Sanford Health launches startup program in 2020

Commercialization team helps employee inventors open their own businesses

stent graft: Dr. Patrick Kelly performs an abdominal aortic aneurysm repair wearing a glowing head lamp and surgical mask. A computer screen is behind him and nurses stand beside him.

Sanford Health’s commercialization team in 2020 licensed a urinary catheter intended to reduce pull-out injuries and a pressure injury-reducing sock that will soon be available to patients in Europe. It also established a program to create spinoff companies.

Those are among the areas of growth over the past 12 months that helped the health care system tap the talent of its nearly 50,000 front-line physicians, researchers and staff to improve patient care, despite the uncertain environment of the pandemic.

The team had a change in leadership with the retirement of long-time executive Kim Patrick. He created Sanford Health’s legal department and served as chief legal officer and then chief business development officer. Patrick was succeeded by Kent Lehr, who came from UnityPoint Health, where he led strategy and business development.

“I believe our success starts with culture,” Lehr said. “And early on I see a culture of innovation, curiosity and continuous learning that is unique and can propel us forward. It’s buoyed by ensuring all Sanford Health team members have the same opportunity to come forward with novel ideas that support our ability to positively impact our patients, people and communities.”

Sanford startups

Commercialization, or technology transfer, is the process by which new inventions and other innovations created at Sanford Health are turned into products and marketed. It’s typically done in two ways: through licensing intellectual property to existing companies or creating startup companies.

While most of the technology is licensed to outside entities, the team worked with two surgeons to launch its first startup company in 2020. Thomas Haldis, D.O., an interventional cardiologist and medical director of the cardiac lab in Fargo, North Dakota, and neurosurgeon Alexander Drofa, M.D., invented a device called the Slide Guide Catheter that could simplify stroke treatments. Their spinoff company, Flotronic Solutions, has a working prototype that will be refined as it seeks approval from the Food and Drug Administration.

The Sanford Health express startup program was formed in recognition of the fact that much of the technology created at the organization is not yet ready for the marketplace. With the new program, employees may now have a part in starting their own company. The requirements to be eligible include submitting a written business plan and identifying someone who will lead the business.

Other invention efforts

Another development in 2020 was the creation of a quality and regulatory core. This group, led by Katie Pohlson, director of innovation, provides guidance and insights to internal and external teams looking to commercialize an unapproved product and navigate the regulatory process. The team helps support the FDA process for the orthopedic stem cell program and Sioux Falls, South Dakota, vascular surgeon Patrick Kelly, M.D., on his stent graft project.

That project involves Sanford Health and six other health care systems collaborating on a stent graft system that may help high-risk vascular disease patients who currently have limited clinical options. KDr. elly invented the initial concept for the device that was licensed by Medtronic. The other health systems include New York University, Massachusetts General Hospital, University of Southern Florida, Vanderbilt University, The Christ Hospital and The Johns Hopkins Hospital.

Sanford Health also worked with the University of South Dakota to create a program to train scientific entrepreneurs in the state of South Dakota. The Technology Readiness Acceleration Center program, or TRAC, is a new multi-institutional technology commercialization center that supports entrepreneurship, startup creation and company growth.

TRAC pairs USD graduate students with faculty inventors and trains them to be apprentices in the development and commercialization of new technologies through education, innovation and entrepreneurship.

This evolution of commercialization has been intentional and is intended to provide an environment where Sanford Health creators can thrive, said Tyler Remund, commercialization director.

“We want to elevate what this organization is already doing by taking our innovations to the larger community, to other systems,” he said. “We’ve had a lot of growth on the team this year. We’ve matured. And we’ve tried to diversify the technical expertise on the team, so we can accommodate different types of ideas and different types of clinicians that we work with.”

Inventions by the numbers

While the human element – helping patients – is the primary goal, commercialization also bolsters Sanford Health’s reputation and generates revenue to promote its core mission.

Since its inception, the team has worked with 141 inventors and generated more than $9 million in revenue. In 2020, the team evaluated 52 invention disclosures, issued 18 patents, executed six license agreements and created the one startup company.

Sanford Health values the ideas and problem-solving ability of its physicians, researchers, clinical workers and support staff. Any employee with an idea for a device, therapy, software, tool or other method that helps patients is encouraged to contact the commercialization team and join the dozens of people at Sanford Health who are already inventing.

‘Promising advancements’

Besides the new startup company, Sanford moved some other inventions forward in 2020:

  • A company based in Barcelona, Spain, licensed and will begin manufacturing and selling the RightStep Pressure-Reduction Sock, which was invented by Dr. Kelly. The company manufactures and sells podiatric, foot care and sports-related product lines in the European Union and will utilize a network of sub-distributors to sell the product in other markets, including the United States.
  • A modified catheter invented by Bruce Gardner, M.D., a radiologist in Bismarck, was licensed by a company whose founder co-invented technologies for the angioplasty balloon and coronary stent.
  • Fargo trauma surgeon Steven Briggs, M.D., is developing what he believes is a less-invasive way to surgically treat more serious cases of broken ribs. Rather than using a plate, he came up with three ways to drill into the middle of the rib and stabilize the break.
  • Stent graft technology invented by Dr. Kelly has been studied in an investigational clinical trial with new research on potential pre-operative risk factors. His team’s most recent research looks at age and thrombus, the buildup of clotted blood along the vessel wall, as indicators that may help identify which patients have a better chance at survival one year after treatment. The Journal of Vascular Surgery published the results.
  • The Journal of Vascular Surgery also published a paper on the investigational Unitary Manifold Stent Graft System invented by Dr. Kelly. Data from the first 44 patients show encouraging results in treating people who already have been treated for an aortic aneurysm.

“The unitary and thrombus papers are promising advancements to vascular technology,” Pohlson said.

Another significant development from 2020 is the addition of other top health care systems beginning to treat aneurysm patients with the stent graft system, she said.

“Dr. Jim Black at Johns Hopkins and Dr. Matt Eagleton at Massachusetts General Hospital are two of the top thoracoabdominal surgeons in the country. It’s really exciting to have those two sites onboard and implanting the device,” Pohlson said.

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Posted In Brain & Spine, Digestive Health, General Surgery, Innovations, Neurology, Vascular

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