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Innovative Pennsylvanians are pushing healthcare boundaries

Cancer biochip systems that use genomics to predict how patients will respond to Tamoxifen. Nanotechnology that creates alloy gradient quantum dots (QDs) for use in optoelectronics. These and other breakthroughs are in development by companies at Pittsburgh Life Sciences Greenhouse. Since its formation in 2002, PLSG has invested $21 million in 78 companies, and has exited 11 other companies for $600 million.

The only life sciences incubator in western Pensylvania, PLSG was created in 2002 as a public/private partnership by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, University of Pittsburgh, Carnegie Mellon University, University of Pittsburgh Medical Center and Pittsburgh’s regional foundation community. The incubator has assisted 440 life sciences companies, creating or retaining more than 2,300 jobs and bringing more than $1.5 billion to the Pittsburgh area.

John Manzetti, PLSG’s president and CEO, says that its executive program is one of the little-known keys to its success. Great ideas need great companies to bring them to market, Manzetti says. Doing that requires specific skill sets, which is why he recruits CEOs with existing experience in the life sciences field. “We’ve been able to find very talented CEOs and get them to move to Pittsburgh,” he explains. “We’ve done that 14 times – and it’s a win-win.”

Why is PLSG the only life sciences incubator in the region? “Life sciences is not for the faint of heart,” Manzetti says. “It requires in-depth domain expertise to know the companies and marketplace.”

As to where the marketplace is headed, Manzetti says that health IT and therapeutics are PLSG’s fastest growing segments. That’s a sea change from when Manzetti arrived in 2006. Then, PLSG had two startups working in therapeutics and zero health IT companies. Manzetti – and the six CEOs he immediately hired – saw the business reality of life sciences, especially health IT. Those products don’t require FDA clearance to go to market, meaning that investments in those companies are less risky and products can get to market quickly.

Manzetti and PLSG still face challenges. “A lot of people are interested in investing when companies are cash flow-positive, but it’s equally critical to provide a continuous flow of capital so when they hit a bump in the road, they can power through it.”

Being acquired for millions of dollars is the dream of many medical research firms. Helping millions of people is even better. Both happened to Avid Radiopharmaceuticals, which created technology to diagnose the pathology of Alzheimer’s and other neurodegenerative diseases. In 2010, the company was sold to Eli Lilly & Company for $800 million.

That’s only one of the microscopes-to-riches stories coming out of University City Science Center, itself a success story. UCSC-incubated firms in Greater Philadelphia drive $12.9 billion in annual economic activity – more than 2 percent of Greater Philadelphia’s total economic output. Part of UCSC’s success is due to its neighbors. The center is surrounded by an embarrassment of academic riches, attracting researchers from the University of Pennsylvania, Drexel University, University of the Sciences, PCOM and Temple University. “The absolute secret sauce we have is engagement with our shareholders, which are essentially all of the universities and medical centers in and around Philadelphia,” says Stephen Tang, UCSC’s president and CEO. “We help innovation flow from universities into the marketplace, then engage the marketplace to further fund and refine them.”

Tang isn’t settling for being the best in the region. Philadelphia should be competing with San Francisco, Boston and Austin, Tang believes. For that to happen, city and state government leaders need to create policies that are favorable to startup businesses. “Over $1 billion worth of research goes on in the city limits,” Tang says. “How do we further capitalize on the great innovation capacity we have here? What else could be done to make Philadelphia more attractive to businesses as they grow?”

For the time being, Tang is focusing on nurturing the startups already at UCSC. Its strongest growth sectors are therapeutics, medical devices, diagnostics and digital tools. Much of that, Tang says, is because the region has one of the highest concentrations of clinical research organizations in the country. “There’s been so much consolidation in the pharmaceutical industry in the past five to 10 years that former employees – from Wyeth, Astra Zeneca, Merck and elsewhere – have come into the marketplace and formed their own businesses,” he explains. Tang’s goal, as he sees it, is to make Philadelphia the best place for them to grow – and keep – their companies.

Mike West has created an orthopedic empire. When he joined Rothman in 1999, the newly formed practice had nine physicians in two Center City offices. Today, Rothman has 145 physicians and 24 offices in Southeastern Pennsylvania and South Jersey. In 2016, West spearheaded major westward expansion into the Philadelphia suburbs. Never mind that the area already has well-established orthopedic practices. “We assume that any market we go into has high-quality orthopedic physicians,” says West. “We know we have to compete for patients and earn them – and we will.”

Competition is part of Rothman’s brand; its doctors are team physicians for the Philadelphia Eagles, Philadelphia Phillies, Philadelphia Flyers, Philadelphia 76ers, Villanova University, St. Joseph’s University and more than 40 local high school and colleges. Not only does that give the company major sports cred, but it cements Rothman’s relationship with the Philadelphia region. Just in case that isn’t enough, in 2014, it became the title sponsor of The Rothman Institute Ice Rink at Dilworth Park, adjacent to Philadelphia’s City Hall.

