The Austen BioInnovation Institute in Akron is expanding its geographic reach throughout Northeast Ohio and beyond.
The BioInnovation Institute recently began seeking industry, university and hospital partners outside the region as the founding institutions consider whether to continue participation.
Akron’s three hospital systems, the University of Akron and Northeast Ohio Medical University launched the venture five years ago to boost medical-related economic development in the Akron area.
This month, the BioInnovation Institute entered a strategic partnership to help St. Vincent Charity Medical Center in Cleveland identify and develop new orthopedic products. The deal marks the first time a hospital outside Akron has joined the partnership.
The goal is to increase the BioInnovation Institute’s revenues by attracting hospitals and others that want expert help developing and commercializing new products, said Dr. Frank L. Douglas, the institute’s president and chief executive.
“All of the great ideas do not happen to exist just in Akron,” he said. “They come from all over. Since a lot of the work is being done here, as we grow these partnerships, we are going to grow jobs here.”
The board of the Austen BioInnovation Institute in Akron (ABIA) recently approved a tiered membership structure for new partners.
The highest level — the founding level — gives participants a seat on the board and access to services, as well as a small share of any revenues ABIA gets from new products or ideas, Douglas said. The three-year commitment for the founding level is $800,000 per year in cash or in-kind contributions for the original partners but will be higher for other organizations that want to join.
Memberships also are available for $400,000 or $100,000 per year, Douglas said. Those levels provide services from the institute — such as prototype development or access to the simulation center for training — up to the investment amount. The lower levels, however, don’t include a board position or a share of ABIA profits.
Since the nonprofit was started in 2008, the institute has secured $64.6 million in financial support and pledges through 2014.
Primary funding sources have been $20 million in support from 2008 through 2014 from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and $10 million from FirstEnergy. The five other founding partners also are contributing $9.1 million in cash and $10.9 million of in-kind support through this year. The remainder is from other sources.
Akron Children’s Hospital, Akron General and Summa health systems, NEOMED and UA are expected to notify the institute whether they plan to continue participation and, if so, at what level by late May. The partners indicate they are evaluating their options for continued participation.
With new partners throughout the state and nationwide, ABIA could land more state and federal grants, Douglas said.
By expanding the pipeline of ideas for new products, the institute also could attract more equity investors to provide cash to launch companies, said Vince Kazmer, the institute’s chief operating officer.
St. Vincent seeks lab
St. Vincent President and Chief Executive Dr. David F. Perse, a practicing general surgeon with a background in biomedical engineering, had been seeking a way to create a spine biotech laboratory at St. Vincent since he joined the hospital two years ago.
Perse and a leader from the hospital’s owner, Sisters of Charity Health System, were meeting with ABIA about potential education partnerships when he discovered the institute’s expertise in biomechanics and product development.
“I noticed that the spectrum of their skill set was greater than education, including what I needed,” he said.
St. Vincent and ABIA leaders subsequently entered into a six-month “test agreement” this month, with the intent of working out details for a long-term relationship, Perse said. The hospital is providing a “very modest initial seed money investment” for the first phase.
Under the initial deal, biomedical engineers from the Akron-based institute will spend time with surgeons in St. Vincent’s operating rooms to explore ideas for products starting next month. The institute then will work with the doctors to determine whether the idea has commercial potential and, if so, help with the development process.
The arrangement gives the Cleveland hospital access to engineering expertise and testing and prototype labs without the expense of developing these areas alone, Perse said. The availability of those services can help with physician recruitment and retention — areas that can be challenging in the competitive health-care market.
Cheryl Powell can be reached at 330-996-3902 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Powell on Twitter at twitter.com/abjcherylpowell.