Earlier this month, Sheba Medical Center (Tel Hashomer Hospital) launched its ambitious ARC network innovation project. The hospital thereby joined many other hospitals in Israel and worldwide that sponsor innovation projects aimed at cooperation between hospitals, startups, and large companies in information and other areas. Each hospital's approach differs, depending on the outlook of its managers, but Sheba Medical Center's model stands out for its openness to international cooperation.
Access and knowledge in exchange for royalties
"When we began planning the innovation center, we realized several things," says Sheba Medical Center deputy director general, chief medical officer, and chief innovation officer Dr. Eyal Zimlichman. "We don't just respond to the needs of external companies and the ideas that doctors at the center bring to us on their own initiative. We deliberately promote innovation. We also realized that in the near future, the most important thing is to promote digital health on this format.
"In contrast to the conservative image that health systems sometimes have, we decided to deliberately promote any digital health solution found to be worthwhile in order to be part of the change in medicine in the coming decade, solve problems such as waiting lines for tests in hospitals, errors, and a whole range of other needs of which we in the health system are well aware.
"Something else that we realized is that the change shouldn't come through an internal development team. There are far more suitable players, but they require a close partnership with us. It has to be so close that it's best if they operate right within our campus, so that they obtain maximum exposure to our resources - mainly specialists, information, and the trial site."
The program is called Accelerate Innovation to Redesign Healthcare and Collaborate with Partners (ARC). Zimlichman says that the key word is partnership. "Everyone is not concerned solely with his own interests. We give startups what they need, so that they'll meet my needs and those of the hospital," he explains.
Companies selected by Sheba Medical Center and companies created at the hospital can take up residence on the ARC campus: 35,000 square meters in five buildings (two are already ready for action). "We save them having to rent space from WeWork in Tel Aviv," says Zimlichman, "by offering them a place here, close to everything that they need."
20 startups are already active at ARC, most of them located on the site. They will work together with the hospital's innovation projects, either independently or in cooperation with international companies. "We hear from the startups that their development processes were significantly sped up since they moved here. What used to take many months now takes two months," Zimlichman claims.
In return for access to the hospital's data and infrastructure through specially designed mechanisms aimed at making sure that the hospital team is really cooperating with the venture, the hospital receives royalties on sales of the products. "The startups love this model, because if they don't have sales, they don't pay," Zimlichman chuckles. Sheba Medical Center also installs the systems for itself free of charge.
The offices of the venture capital fund jointly founded by Sheba Medical Center and the Triventures fund, unsurprisingly named Triventures ARC, are also located on the Sheba campus. The fund has the right to look first at the projects being set up or entering the network. "The fund's leading executives are involved even before these projects really become companies," Zimlichman says. "As a result, in addition to exposure to the hospital's knowledge, the fund's experience can also guide them to the most attractive application of their technology."
"Globes": Does this mean that a startup will come to you at the very earliest stage?
Zimlichman: "We have two tracks. One is development within the campus of ideas arriving in an initial stage and obtaining development funding from a philanthropic fund. The ideas come from the hospital and our partners - Tel Aviv University, our academic partner; Leumit Health Services and Meuhedet Health Services, which are partners in ARC; the IDF Medical Corps; and the Ministry of Health. In the other track, mature startups come to us."
Zimlichman says that the partnerships created are both local and international, and that it is already actually happening. In recent weeks, we heard from several important international sources, international drug companies and health systems, that they have begun considering collaboration with ARC, or have already begun collaborating with it.
"The network we created includes hospitals, such as Stanford University Medical Center, Mayo Clinic, and Massachusetts General Hospital. We already have 15 like these, as well as large drug and medical device companies: Boston Scientific, Johnson & Johnson, and Merck AstraZeneca. We decide in which field we want to cooperate, and brainstorm together. For example, we're developing a cardiology product with Mayo Clinic. This collaboration came about when our doctor was doing a residency with them. He thought of an idea there, came back here, and we conceived of the product as a joint project. It will go on the market next year."
In this case, the product is a typical medical device for ablation surgery, not a digital health project, but the track for it can be the same. Before ARC was founded, the product would have passed through Sheba's commercialization company, and that is also the plan now, but the commercialization company has also become part of the network, and its name will have ARC in it.
"Another form of cooperation with international hospitals is installing a product developed by a startup in the ARC project, after it was already installed at Sheba. The hospital can benefit from the experience of Sheba's medical staff in working on the project, and also sometimes from a grant from the Israel Innovation Authority for installing Israeli digital health technology in hospitals," Zimlichman says.
According to Zlimlichman, drug companies give the center R&D budgets in order to solve problems. "For example, a company that developed an intravenous ultrasound product, IVUS, encountered a problem - cardiologists don't know how to read an ultrasound - they have no experience in it. So the company asked our digital health team to build a user interface layer on the ultrasound that would analyze it the way that cardiologists are used to seeing information."
Startups also come from all over the world. "A German startup aiming at the US market came to us, but its R&D is located at Sheba, and it employs Israelis. We now also have Italian and Swiss projects, and we may also get a US one," Zimlichman says hopefully.
"We'll be a hospital based on virtual reality"
Beyond the connection with companies, the ARC network plays an active role in a project with the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Finance to devise a more positive regulatory infrastructure for digital health companies - one of the tasks that is also on the agenda of the Association of Digital Health Companies in Israel.
"The information today is not out there in a form that makes it possible to make positive use of it. As of now, we're the first hospital to receive approval for working on the cloud, and we're taking advantage of it," Zimlichman says.
You're offering startups the chance to use the hospital's infrastructure and to get help from the staff, and are also offering to install all of the innovations. In real time, does the staff have enough time and attention to devote to a startup, and is the organization really able to implement so many changes at once?
"Implementation is an important subject, and we're making a big effort in planning it. We make sure that each system that we install reduces a nurse's work, and doesn't add to it, and that the system is helping the doctor, not making a decision instead of him or her. We bring in the clinicians at the very beginning, and select one champion for each pilot who really wants to install it, and one department that is open to it, even if it's not necessarily an environment that will be the most attractive market for that product. Afterwards, when success is proven, the pilot is expanded to other departments."
What will indicate to you that the program has been a success?
"We measure how much money we managed to save the hospital by installing the technologies and how much money we managed to add to the system through our partnerships."
Zimlichman says that Sheba is also part of the trend towards introducing virtual reality and augmented reality in hospitals. "In 2020, we'll turn Sheba into a hospital based on virtual reality. Products in this area will be used for both training the staff and enriching the operating theater with imaging and new approaches to information, and directly with patients in order to treat pain without pain relievers, and to treat depression and anxiety."
Published by Globes, Israel business news - en.globes.co.il - on November 24, 2019
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