Teamwork

TMC receives grant to collaborate with a government agency to enhance illness-detecting technology

The TMC Innovation Institute has been tapped by the government to collaborate on illness-detecting technology. Courtesy of TMC

The Texas Medical Center has been identified as a key partner for a national health-focused initiative. TMCx has been selected as one of eight accelerator programs to be a part of the program that focuses on identifying emerging health security threats, according to a release from TMC.

The United States Department of Health and Human Services has provided TMCx a $96,500 to conduct research and provide solutions for two different challenges within mitigating these risks.

"The first is 'pre-symptomatic' detection of illness, or detecting illness in patients and suggesting treatment before they even begin to show symptoms," the release reads. "The second is addressing sepsis, a life-threatening reaction to infection."

Sepsis, which is one of the most costly illnesses hospitals treat, affects 1.7 million patients a year.

HHS' Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, or BARDA, has a new entity called DRIVe, which stands for Division of Research, Innovation, and Ventures. The effort will be lead by the new organization, which comes at a result of the 21st Century Cures Act that was enacted to spur health security within technology.

In July, HHS officials toured the TMC Innovation Institute campus before deciding to work with the accelerator. TMCx is no stranger to the national spotlight. In November, the organization was lauded for its accelerator program with a national award.

The accelerator has announced its eighth cohort of startups this spring. The 21 companies will be focused on digital health. Last cohort, TMCx accelerated 23 companies that raised $73 million by demo day.

In December, Erik Halvorsen, who had lead the Innovation Institute for a few years, abruptly left his position as director. Lance Black, associate director of TMCx, has been named the interim director.

TMCx's eighth cohort started Monday. Of the 21 companies, 10 are international and two are from Texas. Courtesy of TMCx

On Monday, 21 startups settled in for a wild, four-month ride at the Texas Medical Center's Innovation Institute, and TMCx's eighth cohort, which is focused on digital health, is officially ongoing.

The companies will be absorbing the curriculum and guidance from TMCx and its partners for the next four months, and this particular cohort is exciting for Lance Black, associate director at TMCx, for a few reasons.

"I'm really honored to be able to support these startup companies because, in my mind, it's this entrepreneur spirit that's going to change health care for the better," says Black.

From where the startups are from to where they're going, here's what you need to know about TMCx's eighth cohort.

Digital health companies are defined as those with a software component. 

Each year, TMCx hosts two four-month cohorts — one focusing on medical device companies and the other on digital health. Last fall, TMCx concluded its medical device cohort, so its time to turn the focus on digital health, which Black says TMCx defines as companies with a software element to their product.

The 21 companies in X8 focus on a myriad of medical issues — neurology, mental health, and oncology — as well as logistical applications — patient experience, hospital efficiency, process improvement, clinical decision support, and more.

Black says one type of cohort isn't harder than the other, but the process and curriculum is different. Medical device companies need to have an established prototype, which can take a while. Meanwhile, a digital health company can turn around an app in a matter of weeks.

It might be a bit of a gray area as to what all falls under digital health, but one thing's for sure — TMC is a great opportunity for the companies.

"Overall, our digital health companies do really well in the Texas Medical Center because there's a lot of large hospital systems that are eager and hungry to improve their processes in a number of ways," Black says. "So, we've seen digital health get picked up quickly."

It's the accelerator's most international cohort.

Black says his team evaluated hundreds of startups and, of the 150 companies, 70 were interviewed before getting pared down to 21. What was particularly surprising was the amount of international companies were interested. Ten of the cohort's startups are internationally based.

"What we really tried to do is put the blindfolds on for where they are from and what their background is and really look at the company and its technology, and pick the highest quality of the companies," Black says.

The countries represented are Canada, Australia, Israel, Denmark, and the United Kingdom.

"It shows not only what TMC has done but how Houston has come up in ranking as an international location for these companies," says Black. "For the majority of the 10, this is their first time in the U.S. They are looking at Houston as their entry to the U.S. market."

One Houston company made the cut.

Texas has two companies in the cohort — one from Austin and one from Houston.

Houston-based PreopMD makes the preoperative experience — for patients and clinicians — a whole lot easier. Improved patient communications and monitoring is the main goals of the company, and the website describes the technology as a "virtual operating room command center."

Austin-based Cloud 9 is on a mission to make mental health care more accessible to the population. According to their website, 20 percent of the population has mental health issues, but only 8 percent receive treatment. By engaging mental health care providers and making access to data and communication more available, Cloud 9 can help to fix the broken system.

There's a new guy in charge. 

After TMCx's former director, Erik Halvorsen, left his position in December, Black has stepped up to the plate as interim director to lead the cohort. The responsibilities are definitely different, Black says.

"As a strategist my focus was primarily the companies and being their point of contact," he says. "My day to day had a lot to do with communicating with the companies, and making sure they got the most out of the program. Now, in my current role, It's a little bit one step removed from that. I'm looking over the entire program and thinking about it strategically."

Black says that for him this means finding areas where the cohort can be improved or expanded.

It's the best time to be a TMCx company.

In the past few years, Black says the program has improved dramatically from the curriculum to the programing and what TMC has to offer its startups.

Now, the cohort has access to local talent through the intern program, fundraising events, the new Center of Device Innovation, and more.

"The more that we throw at them, the more they absorb and the better that they do," Black says. "So, we're always looking for ways to improve on their experience."