As health costs spiraled over the last decade, the need for more cost-effective health care systems has become increasingly urgent. Medical innovation plays a vital role in making medicine both efficient and affordable — not to mention improving the quality of patient care and ensuring positive outcomes. However, the process of creating new medical devices requires an in-depth understanding of multiple disciplines including medicine, engineering, and finance that few could master alone. As a result, most aspiring medical innovators face disappointment as the vast majority of ideas fail before reaching the market.
According to Dr. Yaakov Nahmias, the director of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem's Center for Bioengineering, "When it comes to bringing an idea to market, there is a huge disparity between Hi-Tech, where a few programmers can succeed, and Bio-Tech, where clinicians, engineers, and business experts must all work together to bring a product to the market."
To solve this problem, Nahmias partnered with Prof. Chaim Lotan, the director of the Heart Institute at Hadassah Medical Organization, supported by Hadassah, the Women's Zionist Organization of America. Dr. Lotan is also an expert in clinical innovation. According to Lotan, "We knew that Stanford University's Biodesign program was the most successful medical innovation program to date, and considering the outstanding students at the Hebrew University and Hadassah we were certain we could give them a run for their money."
The two partnered with Prof. Dan Galai, the former Dean of the Business School at the Hebrew University, and with the help of Dr. Todd Brighton, a Biodesign program director at Stanford University, established the Hebrew University's Biodesign program, the first academic medical innovation accelerator in Israel.
Biodesign is a multi-disciplinary, team-based approach to medical innovation. The program takes outstanding medical fellows, bioengineering and business graduate students and tutors them in the science and practice of bringing a medical innovation to the market. The teams receive a list of clinical problems, collected from Israeli and American hospitals, and critically evaluate their commercial potential. Once they identify a clinical need with commercial potential, they find an engineering solution that can be protected by a patent application.
The students are mentored by some of Israel's best and brightest academic and industrial experts, who bring their experience in scientific discovery, clinical applications, and business development.
According to the Hebrew University's Nahmias, "This isn't a pure academic exercise. We have students and clinicians who are eager to bring innovation to the market. The program generated quite of lot of excitement with the business and academic environment. It is exactly this drive that makes Israel a start-up nation."
One year after starting with 20 students and medical fellows, the program has already produced four projects that passed through the proof-of-concept stage, are protected by provisional patent applications, and are showing excellent market potential.
One of the projects, called SAGIV, is a semi-automatic handheld device for rapid and safe IV insertion, using infrared sights and electrical sensing. SAGIV targets a $900 million market with elements already tested on difficult IV insertion cases at the Hadassah Medical Center.
Another project, called GuideIN Tube, is a robotic intubation device which automatically navigates towards the lungs, targeting a $3 billion market.
"The projects really look like science fiction gadgets," said Nahmias. "Even if just a few Biodesign companies succeed, they can completely transform the Israeli medical device sector".
"We have incredibly driven students at the Hebrew University, and Biodesign gives them critical tools they need to succeed," added Lotan. Both directors noted that students accomplished in one academic year what many start-up companies take 2 to 3 years to complete, advancing to the point of having proof-of-principle prototypes.
Yehuda Zisapel, president of RAD-Bynet Group, one of the largest investment groups in Israel, said: "Biodesign is a truly innovative approach to generate and accelerate new ideas. The cooperative efforts of physicians, scientists, engineers and business development people allows for a multidimensional approach which encourages the creation and development of new ideas. I was really impressed by the team work and the spirit created by the program, and also by the impressive achievements of the projects."
Hadassah Medical Center's Prof. Lotan attributes the program's success to several additional factors: "We are based in Jerusalem, where biotechnology ventures are buoyed by sustained government support. We are backed by the strong track record of Yissum and Hadasit, the technology transfer companies of the Hebrew University and Hadassah Medical Center. And we have an important relationship with Stanford's Biodesign program, which offers knowledge, experience and course materials. The Biodesign program has increased Stanford University biomed startup success rates by 4 to 5 folds over the last decade. We envision a similar revolution in Jerusalem, where 50% of the medical research in Israel is already taking place."