Inova's precision medicine accelerator takes atypical approach | Crain's Washington D.C.

Inova's precision medicine accelerator takes atypical approach

  • Pete Jobse is managing director of Inova Strategic Investments. | Photo courtesy of Inova

    Pete Jobse is managing director of Inova Strategic Investments. | Photo courtesy of Inova

  • Mike Thomas is director of the Inova Personalized Health Accelerator. | Photo courtesy of Inova

    Mike Thomas is director of the Inova Personalized Health Accelerator. | Photo courtesy of Inova

If precision medicine is the future of healthcare, Inova Health System wants a leg up.

The hospital, health center, physician, outpatient, assisted living and long-term care network based in Falls Church, Va., is about to announce an accelerator program to develop young companies that can contribute to Inova’s mission to leverage precision medicine to not only treat disease but also predict and prevent it.

Precision medicine, which includes everything from stem cell therapy to prenatal genetic testing, tailors treatment to the individual patient based on an understanding of that person’s unique genetic profile, environment and lifestyle. As advances in personalized treatment arise, the field is expected to grow at 9.4 percent in the next decade to become a $233.4 billion global industry by 2025, according to a recent report from Accuray Research LLP.

The Inova Personalized Health Accelerator is designed to capitalize on this growing field. Pete Jobse, managing director of Inova Strategic Investments, said the accelerator will take a rotating handful of applicants with promising technologies and work with them individually for as long as eight months to develop their companies into operations that can contribute to Inova’s work.

Jobse said the accelerator’s purpose is to make sure Inova “has leading edge technology.

“We actually are going to take it down a path that is atypical,” he said. “Our model is relatively new. It consists of two components: early stage indoctrination that takes companies through a series of engagement events—these are first-time entrepreneurs—then there’s a secondary deeper dive with rolling admissions, up to six concurrent companies, to introduce them into our research and clinical services.”

Those admitted to the accelerator will have to have a validated product “that we can insert into our system,” according to Jobse. “Most accelerator programs have a starting gate and an ending gate. Participants in our program would be deeply embedded in our health system.”

The accelerator actually will operate more like old-school venture capital. Jobse said in exchange for a contract and 10 percent stake, Inova will hand each participant a $75,000 check. Once a company is proved viable, Inova will provide $250,000 more for expansion if the company can attract a like amount of seed money from elsewhere. The companies that graduate from the accelerator will be able to market their services or products anywhere.

“This is a very atypical model,” Jobse said. “We are the target market.”

Jobse said Inova wants to be a magnet for creativity and entrepreneurship, and he believes the accelerator will be a vehicle for stimulating cutting-edge innovation.

“There’s a global race in creativity currency,” he said. “Instead of watching what’s going on, we want to build.”

Accelerator consultant Rick Gordon said the Inova model is, indeed, atypical.

“Certainly there are captive accelerators out there, corporate accelerators out there. Essentially they are outsourcing innovation for the company,” he said. What makes the Inova Personal Health Accelerator different is that it’s focused “on making the companies successful, no matter what. It’s a great formula. It’s putting the entrepreneur first and that will drive greater success.”

Gordon, who ran the successful Mach37 Cybersecurity Accelerator, said a lot of accelerators are set up to drive economic development, but that’s not necessarily the best formula.

“If you build successful companies, economic development is the adjacent consequence,” he said. “It’s really all about identifying innovative, disruptive technology that Inova can help drive to market more quickly” rather than just building wealth.

Accelerator director Mike Thomas said the program already has begun talking to a number of companies and is conducting due diligence to determine which of them will be accepted.

“We haven’t actually launched the process yet or the program. We’re in the preopening stage,” Thomas said, adding that a formal announcement is likely still several weeks off.

So far, Thomas said about a dozen companies have been reviewed, and he expects the number of applicants to take off once a formal announcement is made.

Successful applicants will need a prototype in development or some “proof of concept,” such as a clinical trial or algorithm, he sadi, “something that actually works.” Inova isn’t looking for growth equity, he added, noting a dearth of early stage investors nationwide, “particularly in this area.”

Among the products Inova is eyeing are medical devices, digital health applications, diagnostics, health IT/analytics and sensors. Pharmaceuticals and biotech, along with anything else that needs premarket approval from the Food and Drug Administration, are off the table.

Thomas stressed, however, that “this is not a boot camp” and companies will be accepted only if they can meet a perceived need within Inova.

Again, it all comes down to precision medicine.

“We’re looking for tools more capable of identifying you as an individual, more targeted options that will work for you the first time instead of trying two or three therapies to find the one that works for you,” Jobse said.

As an example, he said Inova is testing therapies for patients diagnosed with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder using pharmacogenomics—the study of how genes affect an individual’s response to drugs.

“Using pharmacogenomics makes it much easier to identify a therapy that works the first time,” Jobse said. “This is the personalized side these advances can deliver.”

August 15, 2017 - 4:53pm