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UCSF, The University of Toledo Create Research Center for Musculoskeletal Innovation

Center for Disruptive Musculoskeletal Innovations to Work with Industry to Focus Technology on Increasing Patient Value

By Scott Maier

The National Science Foundation (NSF) has tapped UC San Francisco as the lead institution in a new Industry/University Cooperative Research Center (I/UCRC), one of only four such centers in the country in the area of health and safety, and the only center dedicated to musculoskeletal device, material and diagnostic innovation.

The Center for Disruptive Musculoskeletal Innovations (CDMI), which will be housed in the UCSF Department of Orthopaedic Surgery, will bring clinical and bioengineering faculty at UCSF and The University of Toledo (UT) together with an advisory board of leaders in the musculoskeletal products industry. The goal is to jointly define issues that hinder innovation and ideal patient outcomes, then tap into university resources to identify potential solutions. These solutions will be pursued using a common funding pool that supports graduate student research.

At a center launch meeting Friday and Saturday (July 25-26) at the UCSF William J. Rutter Center on the Mission Bay Campus, more than 75 faculty, industry executives and NSF staff will gather to refine the center’s vision, determine research direction and vote on projects to fund this year.

Invited presentations will address opportunities for public-private partnerships and discuss ways to increase patient value in musculoskeletal care. Twenty-two faculty members will pitch project ideas to an industry advisory board (IAB) that consists of CEOs, chief technology officers and vice presidents. These proposed project ideas initiated from collaborative discussions between center faculty and IAB members.

“CDMI provides a framework for collaboration and innovation with industry in an era of increased regulatory and reimbursement scrutiny,” said CDMI Director Jeffrey Lotz, UCSF professor and vice chair of research in orthopaedic surgery. “It is becoming harder for industry to justify investments in new technology development unless there is clear patient value, which means reduced cost and improved outcomes.”

In 2002, total expenditures for orthopaedic medical technology were estimated at $10 billion to $12 billion, according to the CDMI proposal. However, pre-market U.S. regulatory processes, combined with coverage and reimbursement uncertainties, have led to a decline in both venture funding and Food and Drug Administration submissions for medical devices in disciplines such as orthopaedics.

The new center is intended to help reverse that trend by focusing on industry needs, or "technology pull," rather than the academic perception of those needs, "technology push." It also aims to align the pre-competitive interests of industry members by identifying new market opportunities and focused technologies that could reduce or eliminate high patient-care costs.

As such, it is part of a larger, ongoing effort at UCSF to foster collaboration both across the health sciences campus and with industry, in an effort to accelerate the translation of scientific advances into patient benefit.

Similarly, partner institution UT promotes cross-disciplinary research between its Main Campus and Health Science Campus, encouraging engagement with industry partners and entrepreneurs to meet the needs of the medical technology industry.

To that end, CDMI will fund proposals from various disciplines, including material science, biomedical engineering, nanotechnology, biosensors, implant design, information technology, health care economics and advanced imaging.

The number of awarded projects will vary annually, based on the number of companies involved. The center will launch with 10 member companies in 2014-15: Apex Spine; Depuy Spine, Inc.; Eli Lilly and Co.; Fore; K2M, Inc.; Medtronic, Inc.; Orthofix; Spinal Balance, Inc.; Spine Soft Fusion; and Turning Point, LLC. Alphatec Spine, BioTime, Inc., Cellulosic Solutions, General Electric, Johnson & Johnson, Merck & Co., Inc., Respiratory Products, Inc., Stryker Corp. and Syntorr will attend as observers.

A unique aspect of CDMI is companies that typically compete in the marketplace will collaborate in the center to define pressing industry needs and jointly support research for potential solutions. In this open innovation model, each company contributes to a joint research fund and shares the resulting data and intellectual property.

The center also will serve to inform industry members of recent technological advances and trends in health outcomes, quality and costs associated with musculoskeletal care, including spine, arthroplasty and sports medicine.

“This will be a continual process of working with the current participating companies and bringing in new ones,” Lotz said. “We want to develop a think tank with teeth – that is, we not only identify critical obstacles but also have resources to develop solutions.”

According to Vijay Goel, PhD, co-director of the CDMI and Engineering Center for Orthopedic Research Excellence (E-CORE) and Endowed Chair and McMaster-Gardner Professor at UT, the return on investment eventually could be 6-to-1 or more. For the $160,000 invested by the NSF over the next five years for CDMI, $1 million or more in projects could be funded annually.

“There is a pressing societal need to create more value placed on the money spent towards medical technology, and thereby manage the increase of health care costs without sacrificing the benefits of innovation,” Goel said. “In order for the United States to maintain its leadership in medical technologies, health care dollars need to be channeled in ways that will foster sustainable innovation in the long run.”

Future CDMI efforts could include a fellows program to train graduate students in identifying and selecting basic discoveries that have potential for translation to therapies with direct patient benefit, Lotz said.

Each NSF I/UCRC is established to conduct research of interest to both the industry and university with which it is involved, with the provision the industry must provide major support to the center at all times. These centers rely primarily on the involvement of graduate students in their research projects, thus developing students knowledgeable in industrially relevant research.

UC San Francisco (UCSF), now celebrating the 150th anniversary of its founding, is a leading university dedicated to promoting health worldwide through advanced biomedical research, graduate-level education in the life sciences and health professions, and excellence in patient care. It includes top-ranked graduate schools of dentistry, medicine, nursing and pharmacy, a graduate division with nationally renowned programs in basic, biomedical, translational and population sciences, as well as a preeminent biomedical research enterprise and two top-ranked hospitals, UCSF Medical Center and UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital San Francisco.