Dear Members and Friends of Virginia Bio,,
Sorry, you can’t have my job. I had another couple dream weeks mixing office work, visiting members and experiencing extraordinary depth and breadth of science and business activities over the state (and I’m not even including the smash hit Women Building Bio: the XX factor (just take a look at the photos).
Earlier this month I traveled to Virginia Tech Carillion Research Institute (bold indicates Virginia Bio Member) for the long planned three day Scandinavian / Virginia Conference on Precision Neuroscience. The gathering brought over a hundred researchers from overseas and across the state together to articulate the path to application of precision medicine principles in neurological and brain, and to explore new collaborations with one another and industry. This was the splendid handiwork of VTCRI Director, Michael Friedlander, and the culmination of many years of building relationships and focused work. I was able to check off a bucket list item Thursday evening - chatting with a Nobel Prize winner in plainly English over a glass of wine, then experiencing a dazzling Nobel worthy presentation. Eric Betzig gave a breathless (for the audience) eye-popping, brilliant/humble non-stop 45-minute account of his work at Howard Hughes Medical Institute Janelia Research Campus in Ashburn, Va., with still and video images of objects smaller than a wavelength of light, which as the elders will recall was conclusively proven under the laws of physics to be impossible until Eric and his colleagues and collaborators did so. And to be expected, the images of where they’ve taken the technology recently. Sometimes you have to lean back and marvel at the beauty of creation.
A week ago, I had the opportunity to spend a Saturday in DC at the 4th Annual Pediatric Surgical Innovation Symposium presented by the Sheikh Zayed Institute of Pediatric Surgical Innovation, part of the Children’s National Health System. The conference, entitled “Helping Kids and the Economy Grow Stronger through Innovation” was in part a national competition for $250K in grants to medical devices that address a significant yet unmet pediatric need, and in part a gathering of local, regional and national experts to discuss critical issues in bringing medical device innovation to children, including funding and private investment, economic development assistance and barriers, regulatory paths and roadblocks, and the practical considerations in getting funded, approved and reimbursable devices into hospitals and to the patients. A dozen finalists, out of over 90 national applicants, contested in the pitch competition, and included two Virginia companies. CareTaker Medical, Charlottesville, was represented by David Gerdt and Jeff Pompeo, and proposed the development of a prototype for smaller children of its FDA cleared device for continuous noninvasive (wireless) blood pressure and ECG monitoring, and extending to other pediatric vital signs. The second, Averia Health Solutions, Alexandria, was represented by 17-year-old Rohan Suri, senior at Thomas Jefferson Governor’s School, and inventor and entrepreneur of a relatively inexpensive, highly deployable concussion screening device leveraging a smartphones’ camera and processor to accurately measure and quantify various eye tracking metrics widely accepted for screening and contributing to diagnoses. As to Rohan’s presentation and performance in the shark tank, I will simply say this: if you ever find yourself on the same program as this young man, under no circumstances appear after him on the program - you will be invisibilized. This conference was terrific, and is growing and developing every year, just as the researchers and clinicians at the Sheikh Zayed Institute are developing more innovations and spin-out candidates every year.
Speaking of spinouts from Children’s National, at the Innovation Awards gala in Crystal City sponsored by Washington Business Journal and Cherry Bekaert leading innovators from all industries across the Washington region were honored. One of ten awardees was eKare, a young company dedicated to the design and development of wound assessment solutions using the latest computer-vision and mobile technology, spun out of CNMC and located in Virginia, thanks in part to support from the Center for Innovative Technologies (CIT). Another awardee was K2M, the fast growing Leesburg based public company, which makes spinal implant devices with highly advanced design and manufacturing technologies, including 3-D printing.
Last Friday, I attended the 5th Annual Biomedical Informatics Symposium at Georgetown University. The event, organized by Subha Madhaven, Director of the innovation Center for Biomedical informatics at Georgetown and Chief Data Officer of Perthera, brought national academic, health care and industry leaders together to scan the horizon of precision medicine initiatives (John Deeken from Inova Health System was a panelist), health data analytics, and path breaking initiatives such as the Genomic Data Commons (attempting not only to amass but harmonize genome libraries) and the Targeted Agent and Profiling Utilization Registry (TAPUR) Study (an FDA approved study to harness real world data). Quantitative science research by Georgetown researchers was featured as well. Data and bio are colliding all over the world, but I’m reminded again there is no reason the Virginia/DC/Maryland regional should not gather and promote its unique resources and assets and become preeminent.
Finally, at the end of last month I traveled to Virginia Beach and attended the health and biotechnology around of the statewide million-dollar business plan competition Virginia Velocity Tour, overseen by the Office of the Secretary of Commerce and Trade. The rains were well underway, and it’s nearly accurate to say for the first time ever I was wetter outside the water than in it at the beach. But hundreds showed up for a feisty competition at the Virginia Aquarium. Finalists included Attention Point, , Sanyal Biotechnology and GoGo Band, with Adartis getting the win. Gary Warren, President and CEO of ivWatch and last year’s first prize winner, was one of the judging panel.
Wow. Harnessing the explosion of knowledge and technology to bring healing and wellness to the world. Great work, all.