SC's life sciences industry responds to the challenge of COVID-19 see more
I just completed a radio interview with SC Business Review, focused exclusively on the all-consuming and seismic topic of the Coronavirus – which is dramatically impacting all our lives. As I made clear to interviewer Mike Switzer, any relevance of me being interviewed as opposed to our scientists and clinicians is tied to the privilege that SCBIO has of serving as a voice and accurate storyteller for the 600+ life sciences companies and entities that proudly call the Palmetto State home.
And there are incredibly meaningful and encouraging stories to share in the midst of this very real public health crisis – regarding SC companies and institutions that will positively impact patients across the state and nation with innovative and creative approaches they are actively, and very rapidly, undertaking.
Just a few exemplary SC examples include:
- MUSC Health was the first in the nation to uniquely provide both direct, timely, and online access to Coronavirus screening via their virtual care platform coupled with a drive-through specimen collection site for patients with possible COVID-19 symptoms or exposure. This was done in partnership with the developers (newest SCBIO Member, Trademark Properties) of the dramatically redeveloped Citadel Mall Epic Center, which is now home to MUSC Health’s West Ashley Medical Pavilion – as they worked closely to secure immediate approvals for the location of the collection site in the mall parking lot. If you or someone you know needs to be screened, log on to www.musc.care and use COVID19 as the promo code. This is FREE for all South Carolinians.
- Nephron Pharmaceuticals, a major national supplier of respiratory therapy medications badly needed by patients suffering from COVID-19, is aggressively ramping up their ability to increase production of 90 million sterile doses per month of targeted drug therapies with an additional 32 million doses, as they work with the FDA to have 3 new aseptic filling lines approved and brought online quickly to meet skyrocketing demands they are experiencing.
- Vikor Scientific has specifically dedicated 2,000 sq. ft of their brand new 22,000 sq. ft. headquarters and CLIA-certified and CAP-accredited lab facilities at WestEdge for COVID-19 testing as soon as approval is received from the FDA. They are in fact preparing 100,000 test kits to be available for shipment to customers as soon as Wednesday of this week – and are working closely with the FDA for continued guidance on expediting the approval process.
On the national front, there are also some encouraging stories emerging, including the most rapid launch of a possible new vaccine on record.
Moderna has already begun its first coronavirus vaccine trial in Washington State (the nation’s worst hot spot at present) with volunteers at Kaiser Permanente Research Institute in Seattle. Over the next 2 months, volunteers ages 18-55 will get two doses of the trial vaccine (known as mRNA-1273). Dr. Fauci of the national Coronavirus Task Force has confirmed that this 65-day development is the fastest ever accomplished for a new vaccine of this magnitude. And while widespread utilization of a newly approved vaccine is still likely 12-18 months away, gratefully progress is on track to achieve that. Also noteworthy are other vaccines and targeted therapies concurrently in the pipeline, involving companies such as Pfizer, Regeneron and Sanofi.
Finally, on a very personal note, each of us and our extended families are being dramatically impacted by this global pandemic and are encouraged to do our parts in mitigating the spread of this fearsome and highly contagious virus. After an extended battle with metastatic lung cancer, my dad peacefully passed away this past weekend, and regrettably his funeral will have to be limited to a private family graveside service (with a future memorial service to be scheduled once the health crisis has subsided). In an interesting juxtaposition of life & death, my nephew’s wedding this weekend has been compressed to a small family rehearsal dinner combined with a quiet ceremony in conjunction with the dinner. I’m certain that there will be a multitude of other similar stories from most of you regarding how we grapple and deal with this unprecedented event with no clear endpoint at present.
While all of this will ultimately be in our “rear view mirrors” at some point in the future through the power and innovation of our industry, our researchers, and our heroic healthcare providers, life and business as we know it will have to be dramatically different in the weeks – and possibly months – ahead. Expect a more virtual experience with SCBIO for the near future, and look to hear from us more often via electronic means ranging from e-blasts to social media efforts to increased website postings to webinars. I am fully confident that all of our life & health sciences companies and leaders will respond valiantly, and that this will bring out the best in us – with creative and even transformative solutions and strategies that will enable us to maintain momentum in our vital missions. And we will learn a great deal and grow through this challenging process – as our strength is truly forged in fire…
We will update you on various developments around COVID-19 and beyond and encourage all of you to share your stories of hope and progress as we collectively battle this formidable foe. Please don’t hesitate to reach out to our SCBIO team for any reason, and we are more grateful than ever for all of you.
Sam Konduros, CEO
MUSC Foundation for Research Development holds Vournakis NAI Induction Ceremony and Adm. Albert Baciocco Innovator of the Year ReceptionMUSC FRD honors innovators, patent recipients at virtual gala... see more
Congratulations to all of the honorees from the recent John N. Vournakis NAI Induction Ceremony and Annual Adm. Albert J. Baciocco Innovator of the Year Reception. Learn about teh honorees and this highly anticipated annual event right here!
MUSC has multi-billion-dollar impact on South Carolina... see more
A new report shows the Medical University of South Carolina has an annual economic impact on the state of about $5.6 billion. MUSC Health CEO Patrick Cawley, M.D., knows where a big part of the credit lies. “MUSC Health has grown significantly in the past 18 months and this report details the growing economic impact across the entire state of South Carolina.”
In early 2019, MUSC bought four hospitals in Lancaster, Florence, Marion and Chester, creating a regional hospital network and establishing itself as a health care organization that reaches well beyond Charleston.
Joseph Von Nessen, Ph.D., a research economist at the Darla Moore School of Business at the University of South Carolina in Columbia, led the six-month economic impact study. “MUSC maintains a unique and sizeable statewide economic footprint. Its impact in Charleston may already be well known, but it’s also important to recognize that MUSC’s economic benefits extend well beyond the borders of the Tri-county region.”
