For immediate release:
Tuesday, March 14, 2006
12:01 a.m. EDT

 

Contact:
Christopher Fleming
301-347-3944
cfleming@projecthope.org

Biomedical Entrepreneur Working On Plan To Translate Basic Research Into Products

 Institutes Funded By Mann Would Be Tied To Universities, Perhaps NIH

Bethesda, MD -- By establishing a dozen industrial product development institutes connected with research universities – and perhaps one connected with the National Institutes of Health -- “serial entrepreneur” Alfred E. Mann is attempting to increase what he sees as the disturbingly low number of potentially valuable biomedical innovations that make the jump from basic research to start-up product.

“Academics and even the technology-transfer people at most universities do not understand how to develop a basic technology into a product,” Mann tells Molly Joel Coye, the founder and CEO of the nonprofit Health Technology Center (HealthTech), in an interview published today as a Health Affairs Web Exclusive. He observes that the process of going from basic technology to start-up product is ominously referred to as the “Valley of Death.”

You can read the interview at http://content.healthaffairs.org/cgi/content/abstract/hlthaff.25.w104.

A physicist by training, Mann has founded and led several successful companies focusing on different clinical problems, including cardiac pacemakers at Pacesetter Systems and insulin pumps and glucose sensors at MiniMed. He is currently chairman of the board and CEO at the pharmaceutical company MannKind Corp. and chairman and co-CEO at Advanced Bionics Corp., which produces cochlear implants to treat deafness and implantable neurostimulation systems to treat pain and other conditions.
                                                           
In his wide-ranging conversation with Coye, the second in a series of Health Affairs interviews with scientific innovators funded by the nonprofit Institute for Health Technology Studies (InHealth), Mann touches on many policy- and business-related subjects. For example, he argues against limiting the pipeline of new medical technologies, asserting that “the only solution to Social Security and health care costs is to raise the retirement age.”

Valuing medical technology

Mann also suggests that society determines the value of medical technologies with too narrow a focus. The cochlear implants made by Advanced Bionics cost about $60,000 for implantation in a young child and twenty years of follow-up care, but they save the $500,000 cost of providing a special education for a deaf child, according to Mann. “Yet,” he says, “we don’t even have this discussion, because the money must come from different sources -- although ultimately from the public.”

Wall Street’s expectation of “progressively increasing profits every quarter” contributes to the Valley of Death phenomenon, Mann notes, because this expectation pushes companies toward acquiring proven, later-stage development programs rather than early- stage, more speculative ventures. The entrepreneur is developing his university-aligned product development institutes, each of which is to receive at least a $100 million endowment, through a new philanthropic entity, the Alfred E. Mann Foundation for Biomedical Engineering. The institutes will have access to unique elements of the university’s biomedically related intellectual property and “will develop, say, a device perhaps through the clinical trials, or a drug through Phase II [which measures effectiveness and safety in a small group of patients], because drug trials are so costly.”

“At this point, when the institute has created a product and proven its value, the product will get licensed out to either an existing or start-up company,” Mann adds. “That will generate a much better return for the university and for the inventor, and it can bring important technologies to market that would perhaps never make it otherwise.”

Involving NIH

Mann says that he is now talking to government officials “about creating one of my institutes at the National Institutes of Health. The only problem is that they spend more than $3 billion just for intramural research at the NIH, and I don’t think $100 million is going to be enough. So I’m trying to figure out how I can build up a large enough endowment to make it work at NIH.”

ABOUT HEALTH AFFAIRS:

Health Affairs, published by Project HOPE, is the leading journal of health policy. The peer-reviewed journal appears bimonthly in print with additional online-only papers published weekly as Health Affairs Web Exclusives at www.healthaffairs.org.

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