University of Michigan Medical School program has its finger on the pulse of biomedical and life science innovation commercialization
Ann Arbor, Mich.- For doctors in the clinical setting and biomedical researchers in academic labs, helping patients improve their health is the ultimate goal. Whether it’s an operation, a yearly checkup, or studying the biological pathways of disease, clinicians and biomedical researchers are tireless in their efforts to improve patients’ lives. But, if they want to create a new device, therapeutic or diagnostic that could have even more of an impact on human health—how can it eventually get to the point of patient impact? What is the commercialization process?
This is the dilemma that so many doctors and researchers face, including University of Michigan physiology professor and researcher Jimo Borjigin, Ph.D., who had a novel idea for a diagnostic technology that would provide fast, precise and easy detection of irregular heart rhythms.
The process to put an idea on a path to market is a difficult one, especially for clinicians and researchers who aren’t typically entrepreneurs. But luckily, with the help of the University of Michigan Translational Research and Commercialization (MTRAC) for Life Sciences Program Innovation Hub, part of the university’s Fast Forward Medical Innovation (FFMI) program and supported by the Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC), many biomedical innovators across the State of Michigan are able to get the help they need to navigate the path to commercialization through education and mentorship, funding, and access to other world-class innovation resources.
This includes Borjigin, an associate professor in the U-M Department of Molecular and Integrative Physiology and the Department of Neurology, who has utilized the resources of the FFMI/MTRAC program to develop her Electrocardiomatrix (ECM) technology, an IT tool that evaluates electrocardiography signals during a patient’s hospitalization for early and accurate atrial fibrillation detection and stroke prevention.
Borjigin credits the FFMI/MTRAC team’s guidance in helping her team refine the technology, identify collaborators within the medical school and even start clinical trials this year, which she said has been very successful.
“We are in the middle of our clinical trials—we have collected data from 274 patients so far and our results have been 100 percent accurate,” Borjigin said.
But before receiving MTRAC funding in 2016 from the FFMI team, the physiology professor didn’t have much funding to advance her ECM technology and wasn’t well-versed in the technology development and patenting process, so continuing development on her innovation was difficult. Now, she said she has a clear focus, a utility patent filed, and has the help she needs to navigate the path to market.
“Getting physicians’ backing and support has been key to our success,” Borjigin said. “Originally when we were working on our own, we didn’t know the pressing clinical issues that our technology could be used for. Working with MTRAC has been really helpful.”
Co-managed by the U-M Medical School’s FFMI program and U-M Office of Technology Transfer, MTRAC is a statewide program that supports translational research projects in life sciences with high commercial potential.
“Our partnerships across the U-M campus and the State of Michigan, as well as with the MEDC, are allowing FFMI to serve as an innovation hub and partner to many of the other great universities and health systems throughout the state, making the whole much greater than the simple sum of its parts,” said FFMI Executive Director Kevin Ward, M.D.
The $4.05 million MTRAC for Life Sciences Innovation Hub was announced in mid-2016 by the MEDC after being approved by the Michigan Strategic Fund. The statewide hub is an extension of the previous U-M-focused MTRAC program that launched in 2013 with $2.4 million over three years from MEDC to foster innovation and entrepreneurship as a dynamic catalyst for economic growth.
“The statewide MTRAC for Life Sciences Innovation Hub supports the advancement of translational research and commercialization potential of early stage healthcare-related projects that range from therapeutics and devices to digital health applications,” said Denise Graves, MEDC university relations director. “MTRAC leverages collaboration among industry, the venture capital community, higher education, hospital systems and non-profit research centers, which helps to increase the number of startups, jobs and industry licenses for the State of Michigan.”
Now as a statewide hub, MTRAC’s reach extends to institutions like Michigan Tech University, the Henry Ford Health System, Genesys Health System, Western Michigan University, and Michigan State University (MSU).
“MTRAC is a great resource for inventors at Michigan universities and non-profit organizations,” said Richard Neubig, M.D., Ph.D., professor and chair of Pharmacology & Toxicology at MSU, and a 2017 MTRAC awardee for a potential novel treatment for scleroderma. “The funding to support development activities is critical, but the education and mentorship on what it takes to ultimately commercialize an invention is also incredibly valuable.”
Before MTRAC got its start at U-M, talented researchers who aimed to impact human health by taking their innovation to market lacked a full suite of resources to accelerate and transition their discoveries onto viable commercialization paths.
Without a strong program in place to aid in the process, Brad Martin, Ph.D., and FFMI MTRAC for Life Sciences Commercialization Program Director, said U-M produced an average of just one or two biomedical start-up companies a year. But as of December 2017—just three years after its start– MTRAC has funded 45 mid-stage Mi-TRAC projects, and already helped develop nine start-up companies, create 14 jobs, and secure $16.75 million in follow-on funding.
And MTRAC’s impact continues. New data show that Michigan Medicine hit new heights for biomedical research funding in 2017. More than 16 percent of UMMS research funding came from industry– a 100 percent increase since 2012– and MTRAC has helped land $98.1 million in strategic industry partnerships. Check out the full 2017 Impact Report!
Borjigin’s ECM technology is just one example of the breakthroughs that are advancing thanks to FFMI and MTRAC. Other innovations that will be providing a positive impact on patients in the future include the Female External Urinary Collection Device (uCol), a device created by Jennifer Kaiser, Ph.D., MSN, RN, of Spectrum Health in Grand Rapids, that helps reduce the need for invasive female urinary catheters by providing an external option that safely accepts and removes urinary away from the patient; and the anodization process for creation of nanotubes in titanium implants, created by Michigan Tech’s Craig R. Friedric, Ph.D., which resists bacterial biofilm formation in implant procedures, while promoting periprosthetic bone formation.
“As a statewide innovation hub, FFMI helps innovators from across Michigan navigate the tough road to biomedical commercialization— support that was not available just a few years ago,” Martin said. “Now, with a strong educational program in place and access to world-renowned mentors, funding streams and top-level resources to enhance the development of innovations, the opportunities for our academic researchers and clinicians to achieve their dreams of impacting human health are vastly improved.”