What The Future Holds for Healthcare Startups
By Laura Cowan
Laura K. Cowan is a tech editor and journalist whose work has focused on promoting sustainability initiatives for automotive, green tech, and conscious living media outlets.
a2tech360 week in Ann Arbor continues, with What The Future Holds today to predict the trajectories of tech-related industries that have a foothold in Michigan. Panelists for this year's What The Future Holds 2031 included Dr. Peter Adriaens and Dr. Mingyan Liu of the University of Michigan, Dr. Matthew McMahon from the National Institutes of Health, and Dr. Thomas Zurbuchen of NASA.
Tech industry forecasts focused on healthcare, IoT, AR/VR, and mobility. We cover mobility future trends, IoT, and AR/VR quite a bit on Cronicle, so for this event, we focused on the healthcare technology discussion, which has been front and center of national news.
National Institutes of Health Healthcare Startup Programs
Matt McMahon PhD, NIH Director of SEED, or Small Business Education and Entrepreneurial Development, helps startup founders transforms ideas into products. The NIH funds $1.2 billion in SBIR and STTR programs every year. McMahon spoke about these NIH programs and projected some trends into the future in these areas.
"I wanted to start by talking about the role of NIH in innovation," he said.
The NIH mission is to seek fundamental knowledge about the nature of living systems, but also to apply that knowledge to support people's health. "It's a common misconception that the NIH funds basic science research and all of that application and commercial development and patient impact happens somewhere else."
McMahon emphasized that the NIH is a vibrant pipeline for healthcare startups and healthcare solutions. "There is an increased public impatience with how long and complicated this pipeline is," he said, citing COVID-19 as a prime example of how difficult it is for a research discovery to make it to market as a solution from a healthcare provider.
Investors and healthcare experts are pushing for the NIH to do more than support early-stage discovery.
Investors and healthcare experts are pushing for the NIH to do more than support early-stage discovery. "We need to help... projects get to the finish line," McMahon said, as there is a very long and difficult process on the business and the regulatory side to get healthcare products to market. Solutions: This can be done through de-risking products and strategies and incubating their process to get to market and make sure more startups get out into the world, as well as trying to make the regulatory process as collaborative and efficient as possible.
Reimbursement and payment is also a block. McMahon said to expect more solutions in these areas, in addition to distribution solutions for healthcare products. "We stimulated the market for COVID-19 tests by purchasing many of those tests early on," McMahon pointed out, saying that we should expect more conversations in the future about the government's role in stimulating early markets for healthcare solutions in this way.
Shorten The Pipeline & Address Blockages
The idea with these NIH and similar programs in future is to develop a process for supporting research further into the startup development process, and also to encourage researchers to understand what it takes to bring their discoveries to market as healthcare solutions. It won't necessarily change academic researchers into business owners, but can help academic researchers have a better chance of getting their discoveries to market as healthcare solutions and make it through the difficult process of discovery to product.
How to shorten the pipeline: Networks can help universities push research out to actual products to help patients. McMahon gave an example of Cleveland Clinic and the University of Michigan recently partnering on some studies that turned into several startups, raising $16.8 million in followup funding. One startup is in early clinical stage trials now. The NIH has 50 active projects in Michigan right now, supported by $21 million in funding. Expect more partnerships with universities and hospital systems as well as with the NIH to help guide startups as they navigate the complex road from research to getting to market. Social science and behavioral economics also will be combined with the scientific research to better learn how to apply best practices to rolling out healthcare solutions while avoiding social and behavioral issues. That could include things like vaccine hesitancy that can be counterproductive even when research is quick to come to market safely and effectively.
Social science and behavioral economics also will be combined with the scientific research to better learn how to apply best practices to rolling out healthcare solutions while avoiding social and behavioral issues.
Prevention is another focus of healthcare solutions, as well as addressing healthcare disparities across the U.S. McMahon touched on where those disparities come from, and mentioned that work is underway to address those disparities while also offering healthcare product and service solutions to handle ongoing public health issues. Overall, the vision is to close the gap between "science and innovation and patient impact." Pick priority projects that focus on the most pressing healthcare challenges, build a multidisciplinary team, and create a nimble process that's different from the standard linear grant-based model to attack problems like obesity, cardiovascular disease, opioid addiction, and more. Find the most important barriers to addressing a problem, and address those problems instead of only the product development.
This event was co-presented by Ann Arbor SPARK and the University of Michigan Office of Tech Transfer, which supports University of Michigan staff and researchers in commercializing discoveries and inventions that come out of the University of Michigan research and teaching environment. The University of Michigan spent $1.5 billion on research last year, making it the top research university ecosystem in the U.S.