For example: “About 38,000 people in South Carolina can attribute their jobs either directly or indirectly to the activities that are going on at MUSC every day. It really shows how significant MUSC’s impact is,” Von Nessen said.
Over twenty experts to speak on major business issues see more
Subject matter leaders from across state, nation to cover what business needs to know to thrive despite pandemic, how to leverage state’s fastest-growing knowledge economy segment
SOUTH CAROLINA – September 2, 2020 – SCBIO will host a half-day virtual program September 23 -- Life Sciences Boot Camp: Building Your Brand & Business In a Pandemic – to inform and connect businesses, educators and professionals from across the state on leveraging opportunities, identifying trends and overcoming challenges that face organizations interested in tapping into South Carolina’s fastest-growing industry segment.
To be held completely online, the program will run from 8:15 a.m. until 12:15 p.m. on Wednesday, September 23rd. The program is delivered free to all SCBIO Members and Investors, and for a nominal fee of $50 to all non-Members. Students and media may also attend free of charge. Six sessions featuring over 20 noted presenters will precede a closing Virtual Networking Session for all attendees. Confirmed topics and speakers include:
- Search for a Cure: A National Update on the Global Pandemic – featuring a live national report from PhRMA executive Sharon Lamberton on success in battling the COVID-19 pandemic, and what lies ahead for America
- Marketing in a Pandemic: Building Your Brand & Your Topline – despite the economic turndown, some businesses are enjoying even great success – and are positioning themselves for an even better future. Learn the secrets to thriving, not surviving, during and after the pandemic from Henry Pellerin of Vantage Point, Heather Hoopes-Matthews of NP Strategy and Jessica Cokins of Thorne Research
- Best Practices in Talent Recruiting, Retention & Development – Nephron's Lou Kennedy, Arthrex's Jimmy Dascani and ERG's Matt Vaadi share how the state’s life sciences leaders are attracting, training and retaining top talent – and offer ideas your organization can deploy right now
- Partnering Effectively with Higher Education & Research Universities – tap into the wealth of resources, knowledge and experience prevalent in the state’s research universities to enhance innovation and success. Enjoy insights from Chad Hardaway of USC’s Office of Economic Engagement, Michael Rusnak of MUSC’s Foundation for Research Development, and Angela Lockman of Clemson
- Leading Virtual Teams Effectively – the pandemic has showed us that working virtually is here to stay. Find out how to make your organization collaborate seamlessly, efficiently and effectively -- wherever your colleagues are located -- from Annie McCoy of ChartSpan, Andrew Collins of Alcami and Jenni Dunlap of Parker Poe
- Pivoting with a Partner: Collaborating to Grow Your Business – learn how to successfully identify and partner with other organizations to expand and enhance product/service offerings. Hear incredible stories from the teams at Zverse/Phoenix Specialty and Rhythmlink, ZIAN and MUSC as they share their stories -- and how you can find your next great opportunity.
The program will end with a Virtual Networking session offering attendees to chat with leading economic development professionals including Stephanie Few of Womble Bond Dickinson, Tushar Chikhliker of Nexsen Pruet, and John Osborne of Good Growth Capital for conversations on Onshoring, Incentives, Accessing Capital and more.
To register or for more details, visit the Events page. Interested students and media members are invited to attend, with advance registration, at no cost.
SCBIO is South Carolina’s investor-driven public/private economic development organization exclusively focused on building, advancing, and growing the life sciences industry in the state. The industry has an $11.4 billion annual economic impact in the Palmetto State, with more than 675 firms directly involved and 43,000 professionals employed in the research, development and commercialization of innovative healthcare, medical device, industrial, environmental and agricultural biotech and products. The state-wide nonprofit has offices in Greenville, Columbia, and Charleston, and represents companies in the advanced medicines, medical devices, equipment, diagnostics, IT, and healthcare outcome industries. Life sciences is recognized as the fastest-growing segment of South Carolina’s knowledge economy.
For additional information on SCBIO, visit www.SCBIO.org.
First in nation treatment for MIS-C, COVID-19 complication, at MUSC Shawn Jenkins Children’s HospitalMUSC Shawn Jenkins Children’s Hospital in Charleston on leading edge of treatment see more
When 4-year-old K.J. Griffin arrived at MUSC Shawn Jenkins Children’s Hospital in Charleston, South Carolina, the normally bubbly boy who loves to ride his bike and play outside with his friends was frighteningly limp.
His mother was stunned and exhausted. The little boy she’d worried about for days as his fever spiked had already been to a hospital near their home in rural Smoaks. But the condition K.J. was suffering from was so new and rare that it went unrecognized.
So Talaiyah Stephens watched over her son at home, doing what she could to ease his symptoms but feeling helpless as he got sicker and sicker. “He didn’t want to talk. All he would do was sleep. He’d wake up, throw up, go to the bathroom, then lay back down and go to sleep. He would look at you like he was staring right through you.”
When K.J.’s fever rose to 105 degrees and wouldn’t come down, Stephens came to a decision. She would drive him to MUSC Shawn Jenkins Children’s Hospital, about an hour and 15 minutes away. It was a choice that saved his life.
MUSC partners with AstraZeneca, IQVIA in chase for vaccine for COVID see more
As researchers from across the globe race to find a vaccine for the coronavirus, the Medical University of South Carolina has entered as a key player in that fight. Along with AstraZeneca and IQVIA, MUSC was selected to be part of a Phase III trial of a vaccine that has shown promise in battling COVID-19.
“The science behind it looks good,” said MUSC emergency medicine physician Gary Headden, M.D., who will be leading the trial. “So, I’d say I’m optimistic.”
MUSC and Charleston will be part of the first wave of locations across the United States to test the vaccine. In total, manufacturers and researchers hope to enroll and collect data on 30,000 people across 20 cities in the U.S., with as many as 1,500 of those being from right here in Charleston.
