Taking North Shore-LIJ to market

Tom Thornton, the former Cleveland Clinic exec who heads Northwell's commercialization effort.

By GREGORY ZELLER // With two spinoffs in play and as many as 10 waiting in the wings, the North Shore-LIJ Health System is ramping up its commercialization efforts at STAT speed.

In particular, a series of ambitious collaborations between North Shore and the Cleveland Clinic – a nonprofit, multispecialty medical center melding hospital care with research and education – are beginning to bear commercial fruit.

Speaking at a Long Island Association event on Thursday, North Shore-LIJ CEO and President Michael Dowling noted as many as a dozen spinoff companies forming through the Cleveland connection.

The first, Vanguard Research Group, has already inked a $28.8 million deal with a Japanese pharmaceuticals conglomerate, through which the startup will coordinate clinical studies of a drug targeting schizophrenia and related disorders.

And there are plenty more deals like that to come, according to Dowling.

“We’re not just a bunch of doctors anymore,” he told the LIA crowd.

North Shore-LIJ’s collaborations with the Cleveland Clinic date back to 2012, when the two organizations announced that the Long Island-based health system had hitched its stars to Cleveland Clinic Innovations, a multistate, multipronged approach to commercializing medical breakthroughs. By the time North Shore-LIJ joined up, Cleveland Clinic Innovations already included the University of Notre Dame and Maryland-based health system MedStar Health; later in 2012 it would also welcome ProMedica, a health system bridging Ohio and Michigan.

In 2014, to extend its growing Cardiovascular Specialty Network to the East Coast, the Cleveland Clinic Heart & Vascular Institute made North Shore-LIJ its exclusive alliance member for Greater New York. Greasing the skids of that cardio collaboration was Tom Thornton, who in 2013 left his position as general manager of alliances at the Cleveland Clinic to head up North Shore-LIJ’s commercialization efforts.

Thornton now serves as senior vice president of North Shore Ventures, a commercialization division North Shore-LIJ describes as an “entrepreneurial approach.” As its leader, Thornton is charged with monetizing innovations developed within the health system.

“We have many commercialization projects in the pipeline that we’re activity pursuing,” he told Innovate LI. “The goal is to expand and diversify revenue streams, monetize our capabilities and take a hard look at opportunities with other organizations to enhance the quality of our services and improve access for our patients.”

Translation: Bring good ideas to market and build partnerships — especially clinical trial arrangements — that benefit North Shore-LIJ and its patients.

Those efforts led to the creation of Vanguard Research Group, which inked the four-year deal with Otsuka America Pharmaceuticals, the U.S. subsidiary of a Japanese company looking to test an injectable, suspended-release version of aripiprazole, a drug used to treat schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and depression.

Vanguard will manage clinical trials of the drug, according to North Shore-LIJ spokesman Terry Lynam, who called the four-year deal “a major contract for us” – and an important resource for Otsuka America.

“One of the big challenges in the pharmaceutical world is access to patients and getting them to enroll in clinical trials,” noted Lynam. “Administratively, it’s a big headache. We created Vanguard Research to work with pharmaceutical companies, device makers, biomedical research companies and other healthcare providers to create clinical trial opportunities. We do the back-end work.”

Vanguard Research Group – which will connect Otsuka America with pharmaceutical companies across the United States, providing access to patients, staff and dozens of research sites – isn’t the only spinoff up North Shore Ventures’ sleeve. Thornton also played a lead role in the formation of CirrusHealth, a startup peddling a cloud-based software suite developed by neurosurgeons at North Shore-LIJ’s Lennox Hill Hospital.

Citing common flaws in current hospital-discharge processes, including a laundry list of instructions that may be confusing for patients coming off extended hospital stays, Lynam lamented serious problems not only for patients but for hospitals, which are often penalized financially when released patients are readmitted within 30 days.

“When a patient is discharged, they talk to the doctor, they talk to the discharge nurse, and they may not be really concentrating on what’s being said,” Lynam noted. “So CirrusHealth created this app that captures a video of the doctor’s exchange with the patient being discharged.”

Not only can patients review the video later on their computers and mobile devices, but their cloud-stored files are packed with other vital information: scheduled appointments, rehabilitation requirements, prescription medication details and more. CirrusHealth is currently in use at Manhattan’s Lennox Hill Hospital, and North Shore Ventures is working hard to promote the multimedia solution at other healthcare institutions.

Through Cleveland Clinic Innovations and North Shore Ventures’ own indigenous efforts, more spinoff companies are coming soon. Lynam noted one expected to launch within a month: A house-calls program that will allow people to arrange visits from doctors when they can’t get to a clinic or hospital.

“A mom is home alone with three kids, one is sick and it’s midnight,” Lynam said. “She can’t get to an emergency room because she doesn’t want to drag her kids out, but she can make arrangements to have an emergency physician come to her home.”

Like CirrusHealth, that as-yet-unnamed company will probably launch with a pilot program in New York City – but it wouldn’t launch at all, according to Lynam, without the commercialization efforts of North Shore Ventures.

“These are the types of spinoff companies that are being explored,” he said. “Many haven’t been finalized yet, but there are a bunch of companies in the pipelines, addressing underlying issues that are very common in the health care industry.”

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