While all of that is great marketing, West is keenly concentrated on preparing the company for the future of healthcare: ambulatory surgical centers. Thanks to new technology, the development of less invasive surgical procedures and better pain management, Rothman has seen significant decreases in the amount of time patients need to spend in hospitals. West says that the next three to five years will bring a significant shift in the marketplace, as more and more cases will be performed on an outpatient basis. That’s why West is in the process of building four ambulatory surgical centers in each corner of its geographical territory, from South Jersey to Bucks, Chester and Delaware counties.

While Rothman is becoming the Goliath of orthopedics in the Delaware Valley, it does face challenges. The biggest of those, West says, is the transformation from the current fee-for-service to value-based payment. “The Rothman Institute is completely reorganizing our process,” West says. “The changes required for this transformation are significant and require collaboration within Rothman and with our healthcare networks, health insurance companies, PCPs, specialists and post-op care providers.”

Dr. David Feinberg is one of the new breed of healthcare leaders. An MD and MBA, Feinberg is fusing business with the art of medicine to make healthcare both profitable and patient-centered. How does a money-back guarantee sound?

That’s only one of the ideas put forth in the short time that Feinberg has led Geisinger Health System, one of the largest in the state. At the helm since May 2015, Feinberg leads a company that treats more than 3 million residents at 12 hospital campuses in 45 counties in central, south-central and northeast Pennsylvania, as well as in South Jersey. In August 2016, Feinberg led Geisinger to a big acquisition: St. Luke’s University Health Network. What Feinberg calls a “master collaboration” unites Geisinger with St. Luke’s seven hospitals in eight Pennsylvania counties and Warren County, NJ.

Feinberg is also revamping Geisinger’s leadership. In June, he hired a new chief integration officer, chief strategy officer and chief medical officer. While remaining mum on the exact reasons for the big C-suite makeover, it seems obvious that Feinberg is stacking his corporate deck with disruptors like himself. That money-back guarantee is one of Feinberg’s shiny new ideas. It expands Geisinger’s groundbreaking ProvenCare system, created in 2006. Dubbed “surgery with a warranty” by The New York Times, ProvenCare stated that surgical patients readmitted within 90 days because of preventable complications would be treated at no extra charge.

In 2015, Feinberg expanded ProvenCare with ProvenExperience, which gives patients their money back if they aren’t pleased with their service. Like ProvenCare, ProvenExperience is only available to patients getting certain treatments and surgeries.

“The way I see it, if you go into Starbucks and you’re not happy with your order, they don’t sip your latte and argue that they made it correctly. They just take care of you on the spot,” Feinberg said during a speech at the 2015 Press Ganey Executive Leadership Conference in Orlando. “What matters to me is that every patient is satisfied with their treatment and so I started thinking, ‘What is our guarantee? What is our refund?’ We need to be disruptive to move the practice of providing great patient experience forward, and so the decision was made to give unsatisfied patients their money back.”

ProvenExperience is now up and running as a pilot program at Geisinger Medical Center, the health system’s main campus in Danville.

Electronic medical records are like text messages. Americans are highly dependent upon them and can’t remember life without them. But not until the federal Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act of 2009 did the healthcare industry get pushed into digitizing their paperbound systems. As soon as President Barack Obama signed HITECH, forward-thinkers began to consider creating a health information organization (HIO) to share records between health systems. In 2012, the HealthShare Exchange of Southeastern Pennsylvania (HSX) was created to figure out how to accomplish that.

Formed as a nonprofit, HSX had to figure out the technical end of getting different networks’ systems to communicate – and get competitors to communicate. Healthcare companies don’t encourage patients to seek care elsewhere. Navigating this multi-pronged problem is HSX’s executive director Martin Lupinetti, and the organization has made tremendous strides. HSX now includes major networks like Aria, Jefferson, Penn, Trinity, Temple, Einstein, Independence Blue Cross, AmeriHealth Caritas and Health Partners Plans.

HSX’s system has developed different technologies for different usages. “We want physicians to have the most relevant, actionable data,” Lupinetti explains. “We are spending a lot of time and attention integrating this into the system. Healthcare providers want to find exactly what they want to access, when they want it.”

HSX isn’t the only HIO in the commonwealth. There are four others: ClinicalConnect, eVantageHealth, Keystone Health Information Exchange and Mount Nittany Exchange. The HIOs break down by geography and will, at some point, be united statewide by Pennsylvania Patient & Provider Network (P3N). State officials have backed HIOs and P3N since HITECH’s inception brought a grant of $17.1 million to fund the HIOs.

And of course, security is a huge issue. HSX has a clinical data repository of 3.6 million patients in the five-county region. “We take security extremely seriously,” Lupinetti says. “We have high trust certification for health IT-related initiatives where data is being shared. It’s a costly venture, and that’s always a conversation. But we need to raise that bar very high.”

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Kristen Fitch

Kristen Fitch

Senior Director, Marketing