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April 28, 2013 | Tom Ballard

Panel explores convergence of life science innovation and healthcare delivery

Life Science TN-teknoTwo words – “collaboration” and “cooperation” – seemed to be the consistent theme at a Friday event in Johnson City co-sponsored by Life Science Tennessee and AccelNow, the Northeast Tennessee regional accelerator.

Whether among university researchers, various components of the healthcare system or the entrepreneurial community, speakers at the session emphasized the need to find ways to collaborate vertically and across sectors to address the challenges of healthcare costs and outcomes.

“There is an opportunity for all of us to become involved,” said Jon Smith, Chair of the AccelNow board.

A panel of four healthcare professionals discussed how they and their employers are addressing the event’s theme – the “Convergence of Life Science Innovation and Healthcare Delivery.” The group included two individuals who hold key positions in the Northeast Tennessee market – Bill Duncan, Vice Provost for Research at East Tennessee State University (ETSU), and Rob Slattery, President and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Integrated Solutions Health Network.

The other panelists were David Roach, an Assistant Professor at Dalhousie University on Nova Scotia who is collaborating with ETSU, and Chuck Witkowski of Knoxville, President and CEO of Hubble Telemedical and an Entrepreneur-in-Residence with MB Venture Partners.

“What we’re doing in Innovative Solutions is disruptive,” Slattery said, citing the current emphasis on the “Triple Aim” in healthcare improvement – reduce costs, improve outcomes and increase patient satisfaction. “We are taking a population centric approach.” That includes the creation of an insurance company and an accountable care organization.

“We have the perfect opportunity to build teams and programs in the region,” Duncan said. He noted the important role that AccelNow, which ETSU coordinates, and ETSU’s Innovation Lab as two assets to support entrepreneurs focused on life sciences and healthcare technologies.

“There has not been a better time to be a life sciences entrepreneur in the last three years,” Witkowski said. He should know, having founded Protein Discovery in Knoxville while still a college student. Witkowski joined Hubble Telemedical about a year ago.

“We are all about improving the delivery of care” for those with diabetic retinopathy,” he said. “Treatment success is dependent on early diagnosis.”

In addition to his academic role, Roach also is an entrepreneur, serving as President of DMF Medical, a med device start-up in Halifax. For him, the key for an entrepreneur considering a new technology is understanding the value proposition for the total health system. Does one part of the delivery system win and another loses?

“If it is a category killer, go to something else,” he advises entrepreneurs.

Lance Bridgesmith, an attorney with Butler Snow, moderated the panel.