March, 2012

Innovation

Recently, Pacific Edge Diagnostics, Ltd., a New Zealand-based company, announced plans to expand its operations to Hershey, where it will fill 100 new jobs in Pennsylvania over the next three years. From its new facility adjacent to the Medical Center at the Hershey Center for Applied Research (HCAR), Pacific Edge will develop and market its new bladder cancer diagnostic test to the U.S. market. This news story underscores the importance of innovation, both as an economic engine and as a means of realizing the life-changing potential of new ideas and discoveries. Innovation, in the context of biomedical sciences and health care, is defined as the process of taking research discoveries, translating them into new drugs, devices, diagnostic tools, and processes that can improve health. As the region's only academic health center and as one of the largest employers in central Pennsylvania, Penn State Hershey Medical Center and Penn State College of Medicine has an opportunity and a responsibility to serve as an engine for innovation in our region.

Our partnership with HCAR and the Life Sciences Greenhouse of Central Pennsylvania forms an important catalyst to attract companies like Pacific Edge to this region. Penn State Hershey can draw such companies to central Pennsylvania because of the opportunities for collaboration with our faculty, the highly-trained workforce generated by our graduate programs, and the access to shared research resources we can offer to companies based at HCAR. At the same time, Penn State Hershey is also investing in programs and initiatives to support our own faculty members' efforts at innovation. Recent changes in U.S. patent laws underscore why it is important for academic and research institutions to educate and support faculty to commercialize intellectual property in ways that benefit society and the university alike. In an era when many of the traditional sources for research funding are being curtailed, the commercialization of intellectual property and the revenue that IP can generate for academic institutions should play a vital role in supporting ongoing research. Commercialization of discoveries not only offers new treatments and cures for disease but can be instrumental in attracting additional industry-sponsored research. In addition it can be an important source of funding for academic health centers and universities. Patenting and licensing a successful new invention may potentially generate significant revenue that can be reinvested in research and support our academic mission. Penn State Hershey has a huge opportunity to capitalize on the exciting research being conducted here, and that's why we are putting programs and resources in place to support innovation and the commercial development of intellectual property.

Academic institutions have long played a vital role in the research and discovery process. In recent years, the trend within the biotechnology and pharmaceutical industries has been to partner with academic institutions for research and early-stage development, often through industry-sponsored research. To bridge the gap between the academic research lab and the established multinational corporation, technology transfer and small start-up companies have critical roles to play. Our Office of Technology Development (OTD) offers a number of programs that provide assistance to faculty members in identifying and implementing the best strategies for moving their discoveries beyond the lab and into the commercial arena, including assistance with patent applications and licensing agreements and guidance on launching a new start-up company to further develop and commercialize discoveries.

The Office of Technology Development recently launched an Innovation Café series to bring together scientists, entrepreneurs and members of the regional business community with an interest in biomedical innovation. Each Innovation Café event features a speaker with business and entrepreneurial expertise and also highlights a successful innovation or new technology. The first Innovation Café drew approximately 100 attendees to the Hershey Center for Applied Research, and as the series continues on a regular basis, we expect it to foster new connections that will lead to more innovation and more new start-up companies.

Our Office of Technology Development has also launched a new executive-in-residence program, matching faculty members interested in launching a company with a seasoned business leader who can provide expertise on starting and running a company. Recently, Pennsylvania Secretary of Community and Economic Development Alan Walker was in Hershey to officially award a $425,000 "Discovered and Developed in Pennsylvania" ("D2PA") grant to the executive-in-residence program, recognizing it as a means of providing education and training for leaders of emerging companies that have the potential to stimulate the regional economy. Even at this early stage, this program has proven helpful in getting new companies off to a successful start; with the help of executive-in-residence Tom Lytle, Dr. Gavin Robertson, professor of pharmacology, pathology, dermatology and surgery and director of the Penn State Hershey Melanoma Center, has launched a company called Melanovus to develop new therapies for melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer. Building on Dr. Robertson's research, Melanovus will pursue the development of new therapeutic agents to be tested in clinical trials and, hopefully, made available for treating patients with advanced disease. Dr. Robertson's research has also received significant support from the Foreman Foundation, illustrating the role that private philanthropy can play in advancing research. This also underscores the unique role that the academic health center can play in creating an environment that ultimately leads to the development of innovations to benefit patients. Dr. Robertson is certainly not the only member of our faculty to form a start-up company focused on drug development. Another example, Oncoceutics Pharmaceuticals Inc., is a company founded and led by Dr. Wafik El-Deiry, associate director for translational research, Penn State Hershey Cancer Institute, is building on Dr. El-Deiry's research on the p53 tumor suppressor protein. Oncoceutics has developed a screening strategy to test small molecule drugs demonstrating the potential to correct defects in this frequently mutated protein, thereby improving patients' response to cancer treatment.

Research innovation is not limited to discovering and developing new drugs and medical devices. Health care IT and health care services are also critical areas in which new ideas can be developed as intellectual property to improve health care delivery. For example, building on the success of our innovative re-engineering of the Penn State Hershey Emergency Department, through applying engineering principles and information technology to streamline and improve processes in patient care, Dr. Chris DeFlitch, who spearheaded that project, has founded a new company, PDQ, which will work with other institutions interested in applying similar processes to improving patient care. PDQ was a featured innovation presented at the most recent Innovation Café at the Hershey Center for Applied Research.

Penn State Hershey has an enormous opportunity to build on our region's distinctive appeal while at the same time broadening and diversifying our region's economy. Innovation in biotechnology provides our regional economy with ideas, investment and jobs that can drive economic growth and vitality. When companies like Pacific Edge locate operations in Hershey, our region gains momentum as a hub for biotechnology and innovation, encouraging other companies to consider locating their operations here and reinforcing an entrepreneurial network and business environment that can provide critical support to start-up companies.

More so now than ever, job creation is a top priority for the United States. Globally, science, technology and health care will continue to be major drivers of economic growth, so our institution and our partnerships with entities like the Hershey Center for Applied Research and the Life Sciences Greenhouse of Central Pennsylvania are the key to fulfilling the promise of job creation and economic revitalization in central Pennsylvania. In partnership with private industry, state and local government, and other education and research institutions, we can create an innovation-driven regional economy that will be a showcase for the nation.

 

Harold L. Paz, M.D.
Chief Executive Officer, Penn State Hershey Medical Center
Senior Vice President for Health Affairs, Penn State
Dean, Penn State College of Medicine