Accelerator programs and incubators are growing rapidly in number within the health care industry, with most replicating standard tech incubator models. But one organization has worked to redefine what an accelerator program can look like in the health space by joining one of the country’s largest and most influential associations in its landmark effort to court healthcare innovation. Dr. Ross Tonkens, a cardiologist and Chief Medical Officer in Cary, North Carolina has directed the creation of the Science and Technology Accelerator Program inside the American Heart Association (AHA), that targets and supports ground-breaking ideas from residents to senior clinicians.
Breaking The Mold
Although the AHA is most well known for its Heart Walks, Heart Ball and various awareness efforts such as the Go Red campaign, with a growing accelerator program, the Association could soon be known for changing how health associations and organizations think about growing overall impact. Not only do new ideas, technologies, and products improve the branding and public relations of an association, but it also leads to innovation that improves cost-effective practices, patient experience and standards of care.
According to Dr. Donald Lloyd-Jones, Senior Associate Dean for Clinical and Translational Research at Northwestern University, “When the prevalence of atrial fibrillation is presently estimated between 2.5-6 million Americans, but also estimated to be 6-16 million by the end of 2015, we know invention and innovation are needed.”
The AHA’s 2020 Impact Goals are to reduce deaths from cardiovascular disease and stroke by 20% as well as improve cardiovascular health of all American’s by 20%. Lloyd-Jones said the kind of disruption and change necessary to make these goals achievable will have to come from newer and more effective ideas and products through the Accelerator program in addition to continued research funding.
Dr. Lloyd-Jones set the tone of the AHA’s “Get Pumped” efforts by highlighting that, “continuing to fund research efforts will ensure tomorrow’s health and science discoveries make it from bench to bedside.”
Dr. Tonkens adds that investments through the Accelerator program can encourage industry and venture capital interests to “pick up the baton and carry it to the finish line after we fund proof of concept clinical research.”
Presently, the AHA is the second largest funder of cardiovascular research after the federal government. AHA has spent over $3.5 billion in supporting basic science research, and continues to do so. The Accelerator on the other hand is focused on identifying the game changers that can be propelled to market as quickly as possible, and helping the industry and investors feel confident in having a lower amount of risk on innovative products.
While AHA gave an estimated $134 million last fiscal year in research, the AHA Science and Technology Accelerator Program is independent. To date it has not collected money directly from AHA, but instead, relies solely on donations directed to the Accelerator through awareness and fundraising efforts.
While this can make funding difficult, it also means any return on investment by the Accelerator is used to drive game changers into the market faster; the gift that keeps on giving.
Challenging The Status Quo
The Accelerator program not only invests money, but also expertise in areas such as scientific research, regulatory issues, intellectual property and commercialization strategies. This is done to ensure that all ideas are solicited, vetted and implemented to the best of their abilities, even those from younger individuals in the AHA that may not have yet been granted government funding or published in journals.
At the Heart Innovation Forum in Chicago last October, Jill Seidman of Healthbox agreed. During a panel discussion on accelerating discovery to patient experience she examined to audience that it was ideal for Chicago to host the AHA Forum because it was on the forefront of young innovation. She explained that, “bridging academic medical centers (AMCs) with community centers and clinics is imperative to improving outcomes, and Chicago has more AMC and medical schools than any other region in the United States.”
Dr. Tonkens message was clear at that same Forum. He said that like Healthbox, the Science and Technology Accelerator within AHA could fund – and has – great ideas. As he put it, “small amounts of money can dramatically improve life expectancy and decrease death from heart attack and stroke when leveraged by the global expertise in science, medicine, IP, regulatory and commercialization strategies which AHA is uniquely capable of bringing to bear.
American Heart Month And Beyond
As February closes out National Heart Month it is important for American’s to think about the implications of the country’s most detrimental health condition, heart disease. As a nation we have a long way to go to improve overall outcomes as they pertain to cardiovascular health, and especially those of our minority populations.
Through initiatives that range from the new Get Pumped phone app to high-end fundraisers to advocacy campaigns, the AHA is working hard on its outreach, educational, and public policy efforts. “Funding research and encouraging technological innovation is critically important,” said AHA Illinois Government Relations Director Alex Meixner, “but we also work with stakeholders ranging from hospitals to local, state, and federal governments to ensure that today’s scientific breakthroughs become tomorrow’s universal standards of care.”
Further, the status quo must be disrupted, and must be met with acceptance by veteran clinicians. Although current best practices exist for a reason, there cannot be progress using older methods to care for our aging and changing population.