Partners HealthCare is a global leader in healthcare research and development, with an immense capacity for innovation.

Partners HealthCare Innovation is the system’s business development arm that commercializes the insights and discoveries of researchers and clinicians at Boston-based Massachusetts General Hospital, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Massachusetts Eye and Ear, and McLean Hospital, all of which are Harvard Medical School affiliates. The 125-member team was responsible for $154 million in commercial and investment income last year and at any given time is working on 2,000-plus active agreements.

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“We have thousands of hyper- insightful and creative faculty who continuously interact with each other. Research and clinical excellence is their unifying theme,” said Chris Coburn, chief innovation officer of Partners HealthCare and president of Partners HealthCare International. “That means we have the ability to use our size and discovery aptitude to drive outcomes that might not otherwise be possible.”

Partners HealthCare has spun off more than 300 companies in the past 10 years. The health system established Partners Innovation Fund in 2008 with a $35 million initial commitment; it has grown to $171 million through both internal and external investments.

Partner’s innovation culture drives therapeutic solutions, devices or digital technologies. Here, Mr. Coburn discusses the health system’s projects and what he’s looking forward to in the future.

Question: What is Partners Innovation Fund working on in digital healthcare?

Chris Coburn: Our Health Catalyst investment is a good model for how we see digital innovation working. Health Catalyst came to us in 2013 as a data warehousing company. They were small but had a great team and were able to triumph over some very large, longstanding industry incumbents. At the same time, their vision was so compelling that we wanted to invest in their Series B funding. The operational and financial return for us has been large including important tools to meet our population health requirements. We have a collaborative relationship with them and we are also owners in the company, so the economics are favorable.

Q: Could you tell us about the opportunities you’re seeing within your innovation fund?

CC: The principal focus of Partners Innovation Fund is therapeutic, and that’s typically a long-term investment. We have had some digital investments, like QPID Health. Within the digital framework, we are looking to invest in things that typically monetize more quickly than therapeutics. On the digital side, we expect to increase the number of companies we collaborate with who are today delivering a torrent of solutions to solve challenges in healthcare transformation, asset utilization, and expense management.

On the therapeutic side, gene and cell therapy is a vibrant, fast growing market. On the device side, we are expecting an increase in devices that will enable lower cost treatment for disease, particularly chronic disease where the devices can act on their own or interface with our electronic system. Microdevices continue to have growth, whether it’s dealing with the acute or chronic problems.

Q: I understand that the Partners HealthCare Innovation team has around 125 members. What is their background and what type of person do you recruit for your team?

CC: By philosophy, they are all business developers in one way or another. By training, we principally have MDs, PhDs, and MBAs on our team. They are all uniformly committed to executing their work at the highest standards. There is a requisite capability on the technical, operational or deal-making side. Our entire team is energized to be an element of moving innovation between the academic and commercial sectors. They live at that point of interface where they have the ability to help take an academic insight and see it deployed on the industry side. They all contribute in one fashion or another and derive great satisfaction from contributing to the health of patients by translating innovation from our faculty into products that will improve lives.

Q: How do ideas come into the organization? Is it from internal sources or typically external investments?

CC: It’s a mix and varies by category. Some of our ideas come out of the classic hospital environment from delivering care, or hospital administration. Some come from collaborators. That said, a majority of our innovation comes from the $1.9 billion in annual laboratory research conducted by our hospitals.

Q: What trends are you seeing for future investments?

CC: The emphasis for us is growing our digital capability and enhancing our translational research strengths. Even though we are in Boston, a lot of promising technologies get stranded as they move from lab to commercial application.

Source: Partners HealthCare’s investment strategy that led to $154M commercial, investment income in 2018