For the first time, Accenture hosted its HealthTech Innovation Challenge finals at the Texas Medical Center's Innovation Institute. Photo courtesy of Accenture

Two health tech companies walked away from Accenture's HealthTech Innovation Challenge with awards. Regionals took place in Boston and San Francisco, and Houston was selected to host the finals last week.

New York-based Capital Rx was selected as the 2020 Innovation Champion of the Accenture HealthTech Innovation Challenge, and Minneapolis-based Carrot Health was given the second-place award for Top Innovator. The program, which was first launched in 2016, aims to pair startups with health organizations to drive innovative solutions to real challenges in health care.

"The submissions we received this year demonstrate the momentum of discovery and digital innovation in healthcare," says Brian Kalis, managing director of digital health and innovation at Accenture, in a news release. "Healthcare organizations continue to advance their digital transformation agendas — enhancing access, affordability, quality and experience to drive innovation that improves the lives of consumers and clinicians. We look forward to working with these companies and others to continue to help advance solutions that address the industry's toughest challenges."

Capital Rx, a pharmacy benefit manager, won for its product, the Clearinghouse ModelSM, which connects pharmacies and employers for a more efficient and transparent way to coordinate prescriptions.

"Receiving the designation as Innovation Champion is a validation of our mission to change the way drugs are priced and administered, and it represents the broad support across the country to transform the antiquated and opaque pricing model for prescription drugs," says AJ Loiacono, CEO of Capital Rx, in the release.

Carrot Health, which took second place, has created algorithms to use consumer data analytics to predict and determine health issues. Its MarketView platform weighs in factors including social, economic, behavior, and environmental information.

"It's been a great opportunity to be with Accenture and a broad spectrum of health care players," says Kurt Waltenbaugh, CEO and founder of Carrot Health, in the release. "Being recognized as the Top Innovator will help us expand our footprint toward our goal to change health and serve every person in the U.S."

A total of 11 finalists pitched in Houston at TMCx on Feb, 6. The other finalists included: San Francisco-based Cleo, Boston-based DynamiCare Health, San Francisco-based InsightRX, United Kingdom-based Lantum, Washington, D.C.-based Mira, Denver-based Orderly Health, New York City-based Paloma Health, St. Louis-based TCARE, and Seattle-based Xealth.

It was the first time the challenge was hosted at the Texas Medical Center, and William F. McKeon, TMC president and CEO, took the stage at the event to share the medical city's vision for the future.

"The opportunity to host the HealthTech Innovation Challenge in Houston for the first time re-enforces our city's prominent and ever-expanding designation as a major hub for healthcare innovation nationwide," McKeon says in the release. "As Texas Medical Center heads into a new era of collaborative healthcare research on our forthcoming TMC3 campus, we look forward to maintaining a fruitful long-term partnership with Accenture."

The Texas Medical Center's CEO, Bill McKeon, ran down a list of exciting updates and innovations from the organization's member institutions at the annual State of the TMC. Photo via tmc.edu

From robots to immunotherapy, TMC talks innovation at its annual address

check up

In the Greater Houston Partnership's annual State of the Texas Medical Center address, TMC CEO Bill McKeon shared a status update of sorts for all the goings on at the largest medical center in the world.

McKeon ran down the list of member institutions to briefly touch base on each organization's innovations and growth. In the address, which took place at the Marriott Marquis on October 31, McKeon discussed exciting construction projects, new accelerator programs, and more. Here are some of the highlights from the presentation.

TMC3 and beyond

The TMC spans 1,400 acres and 50 million square feet of development — and growing. The largest medical city in the world will increase its size by 10 percent in the next two to three years, McKeon says. Here are some updates on each of the ongoing construction projects.

  • TMC3 is underway. The 37-acre research campus is expected to be completed in 2022.
  • CHI St. Luke's McNair Campus is expected to break ground on a new building before the end of the year.
  • Memorial Hermann's Sarofim Building is expected to open in 2020 with 18 stories, 26 new operating rooms, and 144 beds
  • Rice University has moved its synthetic biology program to BioScience Research Collaborative in the TMC.
  • Texas A&M University's EnMed program, which graduates students with a master's in engineering and a MD in four year, has launched. The university's med center building is underway at 1020 Holcombe, and is expected to be completed next May.
  • The University of Houston's new medical school us up and running, and the inaugural class's tuition was completely funded by an anonymous donor.
  • UTHealth's psychiatric hospital is expected to be the largest academic psychiatry hospital in country. The building is under construction and will be completed in 2021.

