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HSS Innovation Institute: 360-Degree Support

by Elizabeth Hofheinz, M.P.H., M.Ed.

Few people can argue with the business wisdom that says to surround yourself with talented people. In that vein, Hospital for Special Surgery (HSS) in New York is surrounding great ideas with great infrastructure. The HSS Innovation Institute approaches the birth of new technologies with fresh eyes…really talented eyes.

Frank Schwab, M.D., Chief Emeritus of HSS Spine, was named Vice Chair of the HSS Innovation Institute in early March. He told OSN, “Traditionally, innovation centers were tech transfer locations which would take ideas from its doctors and spin them out or license them. The leadership at HSS has taken a fresh look at that model. First, they have re-envisioned things by investing in a team that is not only competent in the transfer of inside technology, out, but that can take external ideas and startups and help them with sweat equity—assistance with data or engineering, for example. We also take external companies and partner with them. On our team some people are proficient in the licensing arena, while others specialize in patent strategy or funding—all as it relates to the musculoskeletal arena.”

“When I was asked to join the team it was with the intent that I would drive that mission forward further via building out processes that would more efficiently vet an idea, support it, invest in it, and get it to the point of a spinoff, licensed technology or a partnership with another firm. My initial role has been one of streamlining. We began with examining how someone discloses an idea to us. What question does it answer? What is the regulatory pathway to bring the product or technology to market? Is there something unique that can be patented and if so, what is the patent landscape?”

“It is also critical,” says Dr. Schwab, “to assess the business model up front. If a device or a new molecule can be manufactured or developed, if the regulatory pathway forward is manageable, and if there is a unique IP [intellectual property], then we ask, ‘What does this business look like? Will it require enormous funding? Outside funding?’ We establish partnerships early on to reduce cost or we try to have the company entirely funded internally, which saves headaches down the road.”

Tackling multiple good ideas at once…

“Working with Leonard Achan, Chief Innovation Officer at HSS, we have successfully revamped our process so that we do things in a parallel, rather than sequential, manner. This new infrastructure involves an expanding talent pool with patent, regulatory, and business experts, as well as our HSS entrepreneurs in residence. These are outside entrepreneurs who come in for specific projects or to work on startup companies. Over the next year we will be accelerating our engagement with larger industry partners and will be discussing a framework that HSS could use to engage with commercial partners in a fluid fashion—instead of taking things idea by idea.”

Innovating in a Covid world…

Expressing pleasant surprise, Dr. Schwab notes, “It been terrific to see what surgeons are coming up with during Covid-19. Since they have not been in the OR of late, surgeons have been freed up to jot down their innovative thoughts…so we have had quite the burst of new ideas lately. This includes ideas about how to deal not only with Coronavirus but how to function in any environment (other pandemics, microbes or viruses, etc.) that would complicate our ability to treat musculoskeletal patients.”

“We have teams looking at innovation in care delivery, digital health, and remote monitoring of patients. Specifically, we are examining how we can use the digital environment to accelerate projects that were ‘brewing’ for a long time but didn’t get much attention in the pre-Covid world. One example is an idea about telehealth and how would we more effectively be able to assess, diagnose, and remotely track patients who have musculoskeletal conditions or who have had procedures.”

Asked for highlights of the Center’s work, Dr. Schwab told OSN, “We have engaged with LimaCorporate, an Italian company that specializes in 3D printing. HSS has partnered with them to co-develop an onsite printing facility that will allow us to make patient-specific implants with a rapid turnaround. This model of having an outside corporate partner co-develop a technology is quite new for us.”

Then there is the HSS project with DARI, a company with the world’s only FDA cleared markerless motion analytics company. “DARI’s technology has the capacity to assess repetitive motion patterns without markers—and you don’t even need to be in a lab. It is a leaner and more sophisticated approach that allows you to look at the motion of the entire body in all aspects of the motion pattern. In the musculoskeletal space, DARI’s technology has the potential for assisting high performance athletes with training. For example, it is helpful with pitchers or weightlifters to determine the motion of various joints happening across complex motion pattern…and where there are opportunities to modify things so as to prevent repetitive injury patterns. In the business world, DARI helps to reduce employee injury with its comprehensive motion analysis technology.”

In addition to orthopedics, HSS has a reputation for high-level rheumatology treatment. To add to its offerings, they have partnered with leading experts in the field and cofounded SciRhom, a company with a novel approach to autoimmune diseases. Dr. Schwab: “A common thread amongst a lot of orthopedic and rheumatologic conditions is autoimmune diseases. Because there is a desperate need for new approaches and molecules, HSS has entered into a strategic partnership with SciRhom where we can support their work with funding and data, and provide a clinical environment for validation and testing.”

Asked how he is changing as he moves deeper into the innovation arena, Dr. Schwab commented to OSN, “Having several opportunities to be involved in the development and patenting of IP has been quite eye-opening. What is unique about my new role is that it brings into focus the breadth of innovation that comes through HSS, and the complexity involved in intelligently and sensitively analyzing the IP landscape around a product, the regulations around the product, and the surrounding business model. The challenge is to stack all of those up and to select the most successful ideas, nurture them, and aggressively support them until they reach commercial success. I am proud that we are determining how to be deliberate in the parallel identification and support of innovation. It is a real shift from the process of cultivating ideas one by one. So often people just think of the patent piece without realizing that there are another 100 steps that must occur in order to be commercially successful.”

In the spirit of the Confucian saying, a 100-step journey begins with just move. Fortunately for those with orthopedic and rheumatologic issues, multiple such journeys are underway at HSS.

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Elizabeth Hofheinz

Two time winner of the MORE award Ms. Hofheinz was the first writer employed by Orthopedics This Week. The MORE award is granted annually by the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons to recognize excellence in journalism. Ms. Hofheinz is currently the Director of Communications for Ortho Spine Partners (OSP).

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