Inova Health System, the giant nonprofit hospital network serving Northern Virginia, is creating a new start-up incubator and investment program focusing on “personalized” medicine innovations.
Executives say they plan to invest at least $100 million over the next three to five years making $2 million to $5 million bets on promising young companies with products that have gained some traction in the marketplace.
“We want to create an environment that makes health sciences a new destination, a new economic engine for the region,” said Peter Jobse, who was named managing partner of the new venture.
The incubator aims to focus on innovations that can better predict and prevent disease. Rather than concentrate on drug development, which can cost tens or hundreds of millions of dollars and take decades, the program will look to develop medical devices and analytical platforms.
The program is to be part of Inova’s new Center for Personalized Health taking shape on the former ExxonMobil campus in Fairfax County. Todd Stottlemyer, chief executive for the center, said the incubator would look to accelerate and commercialize technologies already being pioneered at Inova and elsewhere.
Promising options could include sensor-based devices that help doctors track patients’ health on a continuous basis. Other start-ups could apply newfound tools in big-data analysis to track health trends and, in some cases, predict individuals’ susceptibility to certain diseases. A crowded field of start-ups mining Medicare clinical and claims data has seen success recently.
Inova executives cited the example of a company called Truven, which monitors live-streaming data to provide warnings about adverse events within hospitals. Truven's services showed enough promise that the company was recently acquired by IBM.
“Analytics is foundational to everything that we’re doing as a health-care system,” Stottlemyer said.
In building the incubator, Inova is borrowing a page from Virginia’s Mach37 cybersecurity incubator. In just a few years since its founding, Mach37 has seen early success in nurturing new cybersecurity businesses in Northern Virginia, many of them launched by former government computer specialists and engineers.
Mach37 took form out of the state’s Center for Innovative Technology in Herndon, and Inova hired two of its former executives as managing partners, including Jobse and Hooks Johnston, who formerly served as chief executive and vice chairman at CIT.
Just as Mach37 became a meeting place for former government cyberwarriors learning the ropes of business, the goal of Inova’s accelerator will be to bring like-minded innovators together.
Each start-up that enters the program will benefit from a $75,000 seed investment and an educational and networking program drawn from the hospital’s institutional resources. Those successful enough to raise private capital of their own will have a shot at another $250,000 of runway, a model not unlike Maryland’s Technology Development Corporation (TEDCO) start-up program.
“The objective of all of this is to have better clinical outcomes, higher quality, lower health-care costs and sometimes new discoveries,” Stottlemyer said. “It’s not just creating new companies, but the opportunity to take these new devices to ultimately improve care.”
Inova, with more than 10,000 doctors and nurses supporting about 400,000 emergency room visits a year, could serve as an immediate market for these start-ups’ technology.
The hospital system has embarked on an ambitious effort to pursue personalized medicine, recruiting top doctors and researchers from across the country to transform care. Personalized medicine, in which patients receive treatment tailored to their genetic makeup, lifestyle and medical history, is considered a critical opportunity both to fight cancer and advance the commonwealth’s economy.
Beyond the Center for Personalized Medicine, the hospital system has established institutes focusing on various health issues and it is employing other strategies as well.
A novel partnership with insurance giant Aetna is designed to better align the incentives of those who provide health care and those who pay for it. Following a nationwide trend toward home-based care, the system actually served more home care visits last year than inpatient admissions.
Inova also recently announced it had formed a comprehensive partnership with the University of Virginia, one that could one day lead to a regional medical school campus.