Building biobridges

In order to grow the TMC's global presence and bring the best innovations from around the world to Houston, McKeon says the organization has expanded its BioBridge partnerships.

The first partnership was with Australia in 2016, before the organization teamed up with the United Kingdom for the second one. Recently, the TMC has entered into its third BioBridge partnership with Denmark.

The partnerships are intended to encourage collaboration, particularly with TMCx. Now, TMCx startups break down from being a third of the companies from around the world, a third from other states in the U.S., and a third being from Texas.

"There's no greater collection of minds, patients, resources to really think about the next innovations in health care," Mckeon says.

Accelerating accelerators

TMCx is celebrating its fifth year and has worked with over 170 companies through its digital health and medical device accelerator programs.

"We're evolving to start to work more closely with our member institutions to understand their specific needs and how we can match novel technologies through them," says Lance Black, associate director of TMCx.

The TMC Innovation Institute supports 12 programs, and three have been introduced just this year.

  • TMCxi: A 40,000-square-foot space to support industry partners, investors, and other service providers that provides subject matter expertise and other resources for entrepreneurs.
  • TMCalpha: Programming for TMC doctors and staff who may have an idea for a new technology or startup.
  • TMC | ACT: An accelerator program for advancing cancer therapeutics and technologies.

Investing in robotics

Earlier this year, TMC announced plans to open a special robotics lab space with ABB Robotics. The space officially opened last month.

"Many of the things we do in our labs require pinpoint accuracy," McKeon says. "Many of the things we do now here are done by humans, but in the future, we have one of the most sophisticated robotics companies in the world thinking about how we can transform our labs."

The lab is just the beginning of ABB's connection to TMC and its member institutions.

ABB's mobile YuMi robot cut the ribbon on its new home in the Texas Medical Center. Cody Duty/TMC

Videos: Robotics company unveils its Houston operation at the Texas Medical Center

Meet the robots

Houston has a new fleet of robots training to better streamline health care operations. ABB Robotics cut the ribbon of its Texas Medical Center incubator on Wednesday, October 9.

"This is really an exciting day for us at ABB because we are opening up our innovation hub in a globally unique place at the Texas Medical Center," says Sami Atiya, president of Robotics and Discrete Automation at ABB, at the grand opening event.

According to ABB research, the industry expects 60,000 non-surgical medical robots by 2025, which is four times that of 2018. Zurich-based ABB has 400,000 robotics products across industries in over 53 companies, but this is their first dedicated health care center. The 5,300-square-foot space located in TMC Innovation Institute, which was announced earlier this year, will have around 20 employees in the facility managing robots conducting a myriad of tasks.

The potential for collaboration between ABB and TMC is just getting started with the hub space. ABB already has connections with TMC's member institutions and ABB also recognizes the innovation avenues the TMC brings to the table.

"This is not only about the chance to interact with 25 hospitals," Atiya says. "We have the chance to interact with bright startups, bright academia, and with an ecosystem that is unique. We really looked around the world to set up this business because we need to learn. We need to interact."

One way TMC's CEO, William McKeon sees a huge opportunity for robots is in the inventory process. Right now, each hospital manages its own inventory process with its own team of employees. McKeon explains how that process can be streamlined and better organized using robotics.

"It may not be as exciting as some of the things you see here [in the hub], but it's equally as meaningful and economically important in lowering our health care costs," McKeon says.

YuMi cuts the ribbon on the new ABB facility in the Texas Medical Center

The mobile YuMi robot cut the ribbon of its new home.

TMC President and CEO William McKeon and Denmark's Minister of Health Magnus Heunicke officially formed a partnership on October 1 in Copenhagen. Courtesy of TMC

Texas Medical Center enters into health innovation partnership with Denmark

Biobridge

In an effort to advance medical innovations, the Texas Medical Center and the Kingdom of Denmark have announced a collaboration.