For context: Once a pharmaceutical company thinks it has a promising vaccine on its hands, it begins clinical trials. According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, these trials consist of three phases:
- Phase 1, also referred to as initial human studies, is performed on small groups and focused on safety and the recipient’s immune response to the vaccine.
- Phase 2, which are usually administered on hundreds of people, are still focused on safety and fine-tuning the dosage and treatment regimen required.
- Phase 3 typically enrolls thousands of individuals and focuses on the safety and efficacy (how well it works) in a population.
If successful, the manufacturer can then submit an application to the FDA for approval.
Because of the unique world we’re living in, the U.S. government has implemented “Operation Warp Speed,” which aims to deliver 300 million doses of a safe, effective vaccine for COVID-19 by January 2021. In other words, a process that often takes years is being compressed into mere months. To facilitate this process, the government is speeding up all aspects that can safely be sped up and is pumping billions of dollars into the pharmaceutical industry. AstraZeneca, the company that has manufactured the vaccine being tested at MUSC, received $1.2 billion alone.
According to Amanda Cameron, Trial Innovation Network manager at MUSC and a key figure in bringing the trial to the university, even with Operation Warp Speed in play, this is one of few Phase III vaccine trials out there.
“For us to get to bring a trial here to MUSC is incredible, but the fact that it’s one that researchers are optimistic about is even more exciting,” she said.
Recently, Russia claimed to have a vaccine ready. U.S. researchers believe it has effectively only cleared Phase I, so to roll it out so quickly could prove to be reckless, Headden said.
This week, MUSC will go live with a webpage, officially opening the trial to applicants. The hopes are that soon thereafter, the study's first patients will be seen at the Clinical Sciences Building on MUSC’s downtown campus. Several hundred have already expressed interest in participation, and MUSC clinical research manager Ashley Warden said the team would love to get as many people involved as possible.
“This is a really important research opportunity,” Warden said. “We need to have a therapy that can bring this pandemic into control. It would be best that those that participate in this trial are representative of our region.”
The trial – which will be double-blind, randomized and placebo-controlled in a 2:1 ratio, meaning that for every two people who get the active vaccine, one will get the placebo – will require the participants to come in at Day 1 and Day 29 to receive their vaccines or the placebo.
Researchers and doctors hope each of these two visits will last about 90 minutes, during which time the participants will undergo a physical examination that includes having their medical histories reviewed, blood drawn for testing and a nasal swab test for COVID-19. The vaccine will then be administered.
All subjects will be monitored over a period of two years. During this time, those who show any signs of illness that could be due to COVID-19 will undergo additional testing. Compensation will be provided for participants’ time.
“This is a big study with an aggressive time frame, which is expected of a trial of this importance,” Headden said. “As for the science behind it, it’s totally solid. Put it this way: I would let my family take this vaccine.”
To learn more about the trial or to enroll, visit https://research.musc.edu/clinical-trials/coronavirus-clinical-trials.
Dr. David Cole chronicled many MUSC achievements during the 2020 fiscal year see more
CHARLESTON, S.C. (Aug. 14, 2020) – Recently, the Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC) and Medical University Hospital Authority (MUHA) Board of Trustees held their regularly scheduled combined committee sessions and board meeting. With its fiscal year-end closing on June 30, MUSC administrators focused on the multilayered impacts of the novel coronavirus on the operations of all three missions of the institution – education, research and patient care – along with MUSC’s leadership role across the community and state during this pandemic. To support established social distancing guidelines in the COVID-19 era, the MUSC trustees and administrators met via teleconference.
“The ripple effects of the pandemic continue to reach every area of our institution,” said MUSC President David J. Cole, M.D., FACS. “We are committed to battling this virus at every turn and continue to find innovative ways to deliver safe, top-quality education and patient care in the face of this challenge. In addition, we are engaged in ongoing research projects, many which, in collaboration with national networks, are designed to help define how to best treat and mitigate the impact of this virus.”
“Throughout the pandemic, MUSC Health has been recognized and called upon as an essential health care resource, having performed nearly 138,000 diagnostic screening tests, primarily through mobile testing sites in communities across the state,” said Patrick J. Cawley, M.D., CEO of MUSC Health and vice president for Health Affairs, University. “In partnership with the state legislature, MUSC set up mobile screening and collection sites in rural and underserved areas in an intentional bid to reach those who are most vulnerable and too often underserved when it comes to health care. Reliable diagnostic and antibody testing remain key elements of managing this unprecedented statewide health challenge.”
Despite the hurdles posed by COVID-19, Cole chronicled many MUSC achievements during the 2020 fiscal year, including:
- The MUSC Shawn Jenkins Children’s Hospital and Pearl Tourville Women’s Pavilion opened in February.
- MUSC became the only institution in the country to house both a Digestive Disease Research Core Center and a Center for Biomedical Research Excellence in Digestive and Liver Disease.
- MUSC Health West Ashley Medical Pavilion opened as scheduled in December and served 10,418 patients in the first month, with 214 operative procedures.
- The South Carolina Clinical & Translational Research Institute, one of about 60 Clinical and Translational Science Award hubs nationwide, was awarded a $24M five-year renewal.
- Safely held a series of virtual graduation celebrations, including a drive-through diploma pick-up event for its 660 graduates.
- Transitioned more than 3,000 students to online education in response to the novel coronavirus within 24 hours’ notice.
- MUSC was first in the nation to combine drive-through testing with a virtual screening platform for potential COVID-19 patients.
- MUSC and Clemson collaborated to launch the Healthy Me – Healthy SC program to increase health access and fight health disparities statewide. The program began expanding in early 2020 after successful pilots in Anderson, Barnwell and Williamsburg counties.
- MUSC, Clemson and Siemens Healthineers co-hosted a summit in Columbia about artificial intelligence (AI) to bring together faculty, clinicians and engineers. They shared information about current work, new opportunities and discussed the future of AI in health care. The pilot effort funded three joint AI projects with Clemson.
