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Inova Aims to Offer Unique Home for Startups Through Its Personalized Health Accelerator

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CHICAGO (GenomeWeb) – Inova Health System, a multi-hospital system in the Washington, D.C., area, is getting ready to open one of the more unique startup accelerators in healthcare: one dedicated to personalized medicine.

Accelerators have popped up all over the healthcare space in recent years, but such institutions for precision medicine are less common. Illumina has had an accelerator program since 2014, which is focused on a variety of applications for genomics including personalized medicine, while Harvard Business School hosts the Kraft Precision Medicine Accelerator. But the Inova Personalized Health Accelerator is likely the first such center in the US hosted by a healthcare provider, according to the health system.

"We expect our accelerator to be different because it will be directly integrated into clinical and research operations. In the case of other accelerators, they are often looking for clinical partners,"  said Inova Personalized Health Accelerator Director Peter Jobse.

Inova sees its mission in personalized medicine as predicting, preventing, and treating disease so its patients can live longer, healthier lives. With the accelerator, "What we're really looking to do is accelerate the capabilities of personalized medicine," Jobse said. He anticipates more interest from developers of software and wearable sensors than from makers of invasive medical devices.

Initially, Inova expects to see a lot of analytics companies, perhaps makers of dashboards that integrate multiple forms of patient data such as medical records, output from wearables, and genomic profiles. In the not-too-distant future, Jobse said he expects applicants developing for the 'Internet of Things,' such as recovery and wellness technologies, monitoring of medication adherence, gait management and assessment, and activity monitoring.

Jobse wants to recruit applicants that can have their technologies in regular clinical practice within 36 months of joining the program. "We hope to attract early-stage companies with a technology that can be demonstrated in a prototype and entrepreneurs with a basic understanding of startup business structures," he said.

Inova, which is headquartered in Falls Church, Virginia, announced the accelerator in December, coinciding with the launch of the health system's Inova Strategic Investments venture arm. Both programs will be located at the Inova Center for Personalized Health, which is currently under construction.

In 2015, the health system signed a long-term lease on a 117-acre site in Fairfax County, Virginia, that was being vacated by ExxonMobil. The campus, once the worldwide headquarters of ExxonMobil predecessor Mobil Corp., just happens to be located across the street from Inova's flagship Fairfax Hospital.

While the campus itself won't have its grand opening until next year, there is some activity there now, and the Center for Personalized Health is on track for a July 2017 opening, according to an Inova spokeswoman. Once the center opens, the accelerator will start taking applications.

"We've started gently listening to interest now," said Jobse, who joined Inova after leading the Center for Innovative Technology, which develops economic-development strategies involving Virginia tech companies.

When it opens, the Inova accelerator will take up 3,000 square feet of office space. "We will grow our way almost to 40,000 square feet over the next few years," Jobse said. That future footprint will include offices of some graduates of the program, which Inova plans on subletting to help startups grow after their mentorships end, in hopes of building an ecosystem of innovators in precision medicine.

"You attract other companies that didn't go through this program," Jobse said.

Unlike other accelerators, the Inova one will not have defined beginning and ending dates, or semiannual classes of companies, though there will be an annual "graduates' day for participants to demonstrate their offerings to potential investors and customers, according to Jobse.

"We're going to do what I call a rolling admissions program," Jobse said. "When we find a strong contender, we'll take them in at any given point in time."

Nor will Inova have a standard application form. Instead, the accelerator is asking each candidate to "provide a written submission that covers the key areas of interest to the IPHA partners," and to submit a YouTube video about the company.

Jobse anticipates the accelerator will admit four companies in the first six months of operation, then 16 in each subsequent 12-month period. "The goal for these companies is to help them find secondary funding," Jobse said.

Those chosen for the program will receive a $75,000 investment up front from Inova and its not-yet-announced partners — likely angel and institutional investors — as well as mentorship from Inova business, clinical, and research leaders, outside technology and legal professionals, and other entrepreneurs. In return, Inova will take a 10 percent equity position in each company.

Among the resources the health system will provide to accelerator companies is access to its MediMap pharmacogenomics testing, as well as related MediMap services in pediatrics and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder.

In November, the Inova Translational Medicine Institute began offering PGx analysis for adult patients, following a successful trial among newborns. Inova Chief Operating Officer John Deeken said last fall that the Translational Medicine Institute plans on launching disease-focused PGx panels in certain clinics, for example, a cardiology PGx panel in its catheterization laboratory.

At the completion of the accelerator program, participants will be considered for an additional cash infusion from Inova Strategic Investments worth as much as $250,000. The investment arm will monitor all accelerator graduates for future investments as well, Inova officials said.

Jobse wants to see a success rate of 60 to 70 percent, or about twice that of a typical health technology accelerator.

"We want to recast the accelerator," Jobse explained. "Typically, accelerators have a graduating class of 25-30 companies who have spent 16-20 weeks in the accelerator. We plan to have smaller classes with customized training models.

"Success, or graduation, should mean integration into the health system and the ability to proceed into the next stage of development. With smaller classes, we anticipate higher success rates."


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