The partnership is the third of its kind in TMC's BioBridge program, with the other two collaborations being with Australia in 2016 and the United Kingdom last year. In March, TMC hosted Her Royal Highness Crown Princess Mary of Denmark, which began the conversation that created the foundation of the arrangement, William McKeon, president and CEO of TMC, says in a news release. The two entities announced the program on October 1 in Copenhagen.

"Now, TMC and the Kingdom of Denmark officially align each entity's respective startup ecosystems and will further accelerate the global pace of clinical research by fostering collaboration between academic researchers within the Texas Medical Center and at Denmark's esteemed institutions," McKeon says in the release.

The collaboration will focus on two areas — innovation and research and education, specifically within digital health, telemedicine, medical devices, and hospital operations.

"Denmark welcomes the significant potential of this trans-Atlantic BioBridge partnership with Texas Medical Center and its vast array of world class resources," says Magnus Heunicke, Denmark's minister of health and senior citizens, in the release. "Through this BioBridge, we build the foundation for the successful exchange of ideas, technologies, practices, and research that is at the center of breakthrough innovation and better healthcare globally."

Life science exports make up 17 percent of Denmark's total national exports — and that figure is expected to double by 2025, according to the release. The country is known for its quality data collection and is the second largest in Europe and measured in drugs per capita, per the release.

The Texas Medical Center's accelerator, TMCx, has had Danish companies as a part of the program. Sani nudge, which is based in Copenhagen, recently completed the program and, as a result, now has a Houston presence. Currently, Neurescue, also based in Copenhagen, is developing its computer-aided aortic occlusion catheter in the ongoing TMCx cohort.

"When HRH Crown Princess Mary visited the Texas Medical Center, she recognized the role of emerging technology in the advancement in health care in both of our nations," says McKeon at the announcement, according to the release. "Here in Copenhagen today at this momentous occasion, I am thrilled to formalize the BioBridge partnership that stands as tangible proof that we can always learn from our friends and colleagues around the world in our collective pursuit to advance care."

A new accelerator program will aim to advance cancer therapeutics technology. Photo courtesy of TMC

TMC introduces new cancer therapeutics accelerator program following $5 million grant

Curing cancer

The Texas Medical Center is taking a step forward in cancer prevention and treatment thanks to a multimillion-dollar grant from a Texas organization.

Last month, the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas announced 71 new statewide grants that totaled $136 million. TMC was the recipient of a $5 million grant that is being used to develop a new accelerator geared at designing new cancer therapeutics treatments.

"Texas Medical Center is proud to be among the esteemed organizations chosen by the CPRIT from across the State of Texas that have been targeted to continue to take the fight to the front lines when it comes to cancer and its deleterious effects on patients and their loved ones," says TMC CEO and president, Bill McKeon, in a release.

TMC | ACT, which stands for Accelerating Cancer Therapeutics, will be a nine-month program of biotech entrepreneurship training and drug development.

"This funding will be critical to the success of our newly formed TMC | ACT program, which will unite business, pharmaceutical, and academic leaders from across the country with the world's largest medical city in order to accelerate the translation of cancer breakthroughs into new drugs that will help save the lives of an untold number of cancer patients," McKeon continues in the release.

The program will bring together startups and researchers for training and mentoring for lessons in market research, FDA regulation, intellectual property, licensing, fundraising, and more. According to the release, the program will conclude with at least one grant and a venture capital pitch day.

This is the second new program TMC has launched this year; TMCalpha was announced in June at the TMCx pitch event. This new program is also geared at connecting research and commercialization and hosts regular events for TMC staff members who have early-stage medical technology ideas.

A new robotics facility is headed for the TMC Innovation Institute. Courtesy of TMC

TMC plans to open one-of-its-kind robotics facility later this year

The robots are coming

The Texas Medical Center has announced its plans to open a new robotics-equipped laboratory in October of this year. The automation capabilities will allow for more efficient lab tests and services.

The new facility is being made possible by a partnership between the medical center, TMC Innovation Institute, and ABB, a leading robotics company. This would be Zürich-based ABB's first dedicated health care center, but the company has over 400,000 robotics products across industries in over 53 countries.

