The path from laboratory discovery to a commercially viable therapy can be complex — riddled with winding paths, sudden acceleration, hard stops and unexpected detours.
It often starts in academic medical centers like the Brigham, where researchers apply their scientific and clinical expertise to solve vexing problems in health care. The process typically ends in the private sector, where experts specialize in the business of bringing new therapies, devices and technologies to market.
Despite their shared goal, there’s a longstanding invisible barrier between the two parties. Breaking down those walls — and bridging the gap — is the objective of the Partners HealthCare Innovation Fellows Program. Launched in 2017, the program matches faculty and trainees at Partners’ hospitals with participating host companies in pharmaceuticals, digital health and related fields for an immersive, educational personnel exchange.
The Brigham is one of three Partners institutions, alongside Massachusetts General Hospital and McLean Hospital, to participate in the novel collaboration, which was highlighted during a panel discussion at the World Medical Innovation Forum on April 9.
“There used to be a time when industry was described as ‘the dark side,’ and we didn’t want to go there. We know now there are very smart people on both sides doing amazing things,” said panelist Paul Anderson, MD, PhD, chief academic officer and senior vice president of Research and Education. “The more we can work together, the more we realize we can develop next-generation therapies in a very effective, collaborative and cooperative way.”
Also featuring Nathalie Agar, PhD, a principal investigator in the Department of Neurosurgery, and David Chiang, MD, PhD, a research fellow in the Division of Cardiovascular Medicine, the panel was one of the many presentations and discussions at the forum.
The annual event, hosted by Partners, brought together international health care leaders, innovators and experts this year to explore the intersection of clinical care and artificial intelligence.
‘The Best of Both Worlds’
Designed to provide career development for future health care leaders, the Innovation Fellows Program allows fellows and hosts to learn from each other as they collaborate on projects.
The program’s primary model pairs fellows — supported by a faculty mentor — with participating companies to gain behind-the-scenes experience in drug and device development, regulatory affairs, corporate financing and more. Fellows are on-site at their host organization on a full- or part-time basis for one year, during which time they also contribute their own clinical and scientific expertise to various projects in team-based settings.
To date, the program has shepherded 25 fellows, 10 of whom are currently active. Chiang, an Innovation Fellow with Boston Scientific, said it has been a “rare and wonderful opportunity” to get a firsthand understanding of product cycles and entrepreneurship while continuing to pursue his love of research.
“I get the best of both worlds, and it’s been a tremendously rewarding experience,” he said.
David Feygin, PhD, chief digital health officer at Boston Scientific, emphasized that the partnership is mutually beneficial, adding that Chiang’s perspective has been invaluable on several projects.
“Understanding the modern context of care is so critically important when you’re trying to develop applications for use in the clinical setting,” Feygin said. “Having somebody who lives that every day and understands that world is incredibly enabling. Those critical insights can save us weeks or even months of development.”