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Ask the Experts: Is Innovating Within an Academic Medical Center Really Possible?

Naomi Fried

Fried_Naomi_headshot 4.10.14

Naomi Fried, PhD, is the VP of Medical Information, Innovation and External Partnerships at Biogen Idec. She was previously Chief Innovation Officer at Boston Children’s Hospital.

Is innovation even possible inside an academic medical center, or should innovators move into the private sector?

It is certainly possible to innovate within an academic medical center (AMC). Most AMCs have a culture of inquiry that helps create a fertile environment for innovation. Ideas can be nurtured, incubated and even scaled within AMCs. Of course, the ease or difficulty of innovation will vary from one AMC to another, depending on the amount of encouragement, guidance and resources (time and money) available.

However, there is one important constraint on innovation at AMCs: the commercialization of innovation generally requires a partner and resources beyond what most AMCs can provide (even in the case of an AMC with well-developed innovation and tech transfer programs). So eventually, AMC-created innovations need to move out and partner with the private sector to achieve sustained commercial success.

Why is innovating in academic medicine so difficult?

Ironically, it’s often the focus on research that can make innovation difficult in AMCs. AMCs often prioritize research and the pursuit of scientific and medical knowledge ahead of innovation. With the national reduction in research funding for science, there’s an increased competition for funding within AMCs, and innovation doesn’t always win.

Furthermore, the focus of AMCs on generating publications can undermine the willingness to innovate. One cannot generally publish research without reporting positive results. It is a well known fact that innovation is fundamentally risky – lacking any guarantees of success – and perhaps leaves an innovator with nothing to publish. An innovator may experience many innovation “failures” before achieving success and results worthy of publication.

Why, then, do we still need to be pushing for innovation in academia?

I think everyone would agree that our healthcare delivery system is ripe for improvement and innovation. And some of the most creative minds in healthcare are in AMCs. So AMCs are great places to seed innovation. The good news is that there is a growing trend among AMCs to build and support innovation programs and tech transfer offices. In my view, there has never been a better time to be an innovator in an academic medical center.

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Jenni Whalen

Jenni Whalen

    Jenni Whalen is the Executive Assistant of Editorial at Upworthy. She was previously MedTech Boston's Managing Editor and has an MS in Journalism from Boston University, as well as a BA in Psychology from Bucknell University. Whalen has written for Greatist, Boston magazine, AZ Central Healthy Living and the New England Journal of Medicine, among other places. She has also worked as a conference planner, ghost writer, researcher and content developer.

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