- U.S. News & World Report named MUSC the state’s best hospital for the fifth consecutive year.
- The inaugural 2019 Lowvelo Bike Ride for Cancer Research engaged more than 709 cyclists and 300 volunteers, raising some $650,000 to support MUSC Hollings Cancer Center.
- The U.S. Patent Office granted the MUSC Foundation for Research Development 18 patents.
- MUSC received $25 million from the General Assembly to partner with the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control and the South Carolina Hospital Association to develop and deploy a statewide testing plan. The focus of the plan is on rural and underserved areas of the state. More than 200 testing events/sites have been implemented.
- MUSC Health continues to support the reopening plan and testing strategy for the University of SC, College of Charleston, The Citadel and Clemson University.
The 16-member MUSC/MUHA board voted unanimously to elect James Lemon, DMD, as chairman and Charles W. Schulze, CPA, as vice chairman. Each will serve a two-year term. Lemon is an oral and maxillofacial surgeon by training. A native of Barnwell, he has lived in Columbia for more than three decades. Elected to the MUSC board in 2014, he serves as the medical professional representative from the 2nd Congressional District. Schulze, a Greenwood native, began his first term as an MUSC trustee in 2002 as the lay representative from the 3rd Congressional District. A retired shareholder of a regional accounting and consulting firm, Schulze currently practices and is an expert in financial forensics.
In other business, the board voted to approve:
- The fiscal year 2021 budgets for MUSC (University), the MUSC Health system and MUSC Physicians.
- Moving the spring commencement and graduation date from its originally scheduled date of May 22 to May 15, 2021.
- A seven-year lease to provide new clinical care space for the MUSC Neuro Rehabilitation Institute in Charleston.
- A supplemental HVAC system for the MUSC Hollings Cancer Center Compounding Pharmacy.
- A lease renewal to provide 140 parking spaces at the intersection of Line Street and Hagood Avenue.
The MUSC/MUHA Board of Trustees serves as separate bodies to govern the university and hospital, normally holding two days of committee and board meetings six times a year. For more information about the MUSC Board of Trustees, visit http://academicdepartments.musc.edu/leadership/board/index.html.
About The Medical University of South Carolina
Founded in 1824 in Charleston, MUSC is the oldest medical school in the South as well as the state’s only integrated academic health sciences center with a unique charge to serve the state through education, research and patient care. Each year, MUSC educates and trains more than 3,000 students and nearly 800 residents in six colleges: Dental Medicine, Graduate Studies, Health Professions, Medicine, Nursing and Pharmacy. The state’s leader in obtaining biomedical research funds, in fiscal year 2019, MUSC set a new high, bringing in more than $284 million. For information on academic programs, visit musc.edu.
As the clinical health system of the Medical University of South Carolina, MUSC Health is dedicated to delivering the highest quality patient care available, while training generations of competent, compassionate health care providers to serve the people of South Carolina and beyond. Comprising some 1,600 beds, more than 100 outreach sites, the MUSC College of Medicine, the physicians’ practice plan, and nearly 275 telehealth locations, MUSC Health owns and operates eight hospitals situated in Charleston, Chester, Florence, Lancaster and Marion counties. In 2020, for the sixth consecutive year, U.S. News & World Report named MUSC Health the No. 1 hospital in South Carolina. To learn more about clinical patient services, visit muschealth.org.
MUSC and its affiliates have collective annual budgets of $3.2 billion. The more than 17,000 MUSC team members include world-class faculty, physicians, specialty providers and scientists who deliver groundbreaking education, research, technology and patient care.
SC invention provides a solution for reducing accidental needle sticks see more
Medical University of South Carolina neurophysiologist Jessica Barley, Ph.D., and neurologist Jonathan C. Edwards, M.D., noticed a clinical problem and decided to do something about it. The needle electrodes used to monitor a patient’s nervous system function during surgery can also pose a safety risk. Stranded uncapped needles can find their way into health care workers or even patients. Working with the Zucker Institute for Applied Neurosciences (ZIAN), an MUSC technology accelerator, and Rhythmlink International LLC, a medical device manufacturer headquartered in Columbia, South Carolina, the team created a novel safety electrode that has the potential to reduce needle sticks.
The electrode, known as the Guardian Needle, was recently approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for intraoperative monitoring (IOM). The technology has been licensed to Rhythmlink, which is ramping up production for a rollout to hospitals nationwide this autumn.
“We thought it was unacceptable and unfair that the team providing the care to the patient should be put in harm's way by equipment that was meant to do the opposite and ensure patient safety,” said Barley, who runs the intraoperative neurophysiology program at MUSC Health and is co-inventor of the Guardian Needle. “This is how we first came up with the design.”
During high-risk surgical cases, the neurophysiology team uses IOM to monitor a patient’s nervous system. The process involves inserting approximately 40 needles throughout the patient’s body and connecting them with long wires to the IOM machine.
“IOM serves as a vital early warning system,” explained Barley. “It preserves neurologic function in real time.”
However, the setup increases the risk of needle dislocation. Currently available needles can become uncapped when dislodged from the patient’s skin. This results in a danger of needles sticking the staff while in the operating room (OR).
“We don't have to accept that a certain number of our staff are going to get stuck by an IOM needle,” said Edwards, chief of the Integrated Centers of Clinical Excellence in Neuroscience at MUSC Health and co-inventor of the Guardian Needle. “That's a problem, and it's our responsibility as people in the field to solve it.”
The Guardian Needle should protect the surgical team from harm because it is never uncapped. It was designed to deploy the electrode safely only when inserted in the patient. If the needle is dislodged from the skin, it automatically resheathes into its protective casing.
