Funding healthcare accelerators, an HHS unit is taking a VC approach to innovation
The DRIVe (Division of Research, Innovation, and Ventures) website looks like it belongs to a VC company rather than a federal agency – smart graphics and succinct descriptions. That’s not an accident. DRIVe is taking a venture approach to solving some intractable health issues.
Part of BARDA (the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority), and ultimately the Department of Health and Human Services, DRIVe is hunting for new technologies to detect and manage infectious outbreaks, control the rampant inflammation associated with sepsis and generally advance health security.
“At a time when artificial intelligence and personalized medicine are not just conceivable but attainable, the time is uniquely now to solve some of the most daunting, far-reaching health security problems,” said BARDA director Rick Bright in a news release.
DRIVe recently made eight grants to accelerators around the country. They will work together to identify interesting startups, academic researchers and others who are developing technologies that could solve these and other health security problems. The accelerators will support product development and connect companies with potential investors.
“Our initial focus will be on innovations aimed at early identification of sepsis and improving outcomes and developing tools for pre-symptomatic identification of the infection,” said Emil Runge, program manager at Raleigh-Durham grantee First Flight Venture Center in an email. “Other areas will include diagnostics, vaccines, therapeutics for pandemic influenza and emerging infectious diseases, novel technologies aimed at mitigating these threats and medical countermeasures production platform systems.”
MedTech Innovator (MTI), another grantee, is an LA-based nonprofit spun off from Research Corporation Technologies to offer better opportunities for under-appreciated startups. They often embrace new ideas traditional VCs might not touch.
“Health security is the perfect example of an area where there’s a critical need for innovation that typically doesn’t get the commercial support it needs to be successful,” said MTI founder and CEO Paul Grand in a phone interview. “BARDA was looking for accelerators that could help them source health security innovation.”
That means doing what MTI likes to do anyway – beat the bushes for new talent and guide them towards the resources they need to be successful.
“We reach out to these ecosystems, whether it’s a university or an accelerator,” said Grand, “and spread the message that we’re looking for technologies to address health security issues”
MTI is tracking 2,700 companies, as well as actively searching for the right technologies. That could be algorithms to detect sepsis early or even advanced dialysis to weed inflammatory molecules out of the blood.
“If you’re an innovator, and you have something that might be applicable, there’s a need there,” said Grand. “And not just a medical need, but a customer, someone who is ready to pay for it.”
In addition to MTI and First Flight, there are grantees in Philadelphia, Houston, New York, New Orleans, Boston and Seattle. The accelerators plan to work closely together to share resources and referrals and build their network.
“The initial sign of success is increasing awareness of the opportunities through BARDA and continuing to build the robust health security ecosystem in the Research Triangle to improve the probabilities of a breakthrough technology,” said Runge. “This project outreach will yield a network of regional health security innovators who will participate in events, receive project updates and form an active community around this project.”