"The next-generation laboratory processes developed in Houston will speed manual medical laboratory processes, reducing and eliminating bottlenecks in laboratory work and enhancing safety and consistency," says Sami Atiya, president of ABB's Robotics and Discrete Automation business, in a news release. "This is especially applicable for new high-tech treatments, such as the cancer therapies pioneered at the Texas Medical Center, which today require manual and time-consuming test processes."

A team of 20 will work out of the 5,300-square-foot facility, which will be located in TMC Innovation Institute. The space will have an automation laboratory with robot training facilities, and meeting spaces for the human innovation partners.

Currently, ABB's robots specialize in food and beverage laboratories worldwide, but able to adapt to medical facilities for specific tasks, including "dosing, mixing, and pipetting tasks, as well as sterile instrument kitting and centrifuge loading and unloading," according to the release.

"We are proud to co-develop collaborative robotics systems for the hospital of the future with one of the world's most advanced partners and to test them in real-world laboratories to ensure they add value to healthcare professionals, driving innovation, and transforming how medical laboratories operate worldwide," says Atiya in the release.

According to the release, TMC's connection to innovation, startups, and researchers were key factors in bringing the facility to Houston. ABB Robotics has a long-term plan to invest and innovate in robotics, says Atiya in the release.

"The Texas Medical Center continues to push the boundaries of innovation with cutting-edge industry partners by establishing TMC as the epicenter for ABB Robotics' entry into the healthcare space," says Bill McKeon, president and CEO of Texas Medical Center, in the release. "We continually strive for opportunities to accelerate research and enhance clinical care through key strategic partnerships. ABB's move into the heart of the Texas Medical Center campus with this first-of-its-kind R&D facility for creating robotics solutions in healthcare will set a new course for advancements in medicine."

Automation nation

Courtesy of TMC

A team of 20 will work out of the 5,300-square-foot facility, which will be located in TMC Innovation Institute.

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5 can't-miss innovation events at CERAWeek featuring Houston speakers

where to be online

While usually hundreds of energy experts, C-level executives, diplomats, members of royal families, and more descend upon Houston for the the annual CERAWeek by IHS Markit conference, this year will be a little different. Canceled last year due to COVID-19, CERAWeek is returning — completely virtually.

The Agora track is back and focused on innovation within the energy sector. The Agora track's events — thought-provoking panels, intimate pods, and corporate-hosted "houses" — can be accessed through a virtual atrium.

Undoubtedly, many of the panels will have Houston representatives considering Houston's dominance in the industry, but here are five innovation-focused events you can't miss during CERAWeek that feature Houstonians.

Monday — New Horizons for Energy & Climate Research

The COVID-19 pandemic has made vivid and real the risks of an uncontrolled virus. Risks posed by climate change are also becoming more palpable every day. At the forefront of understanding these risks, universities are developing solutions by connecting science, engineering, business, and public policy disciplines. Along with industry and governments, universities are critical to developing affordable and sustainable solutions to meet the world's energy needs and achieve net-zero emission goals. Can the dual challenge of more energy and lower emissions be met? What is some of the most promising energy and climate research at universities? Beyond research, what are the roles and responsibilities of universities in the energy transition?

Featuring: Kenneth B. Medlock, III, James A. Baker, III, and Susan G. Baker Fellow In Energy And Resource Economics, Baker Institute and Senior Director, Center For Energy Studies at Rice University

Catch the panel at 1 pm on Monday, March 1. Learn more.

Tuesday — Conversations in Cleantech: Powering the energy transition

With renewables investment outperforming oil and gas investment for the first time ever in the middle of a pandemic, 2020 was a tipping point in the Energy Transition. Low oil prices intensified energy majors' attention on diversification and expansion into mature and emerging clean technologies such as battery storage, low-carbon hydrogen, and carbon removal technologies. Yet, the magnitude of the Energy Transition challenge requires an acceleration of strategic decisions on the technologies needed to make it happen, policy frameworks to promote public-private partnerships, and innovative investment schemes.

Three Cleantech leaders share their challenges, successes, and lessons learned at the forefront of the Energy Transition. What is their vision and strategy to accelerate lowering emissions and confronting climate change? Can companies develop clear strategies for cleantech investments that balance sustainability goals and corporate returns? What is the value of increasing leadership diversity for energy corporations? Can the Energy Transition be truly transformational without an inclusive workforce and a diverse leadership?