“The key thing is that you don't have to cap and uncap the needle, and it automatically retracts when it's not in the patient,” said Paul Asper, vice president of commercialization at ZIAN.
The design also includes adhesive bandages around the needles. The adhesives enable the team to secure needles to the patient without manually taping them, thus decreasing OR time and cost. The bandage, like the needle electrode, is sterile, which reduces the risk of infection from nonsterile tape.
“We did timed trials,” said Barley. “Just trying the full setup the very first time using the new design, we were all faster,” she said, comparing the new needles with the needles they had used before.
Not only does the Guardian Needle protect the surgical team and decrease OR time, but it also enables better patient care by reducing the risk of needle sticks to patients and helping to maintain a sterile environment.
The adhesives on the needle also secure it in place despite shifts in patient positioning. The adhesives thus ensure signal integrity as the electrodes monitor nervous system function during surgery.
The clinician-innovators were able to come up with the clever design because they were personally familiar with the clinical problem they were trying to address.
“Clinicians have great ideas all the time,” said Edwards. “But 99% of those ideas die, mostly because we don’t have time.”
Enter ZIAN, with the expertise, knowledge and resources to turn an idea into a product. In the case of the Guardian Needle, the ZIAN team developed a business plan and patent strategy, raised funding for research and development, engineered the prototype and forged a licensing agreement with a world-class medical device company, saving valuable time for the busy clinicians.
“The expertise on the ZIAN team aligns perfectly with the clinical expertise of the inventors, enabling both parties to execute on their strengths,” explained Mark Semler, CEO of ZIAN. The core mission of ZIAN is to develop and bring to market technologies that solve unmet clinical needs.
“We have that clinical perspective to create a pipeline of ideas,” said Edwards. “ZIAN provides the practical implementation of those ideas, and neither of those two would be successful without the other.”
Rhythmlink, a South Carolina-based company specializing in medical devices that record or elicit neurophysiologic biopotentials, has licensed the technology and has begun to ramp up production of the Guardian Needle. Their unique position in the industry allowed them to recognize the importance of this invention. That, combined with their contribution to the intellectual property, design enhancements for manufacturing and expertise in regulatory guidelines, helped the product become a reality.
“This is a great example of South Carolina organizations collaborating in the health care space and an illustration of South Carolina’s prowess in innovation, entrepreneurship, life sciences and manufacturing,” said Shawn Regan, co-founder and chief executive officer of Rhythmlink. “Creating a safer work environment for health care professionals absolutely aligns with our mission to improve patient care. Working with ZIAN and MUSC to develop the Guardian Needle and bring this creation to life was a no-brainer from a collaboration standpoint.”
Successful commercialization of the product and the widespread distribution that Rhythmlink can provide are key to realizing a potentially industry-changing standard of care. As the novel electrode is rolled out in hospitals across the country, researchers will collect needle-stick data to determine whether it is safer than the current standard of care. If it is safer, as its inventors believe, it would likely become the new standard of care, given federal workplace safety rules.
“Being at the forefront of an innovative and potentially industry-changing movement is exciting and exactly where we strive to be,” said Regan.
To the inventors, the Guardian Needle provided a way to make a difference not only for their MUSC Health colleagues but also for surgical team members across the globe.
“In health care, we gladly and eagerly place ourselves at risk every day when we're caring for others. But it does have an element of stress and anxiety,” said Barley. “This invention is particularly special because we're not only caring for our patients in a safer, higher-quality way, we're also protecting our colleagues and teammates. It feels like a way of giving back to them and keeping them safe.”
Edwards explained that it is this type of innovation that has enabled him to help patients and health care providers he will never meet. This he considers a benefit of practicing academic medicine.
“We always think of clinical practice, teaching and research as the three pillars of medicine,” he explained. “There's a fourth pillar, and that fourth pillar is innovation.”
Innovation has led this MUSC team to create a solution for a once-tolerated problem. They encourage other clinicians to do the same.
“Take obstacles as an opportunity to find the solution yourself,” encouraged Barley.
U.S. News & World Report releases annual national rankings see more
MUSC Health University Medical Center in Charleston was named by U.S. News & World Report for the sixth year in a row as the No. 1 hospital in South Carolina, with three of the MUSC Health, Charleston Division, specialty areas ranking among the best in the entire country: ear, nose and throat; gynecology; and cancer. Six other MUSC Health programs based in Charleston are considered “high performing” in the 2020-2021 U.S. News & World Report rankings: gastroenterology and GI surgery; nephrology; neurology and neurosurgery; orthopedics; rheumatology and urology. In addition, MUSC Health Florence Medical Center is designated “high performing” in chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and heart failure, and MUSC Health Lancaster Medical Center is designated “high performing” in COPD and heart failure.
“These six consecutive years of recognition demonstrate that our teams remain committed to keeping the needs of patients as the focal points of what we deliver every day,” said Patrick J. Cawley, M.D., MUSC Health CEO and vice president for Health Affairs, University. “With all the pressures bearing on the health care industry right now, especially during this pandemic, yet again earning this level of recognition as the leading health care organization in the Charleston area, the Lowcountry and the state engenders a tremendous sense of accomplishment and pride in our teams’ abilities to change what’s possible for those we serve.”
The Best Hospitals 2020-2021 https://health.usnews.com/best-hospitals report is designed to help patients with life-threatening or rare conditions identify hospitals that excel in treating the most difficult cases. The annual report includes consumer-friendly data and information on 4,500 medical centers nationwide in 16 specialties, 10 procedures and conditions. In the 16 specialty areas, 134 hospitals were ranked in at least one specialty. In rankings by state and metro area, U.S. News & World Report recognizes hospitals as high performing across multiple areas of care.
“It is particularly gratifying to see two of the newest hospitals within the MUSC Health system, in our Florence and Lancaster Divisions, recognized in this year’s report,” Cawley said. “Our teams statewide are engaged in delivering health care that is built on quality, safety and innovation at every level.” The Florence and Lancaster hospitals joined the MUSC Health system in March 2019 when MUSC Health acquired four community hospitals.
