News & Events

Entering a new ORBIT: Bringing Tufts MC research to investors


The crowd in the Sheldon B. Wolff auditorium at Tufts Medical Center had a different look from the typical gathering of white-coated physicians waiting to hear about the latest clinical advances. While doctors still did much of the talking, this was an audience of investors with an ear out for opportunities.

INNOVATION Day, an event organized last fall by Tufts Medical Center’s Office of Research Business Development in Industry Translation – handily abbreviated as “ORBIT” – drew more than 100 investors from a range of health care fields. Ten Tufts MC inventors, a blend of clinical physicians, bench scientists and health economics experts, presented research that is ripe for investment. The event was just one example of a growing effort at the Medical Center to find faster ways to share Tufts MC’s innovations with the broader health care world, and to encourage in-house inventors to think about getting their ideas into production. One early sign that it’s working: in the past year, Tufts MC researchers have doubled their pace of filing innovation disclosures – a declaration that is the first step on the way to a potential patent.

“Everyone’s really recognizing that you can have all the great inventions you want – if they don’t get out into patient care, they don’t actually benefit anyone. And the mechanism to achieve that is through commercialization,” says Richard H. Karas, MD, PhD, Chief Scientific Officer.

Building Connections

About three years ago, Karas recruited Nancy Wetherbee, a veteran executive in the biotech and biopharmaceutical industries, to launch ORBIT and start building connections to the investment community. “I’m a scientific matchmaker,” says Wetherbee. “I match the needs of the external investment community with our innovations.”

Once ORBIT was established, the next step was to find contacts in the investment world to offer guidance on strategy and execution. Karas and Wetherbee began hunting for members of what is now the Medical Center’s INVEST Advisory Board, short for Innovation Venture Capital and Entrepreneurism Steering Committee.  Six talented investors and entrepreneurs were selected to advise the Medical Center on its industry outreach and help educate researchers about the best methods to attract potential investors. The INVEST Advisory Board helped select the 10 researchers who presented projects at INNOVATION Day.

Bringing great ideas to the bedside

Wetherbee says that in a relatively short time, Tufts MC has gained a reputation in the biotech and pharmaceutical community as an institution that not only generates great ideas but that understands the needs and interests of industry investors. “We have some very large companies, some of the top pharma and biotech companies, knocking on our door because they recognize our ability to innovate,” she says.

Neonatologist Jill Maron, MD, MPH, has been developing a method to test a premature baby’s saliva to find biological markers that indicate when the infant is ready to feed by mouth. It’s a tricky and high-risk determination to make right now: weaning infants from nasogastric tubes shortens length of stay, but feeding by mouth too early can cause aspiration, leading to pneumonia. Maron, who presented her research at INNOVATION Day via video, has spoken with interested investors as far away as Tokyo.  She is currently developing more data for investors to consider.

“NIH will help with the science, but to truly bring this to the bedside, I need someone who can help me develop and market the tool and get it out there,” she says.

A Variety of Concepts

Concepts presented by Tufts MC researchers at INNOVATION Day included:

  • Endoglin: a Novel Peptide for Cardiovascular Applications Navin Kapur, MD, Investigator, Molecular Cardiology Research Institute (MCRI)
  • Injectable, Silk-based Biomaterial Device for Preterm Birth Prevention Michael House, MD, Investigator, Mother Infant Research Institute (MIRI)
  • The NOuRISH Platform™: Neonatal Oral-feeding Readiness in Salivary High Throughput Diagnostics Jill Maron, MD, MOH, Investigator, Mother Infant Research Institute (MIRI)
  • Medical Device Innovation for Anesthesia: PZ Airway Pei-Shan Zhao, MD, Department of Anesthesiology
  • Health Economics and Coverage Databases Peter Neumann, ScD, Director of Center for the Evaluation of Value and Risk in Health at the Institute for Clinical Research and Health Policy Studies
  • Reducing the Human and Economic Burden of Depression in the Workplace via Healthcare Services/IT Initiative Debra Lerner, MS PhD, Director, Program on Health, Work and Productivity, Institute for Clinical Research and Health Policy Studies
  •  “Best-Fit Scheduling ™”: Clinical Flow Optimization for Inpatient Laboratory and Procedure Areas Marvin A. Konstam, MD, Director, Cardiovascular Center
  •  Development of Angiogenin Protein as a Novel Therapeutic for Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) Guofu Hu, PhD, Investigator, Division of Hematology Oncology
  • A Novel PAR2 Pepducin for Dermatologic Applications Athan Kuliopulos, MD, PhD, Investigator, Division of Hematology Oncology 
  • ROMPeR™ A Clinical Mobile System for Radiation Therapy Performance Excellence David E. Wazer, MD, Radiation Oncologist-in-Chief, Department of Radiation Oncology