In 2008, the leaders of Akron’s three hospital systems, the University of Akron and the Northeast Ohio Medical University (Neomed) put aside their competitive differences to forge a groundbreaking partnership.
Since then, the five founding partners in the Austen BioInnovation Institute in Akron have seen the results.
The Beacon Journal asked the leaders of Akron Children’s Hospital, Akron General Health System, Summa Health System, the University of Akron and Neomed to share their thoughts on the partnership:
Q: What benefits have your institution and the region as a whole seen as a result of the creation of the Austen Bio-Innovation Institute in Akron? What results do you expect to see over the short and long term?
A: William Considine, president and chief executive, Children’s Hospital: “The Austen BioInnovation Institute in Akron was built upon Akron’s strengths in orthopedics and polymers. We set out to create something that was transformational and, to date, the progress has been impressive. We have attracted top talent and are already gaining national recognition in areas such as biomaterials, polymers in medical use, medical devices, simulation in medical education and community health.
“Whether sponsoring a conference on value-driven engineering that attracts hundreds, partnering with the [Food and Drug Administration] or securing a grant from the [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention], the ABIA is a shining example of the work that can be accomplished through collaboration — and this is only the beginning. I know Akron Children’s affiliation with the ABIA has been enormously valuable in physician recruitment, and our clinicians are grateful to have the support of the ABIA to help them pursue their research interests.
“During the institute’s first two years, we’ve worked to build the innovative ecosystem and resources to ensure the right people were connected. We have an environment that helps entrepreneurs succeed. Over time, this will translate into products, economic growth, new companies coming to town, new jobs, innovations in medicine and new approaches in improving the delivery of health care.”
Jay A. Gershen, president, Northeast Ohio Medical University:
“Our region is being recognized as a leader in the health care and biomedical fields. Through the creation of the Austen BioInnovation Institute in Akron, the region’s leaders in health care and biomedical sciences have been able to combine our strengths to build new opportunities. We believe that by working together and sharing resources, we can increase research and educational opportunities for our faculty and students, while bringing more businesses and jobs to the community.
“Northeast Ohio Medical University is partnering with the ABIA to develop a regional strategy for training the health-care work force, setting this region apart as a national model for inter-professional team training. In addition, we are jointly exploring opportunities around research and ways to support entrepreneurial activities through public-private partnerships and the availability of commercialization resources in order to foster regional economic development and company attraction.
“In the short term, our partnership has allowed us to work more effectively with Akron-based health-care providers, research institutions, businesses and local governments to help the community recognize its importance as an academic health center in the Akron area.
“Longer term, the partnership will allow the university to develop sustainable relationships in Akron through jointly located facilities, contribution of talent and expertise, sharing of resources and support of identified priorities.”
Luis M. Proenza, president, the University of Akron:
“The Austen BioInnovation Institute has created new opportunities to leverage our university’s expertise in two critical areas: the development and commercialization of polymer-based advanced materials and biomaterials, and the improvement of community health and wellness through collaborative research and education.
“Two very important centers, the Akron Functional Material Center (AFMC), and the Center for Biomaterials in Medicine (CBMM), are direct outgrowths of our participation in the Austen BioInnovation Institute. And that participation in the institute already has led to a memorandum of understanding signed with the Food and Drug Administration to devise better means of testing medical devices that include biomaterials, and our joint selection as recipients of an i6 Challenge award from the U.S. Department of Commerce Economic Development Administration.
“Medical technology development is increasingly directed toward greater and greater integration of advanced biomaterials in medical devices. Our involvement with ABIA is certain to further expand and enhance Northeast Ohio’s existing international reputation as a regional center for bioscience and biomaterial development and commercialization.
“In addition, our College of Health Professions is an active participant in the ABIA’s Center for Community Health Improvement, with several faculty playing vital roles in the execution of a community transformation grant awarded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to ABIA. In the long term, this collaborative approach to maximizing health impact through prevention, advancing health equity, integrated health care, reducing health disparities and expanding the evidence base for the development of local policy, has the potential to become a national model.
“Regions that develop interdisciplinary networks and partnerships among business, government and universities are best positioned for success in today’s global economy. In decades to come, the creation of ABIA will be viewed as a watershed development in Akron’s economic health.”
Dr. Thomas “Tim” Stover, president and chief executive, Akron General Health System:
“Akron General Health System is very pleased with the partnership that we have established with the ABIA and all of its member institutions. Collaboratively, we have made great strides over the past couple of years in developing teams of skilled professionals who every day seek breakthroughs and generate ideas that will help determine medicine’s next frontier. Akron General is proud to be part of the innovation.
“Short term, we have already seen great progress. At Akron General, with ABIA’s help, we have achieved significant progress in areas such as our Wound Center, Simulation Learning Center and Orthopedic Biomechanics Laboratory. We have also expanded our team of physician scientists who perform significant research, while maintaining active clinical practices.
“Long term, we expect the ABIA to continue to flourish under Dr. [Frank L.) Douglas’ leadership as he and his team bring local and national scientific breakthroughs to the Akron area.”
Thomas J. Strauss, president and chief executive, Summa Health System:
“We have seen several benefits as a result of the ABIA. Perhaps, none greater than elevating the agenda of innovation. At Summa, for example, we had approximately 60 invention disclosures in 2011. We had more than 30 in just the first quarter of 2012. And while not all of these ideas will lead to commercialization, many will.
“By providing an outlet for people to bring forward ideas and by partnering with the ABIA on the process, we are seeing the creation of products that I believe will ultimately lead to better care for the people we serve.
“What is most exciting to me is the spirit of collaboration among our health-care and education partners. Take medical simulation, for example. This is an area critical to medical and clinical education.
“By leveraging the combined strengths of our partnering organizations, we are using medical simulation to enhance patient safety. We are doing this by building integrated teaching curriculum and like teaching protocols across our organizations.
“Ultimately, this will lead to a more skilled work force, less errors and safer patient care.”