The U.S. News & World Report Best Hospitals methodologies, in most areas of care, are based largely or entirely on objective measures such as risk-adjusted survival and readmission rates, volume, patient experience, patient safety and quality of nursing, among other care-related indicators.
“For more than 30 years, U.S. News & World Report has been helping patients, along with the help of their physicians, identify the Best Hospitals in an array of specialties, procedures and conditions,” said Ben Harder, managing editor and chief of health analysis at U.S. News. “The hospitals that rise to the top of our rankings and ratings have deep medical expertise, and each has built a track record of delivering good outcomes for patients.”
U.S. News & World Report produces its Best Hospitals rankings with RTI International, a leading research organization based in Research Triangle Park, N.C.
COVID testing expands in workplace see more
As industry begins to reopen across the state, life science companies turn their sights to expanding COVID-19 diagnostic and antibody testing options for the workplace.
Greenville-based lab Precision Genetics partnered with Prisma Health in early April to process the health care system’s COVID-19 tests within 24-hours of reaching the lab.
Now that this testing line is fully automated with the capacity to churn out about 1,000 samples in a matter of hours, the lab is developing plans for the next testing battleground with a high-throughput COVID-19 diagnostic program called “Precision Worker Safety” and a smartphone employee wellness app created by Questis that uses an RFID thermometer to report feverish temperatures to employers.
“Up here in Greenville, manufacturing is a huge, huge part of our economic situation, so we have to be able to provide employers some kind of assurance that their employees can come back to work without a rapid spread of the virus,” Nate Wilbourne, CEO and president of Precision Genetics said, adding that it is “naive” to think the state peaked in mid-April with so little testing.
He said Precision is working with several large self-insured manufacturing companies as well as poultry suppliers to develop a salvia-based testing strategy. Pending a state-supported grant that the lab applied for during the week of May 1, Precision will launch saliva-based testing within three weeks.
Other methods of testing face a waiting period before they can be implemented, while the app is several months away from release, he said.
“What we’ve developed is a combination approach to COVID-19 screening and an antibody test as it evolves, as the workforce is building up an immunity at the individual level, which reduces the spread over time,” he said. “Until there’s a vaccine or some type of therapy, that is the safest way to go about this.”
In late April, however, Wilbourne said current antibody tests led to a number of false positives and negatives.
“Unfortunately, antibody testing is not very reliable today, as it sits,” he said. “There are still a lot of gaps in the science regarding the sensitivities and specifications. Right now, there are 50 proteins in the coronavirus. Right now, we (the health science community) are testing for multiple proteins, but there’s no way to guarantee which protein creates immunity.”
He also said antibody testing can only detect antibodies a few weeks after individuals have recovered from COVID-19 but noted that the work of professionals like Dr. John Wrangle, Precision’s chief medical officer and medical oncologist at the Medical University of South Carolina, are heading up research to broaden the window of antibody detection and accuracy of the tests.
Sam Konduros, CEO and president of SCBio, said the life sciences economic development network is working to support continued research and implementation of both diagnostic and antibody testing across the state.
“Even from the beginning, we were trying to present every approved and available COVID-19 test kit option we were aware of, and as you can imagine, we are moving heavily into the world of antibody testing now too,” he said. Our primary goal in representing the life sciences industry in the state is to have a very ecumenical approach of what resources are available that can help employers reopen as safely as possible if working remotely is not an option.”
One way SCBio hopes to open those options to employers is making test kits readily available to state industries through the COVID-19 Emergency Supply Collaborative that SCBio helped develop with the S.C. Manufacturers Extension Partnership, the S.C. Hospital Association and S.C. Department of Commerce.
Created in early April with the goal of bridging shortages in personal protective equipment and other critical needs goods to health care systems, Konduros said the online portal also welcomes purchases from businesses, especially manufacturers, in need of South Carolina-made masks, disinfectant, test kits or a host of other high-demand products.
On April 7, Konduros also noted that antibody testing tended to be a less reliable indicator than diagnostic testing at this point, but he sees potential for companies to use both, especially as antibody testing becomes more sophisticated and “herd immunity” builds.
“From a diagnostic standpoint, there doesn’t seem to be a substitution for PCR testing, which is going to be the one way to confirm a diagnosis for someone with COVID-19, either someone who is showing acute symptoms or has had clear exposure, or is working in an environment where an employer would simply need to know there is that issue,” he said.
On the other hand, Konduros is intrigued by the potential of workforce antibody testing as research moves forward, especially with tests used by Abbott Laboratories, that detect IgG antibodies that remain in the bloodstream for several weeks after an individual recovers from COVID-19. He said that as the state moves into summer, Abbott is planning to release large quantities of IgG tests that are at least 98% accurate.
“I certainly think the antibody tests are going to innovate and improve over time, and there’s going to be a lot more data to see how people are responding who have had COVID-19 and what kind of immunity is being developed. There are just so many variables right now,” Konduros said.
Healthcare leaders address good, not so good in COVID-19 response see more
Four thought leaders from South Carolina healthcare’s executive ranks will address how SC health systems have responded to the impacts of COVID-19, compelling lessons learned, and what they see as the path forward for healthcare in the Palmetto State and beyond, in a free, public webinar to be held Tuesday, May 19 at 10 a.m. EST, officials have announced.
Featured panelists include Dr. Danielle Scheurer, Chief Quality Officer of MUSC Health; Dr. Alain Litwin, Health Sciences Center Rapid Innovation Task Force leader of Prisma Health; Thornton Kirby, CEO of the South Carolina Hospital Association; and Matthew Roberts, Chair of Healthcare Practice of the Nexsen Pruet Law Firm. The webinar will be hosted and moderated by Sam Konduros, CEO and President of SCBIO. Participation is free and interested parties can register to participate at https://www.scbio.org/events/next-up-how-sc-healthcare-is-taking-on-covid-19.
