Solutions to some of the world’s most complex medical problems could be sitting on our very doorstep, thanks to a collaborative lab bridging research and commercialisation.
What if there was a technology that helped reduce the number of unnecessary caesarean sections, or a way to decrease the frequency of operations required for skin infections?
Or a device that prevented the occurrence of pneumonia for patients ventilated in intensive care, or a means to keep cystic fibrosis patients out of hospital?
These are the patented product ideas that are emerging from SPARK Co-Lab’s inaugural design program, which aims to develop novel solutions for unmet medical needs.
Based on the medical device innovation Spark course at Stanford University in the US, 25 participants from multidisciplinary fields including medicine, engineering and business graduated from the six-month program in December. The aim of the course was for teams to devise and scale an idea, then secure a patent and apply for seed funding.
More than 90 applications were received for the 30 positions available in the 2017 course at Nedlands-based Spark Co-lab, which is currently under way and funded by Accelerating Australia in collaboration with MTPConnect, both national not-for-profit organisations that aim to accelerate the growth of medical technologies.
With support from Perth patent attorney Wrays and EY, Spark Co-Lab was established in Perth last year and is an NFP group that runs medical research innovation and commercialisation courses working with universities and research hubs around the world.
Co-founder Katharine Giles, an investment manager with a background in the surgical field, said three teams from 2016 had since received further backing – two had been chosen for a CSIRO program and another for Hydrix, a Melbourne-based accelerator for medical devices.
“Not only do we provide the know-how, we introduce them to people they never would have met, providing a safe environment where they can share their ideas,” Dr Giles told Business News.
“We aim to educate, connect and inspire; getting those who have been there and done it to tell their stories and show what is possible.”
Dr Giles said in-kind support from the local industry had been invaluable, with EY staff making up some of Spark Co-Lab’s team of 40 mentors.
Also included were alumni from last year’s design program, along with Perth’s leading medical entrepreneurs including: Perth anaesthetist come inventor Chris Mitchell; life sciences business Conexio Genomics founder David Sayer; and the inventor (and Spark Co-lab co-founder) of two award-winning medical devices set for imminent market launch, Peter Santa Maria.
Dr Santa Maria, who also won the startup business category in the 2017 40under40 awards, came up with the idea to establish the organisation after undertaking a fellowship at Stanford University, where he was exposed to its Spark course.
“Perth has traditionally been a very siloed community where there’s great things happening in universities and research groups but there’s been very little working together,” Dr Santa Maria told Business News.
“One of the main reasons we exist and came about was so we could provide the glue, the opportunity for those people to collaborate.
“We want to spin a web of medical innovation across Perth, Australia and the globe so we can really start addressing clinical needs.”
Two weeks ago, Spark Co-Lab received a $70,000 grant through the City of Perth’s flagship Industry Sector Development sponsorship, to launch its new ‘actuator’ program, which will include an educational seminar series as well as medical device commercialisation training.
He said the organisation was currently raising money to fund the project management component of the program.
“The whole reason for doing the actuator series is to bring capability and attention to the (medical technology) sector in Perth,” Dr Santa Maria said.
“We’re already seeing the effects of holding on to the mining story for too long and not developing the city’s other capabilities.
“Having so many smart scientists, doctors and engineers in the city, it’s really leaving one of our best resources stuck in the ground.”