Featuring: Emily Reichert, CEO of Greentown Labs, which is opening a location in Houston this year.

The event takes place at 11:30 am on Tuesday, March 2. Learn more.

Wednesday — Rice Alliance Venture Day at CERAWeek

The Rice Alliance for Technology and Entrepreneurship pitch event will showcase 20 technology companies with new solutions for the energy industry. Each presentation will be followed by questions from a panel of industry experts.

Presenting Companies: Acoustic Wells, ALLY ENERGY, Bluefield Technologies, Cemvita Factory, Connectus Global, Damorphe, Ovopod Ltd., DrillDocs, GreenFire Energy, inerG, Locus Bio-Energy Solutions, Nesh, Pythias Analytics, REVOLUTION Turbine Technologies, Revterra, ROCSOLE, Senslytics, Subsea Micropiles, Syzygy Plasmonics, Transitional Energy, and Universal Subsea.

The event takes place at 9 am on Wednesday, March 3. Learn more.

Thursday — How Will the Energy Innovation Ecosystem Evolve?

Although the cleantech innovation ecosystem—research institutions, entrepreneurs, financiers, and support institutions—is diverse and productive, converting cleantech discoveries and research breakthroughs into commercially viable, transformative energy systems has proven difficult. With incumbent energy systems economically efficient and deeply entrenched, cleantech innovation faces a fundamental dilemma—the scale economies necessary to compete require a large customer base that does not yet exist. How is our clean energy innovation ecosystem equipped to be transformative? What needs to be strengthened? Is it profitable to focus on individual elements, or should we consider the system holistically, and reframe our expectations?

Featuring: Barbara Burger, vice president of innovation at Chevron and president at Chevron Technology Ventures

The event takes place at 7:30 am on Thursday, March 4. Learn more.

Friday — Cities: Managing crises & the future of energy

Houston is the capital of global energy and for the past four decades the home of CERAWeek. Mayor Sylvester Turner will share lessons from the city's experience with the pandemic, discuss leadership strategies during times of crisis, and explore Houston's evolving role in the new map of energy.

The event takes place at 8 am on Friday, March 5. Learn more.

Rice University develops 2 new innovative tools to detect COVID-19

pandemic tech

Rice University is once again spearheading research and solutions in the ongoing battle with COVID-19. The university announced two developing innovations: a "real-time sensor" to detect the virus and a cellphone tool that can detect the disease in less than an hour.

Sensing COVID
Researchers at Rice received funding for up to $1 million to develop the real-time sensor that promises to detect minute amounts of the airborne virus.

Teams at Rice and the University of Texas Medical Branch (UTMB) at Galveston are working to develop a thin film electronic device that senses as few as eight SARS-CoV-2 viruses in 10 minutes of sampling air flowing at 8 liters per minute, per a press release.

Dubbed the Real-Time Amperometric Platform Using Molecular Imprinting for Selective Detection of SARS-CoV-2 (or, RAPID), the project has been funded by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), Rice notes. Further funding will be contingent upon a successful demonstration of the technology.

Attacking with an app
Meanwhile, the university announced that its engineers have developed a plug-in tool that can diagnose COVID-19 in around 55 minutes. The tool utilizes programmed magnetic nanobeads and a tool that plugs into a basic cellphone.

First, a stamp-sized microfluidic chip measures the concentration of SARS-CoV-2 nucleocapsid protein in blood serum from a standard finger prick.

Then, nanobeads bind to SARS-CoV-2 N protein, a biomarker for COVID-19, in the chip and transport it to an electrochemical sensor that detects minute amounts of the biomarker. Paired with a Google Pixel 2 phone and a plug-in tool, researchers quickly secured a positive diagnosis.

This, researchers argue, simplifies sample handling compared to swab-based PCR tests that must be analyzed in a laboratory.

"What's great about this device is that it doesn't require a laboratory," said Rice engineer Peter Lillehoj in a statement. "You can perform the entire test and generate the results at the collection site, health clinic or even a pharmacy. The entire system is easily transportable and easy to use."

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.