The 60-minute program is meant to provide business leaders, elected officials and key stakeholders of South Carolina’s life sciences industry with a real-time status of the state’s healthcare climate two-plus months into the global COVID-19 pandemic, unique responses to this modern day plague, and how the public healthcare crisis has impacted both current and future delivery of healthcare. The panelists will also address a realistic path forward as South Carolina begins the move to return to normalcy while still navigating a virus with no clear endpoint.
“Our goal is to identify and discuss what South Carolina healthcare has done well, such as widespread implementation of telehealth, advances in equipment and testing, and partnering with other players and states to make a difference, while also addressing the state’s and nation’s challenges including limitations in our rural health systems, and a surprising level of dependence on drugs and equipment from foreign countries,” noted SCBIO CEO Sam Konduros.
“The panelists will also share their thoughts on important lessons learned, innovation opportunities and strategies for the future – identifying ways for organizations and the healthcare industry in SC to come together to collectively solve problems and improve treatment and quality of life for all South Carolinians,” he added.
SCBIO is South Carolina’s investor-driven public/private economic development organization exclusively focused on building, advancing, and growing the life sciences industry in the state. The industry has an $11.4 billion annual economic impact in the Palmetto State, with more than 600 firms directly involved and 43,000 professionals employed directly or indirectly in the research, development and commercialization of innovative healthcare, medical device, industrial, environmental and agricultural biotech and products. The state-wide nonprofit has offices in Greenville, Columbia, and Charleston, and represents companies in the advanced medicines, medical devices, equipment, diagnostics, IT, and healthcare outcome industries. As the official state affiliate of BIO, PhRMA and AdvaMed, SCBIO members include hundreds of academic institutions, biotech companies, medtech companies, entrepreneurial organizations, service providers, thought leaders, economic development organizations and related groups.
For additional information on SCBIO, visit www.SCBIO.org.
Okra Medical donates face masks to 8 hospitals see more
Okra Medical, a life sciences start-up company based on Johns Island, South Carolina, donated nearly 100,000 healthcare face masks to eight hospitals and one pediatric group serving on the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic. The majority of the masks are smaller in size to benefit children and young adults.
“Like many in America, the coronavirus brought our business to a standstill,” said Marshall Hartmann, CEO, Okra Medical. “We redirected our laboratory efforts to securing medical supplies to both help fund our payroll and to give back to our community.”
Okra Medical had planned to launch the company’s new pharmaceutical drug destroyer, SafeMedWaste in mid-March. Then COVID-19 hit. The leadership team started looking for ways to leverage their international relationships to support the company and the community. They landed on securing PPE for the healthcare industry.
“We are overwhelmed with gratitude for the waves of donations received from the Charleston community. Most donors have said that they don’t need or want any thanks, they just want to help in any way they can, and assisting them by providing an avenue to receive has been an honor. As we try to stay focused and rise to the strategic challenges we’re all being faced with, the impact these donations are having, on both a personal and national level, is incredible.” Jennifer Simon, MUSC.
MUSC is one of eight hospitals benefiting from Okra Medical’s donations. The full list is:
- Medical University of South Carolina, Charleston, SC
- Roper St. Francis Healthcare, Charleston, SC
- Coastal Pediatric Associates, North Charleston, SC
- Prisma Health, Greenville, SC
- Shriners Hospital for Children, Greenville, SC
- Conway Medical Center, Conway, SC
- WakeMed Children’s Hospital, Raleigh, NC
- Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center, Cincinnati, OH
- University of Pittsburgh Medical Center Children’s Hospital, Pittsburg, PA
“We are thankful for the health care heroes willing to serve at a time like this,” said Hartmann. “Giving back is the easy part. U.S. Senator Tim Scott’s Office and SCBIO made donating even easier by providing helpful guidance to match donors with organizations in need.”
“The rapid response of Senator Tim Scott’s team allowed us to quickly get donation masks into the hands of people who needed them most,” said Justin Stas, Chief Technical Officer, Okra Medical. “We are very proud of the way our South Carolina community, from government to individuals, has come together during this difficult time.”
SCBIO is South Carolina’s investor-driven public/private economic development organization exclusively focused on building, advancing, and growing the life sciences industry in the state. The industry has more than 675 firms, including Okra Medical, directly involved and 43,000 professionals employed directly or indirectly in the research, development and commercialization of innovative healthcare, medical device, industrial, environmental and agricultural biotech and products. The state-wide nonprofit represents companies in the advanced medicines, medical devices, equipment, diagnostics, IT, and healthcare outcome industries.
“We continue to be humbled by the amazing and impactful response to this public health crisis by SCBIO stakeholders like Okra Medical. Their gracious donation of thousands of critically important pediatric healthcare face masks to help ensure the safety of children in hospital environments during this global pandemic is a great example of Okra’s culture of servant leadership combined with their business expertise and innovativeness. We’re very proud and grateful that they are a highly engaged member of our organization,” said Sam Konduros, President/CEO of SCBIO.
A member of SCBIO, Okra Medical has developed and validated a patented product called SafeMedWaste that will simplify the way pharmaceutical manufacturers, hospitals, and individuals destroy and dispose of highly-addictive controlled substances like opioids. To learn more about the environmentally-friendly product, watch this video on the company website.
About Okra Medical Inc.
Okra Medical, Inc., headquartered in Johns Island, South Carolina, specializes in product development, manufacturing and strategic sourcing of controlled pharmaceutical substance disposal solutions. Founded in 2018, the Company’s mission is to improve public health. Its best-in-class suite of SafeMedWaste products use single formulas that are fully compliant with DEA regulations requiring non-retrievable destruction of controlled substances. Okra Medical is a strategic sourcing partner to hospitals, hospice facilities, law enforcement agencies, pharmaceutical manufacturers, and veterinary care clinics. Visit www.okramedical.com.
