From big idea to medical advance
Stanford University’s Biodesign Fellowship is the inspiration for the BioInnovate Fellowship Programme in NUI Galway, writes JOHN HOLDEN
IRISH PEOPLE have never been opposed to taking on new and better business approaches from elsewhere. One area particularly ripe for increased commercialisation in this State is the medical devices industry. While our experience of commercialising academic research is still on a learning curve, US universities have been adept at the process for a long time.
When Ian Quinn of BioInnovate Ireland visited Stanford University a few years back, he hoped some of the American entrepreneurial spirit might rub off. It did.
Running in Stanford for 10 years now, the Biodesign Fellowship recruits eight people who, in two groups of four, look into the current needs of the medical device industry.
BioInnovate Ireland, based in NUI Galway, has the same objectives and has just completed its first programme since it began in 2011.
“It’s always a great idea to bridge the gap between academia, industry and innovation, says Quinn.
“In the medical device sector it’s worked at Stanford for years and doesn’t require huge resources.”
In a nutshell, the programme “hot houses” individuals from multidisciplinary backgrounds so they can discover and develop new opportunities for innovative medical devices. Doctors, engineers and business people are brought together to work intensively for one academic year. By the end, the expectation is that new spin-outs will emerge.
“We are a consortium which includes NUI Galway, Dublin City University, University of Limerick, Royal College of Surgeons Ireland and University College Cork,” explains programme director Dr Mark Bruzzi.
The programme is funded by Enterprise Ireland and also by the medical device industry.
“Our objectives are to train people in the process of innovation focused on medical devices, identify unmet clinical needs, invent solutions to meet those needs, implement them and bring the overall plan to market.”
Those recruited for the fellowship will have had some experience in the industry already but are now keen to start up their own business.
An interest and enthusiasm for the subject matter must already be there as the training gets intense. Fellows have access to six hospitals and 30 consultant doctors throughout their clinical exposure. “During this first year of the programme, the students identified over 300 medical device needs,” says Bruzzi.
“They then went on to list the top 40 problems where clinical needs were aligned. Two projects are currently under evaluation, one of which has received funding by Enterprise Ireland.”
This first year of the programme focused on cardiovascular disease, with the two based in Dublin and Galway respectively.
Colin Forde was the engineer on the Galway team. “I had been working in Creganna Tactx Medical Design and saw the fellowship advertised,” he says.
“Previously I had my own medical device business in the area of delivery systems and implants. My experience of being in business on my own meant I was already accustomed to working with doctors, start-ups and corporations. So I was delighted when this fellowship came up.
“The year was excellent. We achieved a lot along the way, and learnt a broad perspective of the medical device industry. Our main achievement though was identifying a problem worth solving and trying to start up a business to meet that need. We have started on that road.”
Wayne Allen was the business head of the Galway team and is as excited about their new venture as his colleague Forde.