system has joined an economic development organization to aid physicians and other employees in taking their ideas to the marketplace.

By Pamela Lewis Dolan — Posted April 5, 2010

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One Ohio health system has given its employed physicians and other health professionals a faster track to turn their designs into real businesses.

The OhioHealth Research & Innovation Institute, an arm of Columbus-based OhioHealth, has partnered with the state-funded high-tech economic development organization TechColumbus to provide millions of dollars to help physicians develop their ideas into marketable products. Three of those recently made it to market.

OHRI provides coaching and mentoring to help ideas develop into products. Once those products are developed and tested, TechColumbus helps inventors raise funds to create start-up companies.

Teaching hospitals and other groups often help physicians develop products and assist them with capital. But OhioHealth says its arrangement is different, because inventing physicians, not the health system, keep the intellectual property rights.

Wayne Poll, MD, director of clinical innovation at OhioHealth, said he spent seven years trying to pitch his idea for what became the Flo-Shield, which automatically de-fogs and clears a surgical lens being used inside a body cavity. He said he wanted to create an outlet so other physicians can take their ideas to market with a much less frustrating process.

Dr. Poll worked with OhioHealth to develop what became the Research & Innovation Institute to help health system employees act on their creativity. Since 2007, nearly 80 ideas have been conceived, and three have gone to market. In addition, two other inventors have raised grant money to develop their concepts, and there are about 15 more products in the pipeline, Dr. Poll said.

One of the products the organization has helped take to market is the LineBacker, a tapeless IV system that minimizes the chances of an IV catheter dislodging. That product was developed by anesthesiologist David Sybert, MD. Another product, the EpiGlare Tester, was developed by ophthalmologist Alice Epitropoulos, MD. It's a noninvasive device for assessing cataracts and the level of vision impairment they cause.

An OhioHealth physician-inventor is not guaranteed backing. The hospital system said OHRI agrees to back a similar percentage of pitches as a venture capitalist or a large medical device manufacturer would in one year -- meaning not many. But at least all ideas are listened to, Dr. Poll said.

"Even for the 70 ideas that maybe aren't going to go anywhere, those people still got treated well. They had fun, they got treated with respect and were encouraged to come back next time with their next idea," he added.

Being a physician entrepreneur is not easy. Most doctors have limited time and don't have a team of experienced people who know how to turn an idea into a marketable product.

What typically happens, experts said, is that the physician will pitch an idea to a venture capital firm without a plan for execution, and the pitch will fall on deaf ears. "I get these letters from physicians coming in over the Internet all the time, and I don't even read them. I just delete them," said Thomas Weldon, chair and managing director of Accuitive Medical Ventures, a venture capital fund that helps create medical device firms.

The problem is that doctors think of products in terms of something they don't have, and they usually are ideas for products with little market potential, Weldon said. He normally looks only at products with the potential of at least $100 million in sales.

A physician sometimes will pitch a viable idea, but it must have been developed and tested already, at a minimum on animals and ideally on humans, to gain a look from investors.

John Niles, director of OHRI, said that through the partnership with TechColumbus, many ideas created at OhioHealth do end up going before a board of venture capitalists. But by that point, the product already has been tested, and either received a patent or has one pending.

While OhioHealth is not profiting directly from these innovations, it is benefiting from them. Not only will it be able to use the products, but the health system also is gaining a reputation as a creative place to work that accepts new technology, Niles said.

Much new device testing is done on campus, giving physicians a "sneak peak" at emerging technology, he said. And because ideas created there belong to the creator, hospital recruitment efforts have been helped.

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