In an interview late last year, a Johns Hopkins University professor of medicine observed that a new medical school could be planned in a way to integrate the commercialization of medical research into the education of new physicians.
Just months later, in January of this year, Michael Dell donated $50 million to the University of Texas to establish the Dell Medical School. The school expects to enroll its first class of 50 students in 2016.
At an event in Austin, sponsored by Texas Mutual Insurance, a panel of education and business leaders looked at ways to commercialize medical research expected to come from that school. They included Dr. Robert Messing, Vice Provost for Medical Sciences at UT-Austin; Isaac Barchas, the director of the Austin Technology Incubator; Gail Page, managing director of Vineyard Investment Advisors; and Kevin Lalande, founding partner and managing director of Santé Ventures.
The program was named, “A Rare Opportunity to Get it Right – Life Sciences Commercialization and the New Dell Medical School.”
Messing, in his role as vice provost, is one of two co-chairs for the new Dell Medical School’s steering committee. He said he and his co-chair, Susan Cox, are working in four major areas for the new school.
The first is curriculum. Dell Medical is going to adopt the new notion of the “flipped” classroom. That is, instead of students attending lectures, they’ll watch and listen to them electronically. What used to be thought of as homework will now be tackled in class – difficult problems, working in groups, doing research.
“Along with the ‘flip’ is the idea of inter-professional education,” Messing said. “Instead of the traditional doctor hierarchy where doctors tell nurses and pharmacists and everybody else what to do, instead we have a team approach to medicine.”
Messing said that philosophy carries over to patient care, as well. “We’re also bringing in the notion of patient-centered care by listening to what patients do and don’t like,” he said. “We’re viewing this as running a business and the patient is the consumer, instead of them walking through the door and giving up their rights and privileges and telling them what to do – it’s a real shift.”
The second area is recruitment – finding a new dean for the school. “We got well over 100 applications for this job and I would probably not be exaggerating by saying it has to be the hottest job in academic medicine today,” Messing said. He wants the new dean to be on board by the end of January.
Third, facilities. A research building and outpatient office building are being planned now. But there will eventually be a medical education building, specialty research buildings for oncology, cardio-vascular, and neuroscience.
Finally, there’s research. Messing wants to collaborate with the university’s already strong areas in biomedical engineering and computer science.
“There is a wealth of engineering talent ready to pounce on this medical school as it grows,” said Messing. “We have cadres of very advanced academics who are waiting for the medical school dean to come in, partner and create programs. If you are looking economic development in this city, with all the high-tech development that’s here, you have enough bodies and a critical mass to start at that point.”
Both Biomedical engineering and computer science programs at UT are recognized as top programs in the country and Messing sees these as fertile ground for creating a medical school partnering with those entities in computational science.
Isaac Barchas pointed out that the Austin Technology Incubator is part of the University of Texas, reporting to the vice president for research. “What we do is help companies get funded, but we don’t fund anybody,” he said.
In 2012, 18 out of 21 companies received funding while at the incubator. They work primarily in IT & software, wireless communications, clean energy, and bioscience. Those companies raised over $230 million, Barchas said. And he expects the medical school to be “critically important” for startups.
“It’s a place that instantaneously metabolizes critical trends in medical practice – much more so than a standard hospital would,” Barchas said. “A medical school will allow startups and other business to understand what those changing trends are and build their business plans to respond.”
Barchas also shared three ideas to get the medical school “right.”
“First, we, as a community, need to develop complementary infrastructure to the medical school,” he said.
For example, Central Texas has demand for 60,000 square feet of wet lab space (wet labs are essentially labs with sinks, that must comply with regulations in the life sciences). They cost anywhere from $600 to $1,000 per square foot to build. Barchas estimates it would cost more than $50 million to build a facility that would fill that demand. “Addressing that gap is critical if we are going to leverage the economic development potential of the Dell Medical School,” Barchas said.
“Second, we may need to rethink our economic development priorities around recruitment of companies,” he said. With the medical school, Austin can now target big pharma companies or other big names focused on health care. “I think getting an anchor tenant for the Austin life sciences and health care community will be very important,” Barchas added.
And echoing Messing, Barchas suggested Austin build on its prominence in digital engineering. “A big part of the future of medicine is going to be computational medicine, molecular medicine,” he said. “Those fields are heavily data intensive and we are well positioned to be able to exploit those trends.”
Gail Page has a new role as Entrepreneur in Residence at M.D. Anderson’s Office of Innovation and Technology. “The advantage we have here is the opportunity to work with everyone from day one and it will likely never happen again,” she said.
Page said just as Dr. Messing is working on creating a culture inside the medical school, that same culture needs to be created from outside the school. The keys to that, she said, are communication and collaboration.
“When I talk about communication I’m talking about a group of life science executives that have formed a separate council through the Austin Technology Council,” Page said. “It’s going to be imperative for that group to have a dialogue with the dean and the department chairs.”
Page said the communication must be face-to-face. “They need to know the talent pool that’s here and the research that’s already going on today.”
Collaboration needs to take place between the life sciences industry and the medical school, Page said. “We need to be working with the medical school on FDA trials and clinical research. It can’t be you live in one world and we live in another world.”
Kevin Lalande of Santé Ventures said a challenge facing Central Texas is access to venture capital, since most is concentrated in Silicon Valley, Boston, and the New York City area. “Texas is in the top three states in the country for population, for size of the economy, for the number of medical schools,” he said. “And yet, it ranks at number 14 for the amount of venture capital going into health care and life science start ups.”
But that’s changing, he said, and the reason is that Texas now has some life science success stories. LDR Spine filed an IPO and brought in $100 million in revenue. Companies like Ambion and Asuragen beget other companies that also go on to successes. “Those are the resources that are the feedstock we need here in Central Texas,” Lalande said. “The capital follows the successes and the entrepreneurs.”
The medical school is crucial to this growth, Lalande said. Besides world class science, which we already have, we need world class entrepreneurs and world class clinicians. “I don’t want to be in a system where you make advances in human health without the medical doctor profession,” he said. “It’s that tripod that will come together better by having a medical school here in Central Texas.”
Lalande offered three pieces of advice to the audience. For a successful medical science economy, he said, it takes an ecosystem. “It will take the university, medical school, incubators, CEOs and entrepreneurs and finally, it takes sources of capital,” he said.
Secondly, don’t mistake activity for progress. “Gathering resources on something that’s ill advised, ends up being wasteful on the economy because it takes those resources from other high promising things,” he said. Venture capital in and of itself is not necessarily a good thing. Lalande said the capital needs to go to high promise companies. “There are many companies that fail because their business plan didn’t make any sense up front and they didn’t spend time with the services like what Isaac and ATI offers,” he said.
Finally, remember that Austin is no longer competing with Houston or Dallas. Our competition is of a national and even global scope. Our eyes should be on California and Asia.
Messing offered an idea for the direction of future medical research. “There is a shift from fee-for-service medicine, where the money was, to where the money of the future is going to be in lower-cost outpatient solutions for a greater number of people,” he said. “If I had to throw an idea out there, people need to solve this problem – how are we going to provide lower cost health care to the nation?”
This event was sponsored by:
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