Last Tuesday, local university research in healthcare technology got a big boost. As a third component in the StartUp PHL
portfolio, the University City Science Center
's QED Proof-of-Concept program
-- which invests exclusively in medical research from Greater Philadelphia’s academic sector -- was awarded a $500,000 loan from Philadelphia Industrial Development Corporation (PICD)
Penn Venture Fund program.
QED -- the abbreviated Latin phrase Quod Erat Demonstrandum
(proven as demonstrated) -- provides grant money and private sector guidance to help promising studies establish early stage proof-of-concept for commercial application, a cumbersome phase of the research-to-product process. Since 2009, the program has awarded $600,000 annually, divided into $200,000 grants for life science projects and $100,000 grants for research in digital healthcare, a growing field where life science meets information technology.
According to Stephen Tang, President and CEO of the Science Center, university settings are ideal spaces for developing broad-scope medical science, thanks to their insulation from commercial interests. A diagnostic company, for example, might build a device to detect Alzheimer's disease. Meanwhile, a university has the freedom to research the molecular identity of the disease which can inform a range of diagnostics and treatments.
"The theory on innovation is you have to have very divergent thinking before you have convergent thinking," says Tang. "It's that very divergent thinking that [the Science Center] is trying to tap into and help to converge on commercial opportunities."
Past QED participants -- representing 22 regional institutions including Penn, Drexel and the Wistar Institute
-- have gone on to launch promising companies. Vascular Magnetics
, producers of a drug delivery apparatus created by Dr. Robert Levy, a professor of pediatric cardiology from Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP
) and his QED business advisor Richard Woodward, recently raised $7 million in their first round of financing. UE LifeSciences Inc
., a medical device company that commercialized research in breast cancer detection by Dr. Wan Shih of Drexel's School of Biomedical Engineering
, eventually received a $878,422 grant from the Pennsylvania Department Of Health's Commonwealth Universal Research Enhancement (CURE)
While the "Eds and Meds" capital has long been hailed for life science achievements, Tang sees digital healthcare as the next frontier. Thanks to the Affordable Care Act
, massive amounts of medical records have to be digitized. Furthermore, the bourgeoning field of Genomics -- the science of transcribing an individual's genome to detect genetic disease -- will require terabyte-sized data transfer and manipulation.
Accordingly, the 2012 QED program made awards to mobile healthcare apps developed at Rutgers University. The $500,000 PICD loan -- which is repaid via licensing royalties and revenue from successful projects -- will expand QED within city limits, boosting Philly's role in the health IT industry.
"[Philadelphia] has one of the largest concentrations of healthcare facilities, hospitals and doctors, as well as academic research," says Tang. "We're betting big that that domain will distinguish Philadelphia from other metropolitan areas in the world."
The University City Science Center has partnered with Flying Kite to showcase innovation in Greater Philadelphia through the "Inventing the Future" series.
Stephen Tang, University City Science Center