Innovation Fellows Gain Valuable Industry Connections

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The Partners Innovation Fellows Program provides up-and-coming faculty/staff physicians and investigators from Partners   with an opportunity to work with an industry partner on an onsite, team-based Fellow’s Project to get hands-on experience and mentorship in the development of new products to improve patient care.

At a panel discussion at the 2019 World Medical Innovation Forum , research leaders from MGH and Brigham Health   discussed the importance of collaborating with industry while Innovation Fellows and their industry hosts detailed the mutual benefits of the program.

“If we’re going to move the needle forward on health care, we’re going to have to understand that discovery isn’t enough,” said Harry Orf, PhD, Senior Vice President for Research at MGH. “We have to develop a new product or diagnostic or device, and the only way we can do that is to strengthen our ties with the people who actually make those devices, diagnostics and therapeutics.”

“We realize that there are certain things that we are very good at in academia, but there are others we can’t do that our industry partners are extremely good at,” agreed Paul Anderson, MD, PhD, Chief Academic Officer and Senior Vice President for Research at Brigham Health.


Benefits for Fellows

As an Innovation Fellow at Boston Pharmaceutical, Laurie Braun, MD, Pediatric Endocrinologist at MGH Hospital for Children, gained valuable exposure to the drug development process, particularly when it comes to clinical trials.

This includes identifying the clinical and scientific questions that need to be answered in order to move a new drug into the clinic as well the nuts-and-bolts aspect of running a clinical trial, she said.

Braun also appreciates the flexibility that the program offers. “I’m able to work with this great team, learn from them, and I’m able to continue my role as a pediatric endocrinologist at Mass General so I can continue to see patients on a part-time basis.”

David Chiang, MD, PhD, a cardiology fellow at Brigham Health, is providing a clinical perspective to the digital team at Boston Scientific as they develop new apps, social media tools and virtual reality/augmented reality technologies in healthcare.

“I get to interact with a small team where they have very quick cycles of iteration and I get to see how they implement the principles of running a startup in a very real way,” Chiang said.


Insights for Industry

Industry hosts praised the program for creating stronger connections between their development work and the day-to-day realities of clinical care.

“Innovation Fellows are closer to the general practitioners than all of us, so that’s very helpful when we are looking at different projects going into different diseases and different therapeutic areas for which there is no internal expertise,” says Peter Ho, MD, PhD, Chief Medical Officer of Boston Pharmaceuticals.

“The gap [in our development process] is that we really don’t understand the context of care,” said David Feygin, PhD, Chief Digital Health Officer of Boston Scientific. “Having someone come in who lives that every day and understands that world is incredibly enabling. It’s not so much the amount of time David spends with the team but it’s those critical few insights that can save us weeks and months of development.”


Flexibility and Future Expansion

The program is led by Seema Basu, PhD, Market Sector Leader for Partners Innovation, and Program Manager Cary Mazzone. It is open to PHS MDs who, at a minimum, have completed their residency programs and PhDs with at least two years of experience working in an academic lab within Partners.

Typical Fellow Project secondments can last anywhere from six to 24 months depending on the scope and nature of the Project. A hallmark of the program is its flexibility when it comes to pairing fellows and industry partners; the scope and nature of each Project can be adjusted to fit the needs of both sides.

“We’re learning ourselves and we’re trying to make sure we are adding value to the organization, to the fellow, to our industry partners and yet not disrupting anyone’s work,” Basu said.

Basu and Mazzone are also working to develop the inbound side of the program where post-docs from industry can spend time in an academic lab to gain exposure to new and advanced scientific techniques. The program is also a good fit for more senior members of industry who are interested in gaining new insights and inspiration from the world of academic medicine.


Building Personal Relationships

Of the 17 Innovation Fellows who have completed the program, approximately one- third have decided to continue working in industry rather than return to academic medicine, Basu said.

In either case, the hope is that the connections made during the Fellow’s Project will lead to future industry-academic collaborations down the line.

“You could say that Mass General or Brigham Health has relationships with company X or Y but in point of fact, those relationships all start out as one person to another person,” said Orf. “It’s a human connection that makes it and what we’re trying to do is build a basis for these human connections.”

For more information about the Partners Innovation Fellows Program, including an application, applicant eligibility criteria and current opportunities, please visit



2019 World Medical Innovation Forum

View video here: Innovation Fellows: A New Model of Collaboration

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