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Updated: September 2, 2019

CT Children’s innovation center, fund aim to rear homegrown ideas

Photo | Contributed Dr. Christine Finck, surgeon-in-chief at Connecticut Children’s, says many of her peers want to develop new innovations, and a new hospital investment fund could help them do it.

When Connecticut Children’s Medical Center is wooing high-profile hires, candidates often ask about how the job will help them pursue cutting-edge medical research and innovations.

“The people we want to attract here have this in their DNA,” said Dr. Christine Finck, surgeon-in-chief at the 187-bed hospital. “What are you going to do with my ideas?”

Finck has been an early participant in research innovation efforts at Connecticut Children’s, working to develop bioengineered organ transplants through a collaboration with Biostage, a publicly traded biotech company in Massachusetts.

But there are others working at the Hartford-based medical center who have their own ideas and projects with potential commercial value.

And now, Connecticut Children’s is taking several new steps to help them take action.

The hospital recently launched a new “Center for Innovation,” meant to develop and clinically validate new products and technologies, including with outside partners.

Gil Peri, President and Chief Operating Officer, Connecticut Children’s Medical Center

The hospital expects to hire an executive director in September to oversee the new center, according to Gil Peri, Connecticut Children’s president and chief operating officer.

The director will also help guide a new investment fund the hospital intends to launch in the coming year to fuel new projects.

With the help of an advisory board of healthcare and technology experts, the fund will invest in up to three ventures annually, whether the ideas come from within the hospital or are pursued through a partnership with an outside company. Major focus areas will include biotechnology, virtual health and genomics.

Peri said a yet-to-be-identified fund manager will help raise outside investments to support projects selected by the innovation center, and the health system intends to co-invest.

Peri said the fund will target deal flows of somewhere between $20 million to $60 million within its first three years.

Future pay off

Finck said federal dollars are becoming more limited, so most investigators are now relying on private funding.

Hospitals and even some bigger players are increasingly stepping in to fill that void, and Connecticut Children’s doesn’t want to miss out on whatever homegrown talent might be within its walls.

Meantime, making long-term investments that might pay off years down the road could provide Connecticut Children’s another revenue source at a time when hospitals face many financial uncertainties.

“As we think about the future reimbursement landscape, it’s changing,” Peri said. “We need to diversify our revenue portfolio in the future.”

While finances are always a factor, Peri said the new center’s biggest aim is to develop new and better ways to care for pediatric patients, and the fund’s investments will be steered toward projects that carry that potential.

For example, Finck’s work on a 3D organ scaffolds with Biostage, which is licensing Connecticut Children’s intellectual property, could provide a better option for children suffering from esophageal atresia, a rare condition in which a baby is born without a piece of the esophagus. While surgery connecting the mouth to the stomach works for many patients, certain forms of the condition are more difficult to operate on, requiring longer and more painful treatment.

She said the hope is to reach a clinical trial in the next two years.

While it’s well underway — Connecticut Children’s invested $100,000 in the venture several years ago — Finck’s Biogen collaboration will be the first project in the hospital’s official innovation pipeline, Peri said.

Finck said she is pleased to be first in line, but also eager to see what her colleagues come up with as the innovation center ramps up.

”We have some entrepreneurial individuals but they just don’t have infrastructure behind them,” Finck said. “There’s never been one set place, virtual or real, where you can present your ideas or have a streamlined way to bring them to the next level.”

The hospital has been soliciting its employees for project proposals, receiving several in the past few months.

“We either do it ourselves as providers or we allow Amazon and others to come in and do it for us,” said Peri.

Connecticut Children’s innovation initiative comes on the heels of more hospitals, big and small, across the country launching similar funds. More than half of the funds are still young — less than five years old, Healthcare Dive reported in April.

The investments can pay off. A fund overseen by the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center made $243 million when its population health spinout, Evolent Health, had an initial public offering in 2015, according to Healthcare Dive.

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