David Zaas, M.D., named CEO for MUSC Health - Charleston Div. and Chief Clinical Officer for MUSC HealthDavid Zaas Named to executive post at MUSC see more
Patrick J. Cawley, M.D., CEO for MUSC Health and vice president for Health Affairs, University, named David Zaas, M.D., MBA, as the new chief executive officer, MUSC Health - Charleston Division, and chief clinical officer for MUSC Health. In these roles, Zaas will report directly to Cawley, who leads the entire MUSC Health statewide system. Following a national search, Zaas was recommended for this major leadership position by a search committee co-chaired by Prabhakar Baliga, M.D., chair, Department of Surgery, and Lisa Montgomery, MHA, MUSC executive vice president, Finance and Operations. Zaas is scheduled to join MUSC in July.
As the CEO of MUSC Health - Charleston, Zaas will lead the MUSC Hospital Authority in Charleston, including the MUSC Shawn Jenkins Children’s Hospital and Pearl Tourville Women’s Pavilion. He will oversee the executive leadership team of the MUSC Health - Charleston Division and serve on the MUSC Health System Council, as CEO of our flagship hospital. His responsibility as chief clinical officer will involve providing guidance and advice on health care system strategies.
“Dr. Zaas has a deep appreciation for academic medicine and its critical role in research and innovation,” Cawley said. “He has a history of leading and promoting successful collaboration among a university, practice plan and health system. In addition, he is a profound advocate for patient and family centeredness and has a demonstrated track record of leading clinical growth, financial success and top performance in quality and safety. We look forward to the many contributions he can make to our health system,” he added.
Prior to accepting his new role, Zaas served as president of Duke Raleigh Hospital since 2014. His previous leadership positions at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, include: chief medical officer, Duke Faculty Practice Diagnostic Clinic; medical director, Duke University Hospital; vice chair, Department of Medicine, Duke University; and medical director for Lung and Heart-Lung Transplantation, Duke University Hospital. He has played a central role in advancing multiple key strategic initiatives for Duke Health, including care redesign, clinical integration and improving access for patients.
Zaas holds a B.A. in biology from Yale University, an M.D. from Northwestern University Medical School, and an MBA from Duke University. He completed his internal medicine residency at Johns Hopkins Hospital and fellowship in pulmonary and critical care at Duke University. Zaas’s academic interests have involved both translational and clinical research focused on improving outcomes from lung transplantation including the role of infectious complications after transplant.
About MUSC Health
As the clinical health system of the Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC), MUSC Health is dedicated to delivering the highest quality patient care available, while training generations of competent, compassionate health care providers to serve the people of South Carolina and beyond. Comprising some 1,600 beds, more than 100 outreach sites, the MUSC College of Medicine, the physicians’ practice plan, and nearly 275 telehealth locations, MUSC Health owns and operates eight hospitals situated in Charleston, Chester, Florence, Lancaster and Marion counties. In 2019, for the fifth consecutive year, U.S. News & World Report named MUSC Health the No. 1 hospital in South Carolina. To learn more about clinical patient services, visit muschealth.org.
Founded in 1824, MUSC and its affiliates have collective annual budgets of $3.2 billion. The more than 17,000 MUSC team members include world-class faculty, physicians, specialty providers and scientists who deliver groundbreaking education, research, technology and patient care. For information on academic programs, visit musc.edu.
WestEdge booming as VIKOR calls it home see more
According to the World Health Organization, antibiotic drug resistance has become one of the greatest threats to global health. Charleston-based Vikor Scientific is in the business of eliminating this health epidemic, and their successful efforts to do so will continue as they expand and move their Lowcountry operations and growing workforce to WestEdge.
In the midst of this health crisis, the pressure is on clinicians to prescribe the correct antibiotics. At Vikor, they’re providing medical professionals with the diagnostic tools to achieve effective treatments. The team at Vikor specializes in customizing molecular diagnostic panels to accurately detect and quantify pathogen and resistance gene loads within 12-24 hours of specimen arrival at the lab.
Vikor’s mission to improve day-to-day diagnostics relies heavily on it’s Charleston workforce, with the company packing, shipping and handling everything going out to their vast 3,000+ client list - a diverse roster of medical professionals covering 48 of the 50 states.
“At Vikor’s new WestEdge location, together with South Carolina Research Authority, we’re creating a lab and office environment that people in Charleston have been craving for years,” said Vikor Scientific Co-Founder, Scotty Branch. “Not only will our workforce feel good about going to work in a state-of-the-art facility looking out over a world class city, we’re proud to invite scientists from across the country to visit our workspace.”
Vikor currently boasts a headcount of 53 individuals and is hiring weekly. The entire team is set to move into the nearly-completed 22 WestEdge building early this spring, with operations planned on multiple floors of the building. The company’s WestEdge headquarters is set to include the company’s C-Suite, sales & marketing teams, customer service, supply chain management, and payer relations, as well as multiple renowned clinicians, neuropharmacologists, medical specialists, researchers and scientists.
“As a graduate of MUSC, I’m extremely aware of the potential collaboration opportunities that exist at WestEdge with the neighborhood’s close proximity to the medical district,” said Shea C. Harrelson, PA-C, Vikor Co-Founder. “We recently launched our research division, KOR Life Sciences, and we are interested in working with other scientists at MUSC to identify areas where synergy may be possible.”
MUSC Health plans to move members of it’s senior management team to the second and third floors at 22 WestEdge, while Vikor will occupy the building’s eighth floor penthouse & fourthfloor. With its striking architecture, unique height and full height glass, the building will be the tallest multi-tenant office structure on the peninsula and in Charleston’s metropolitan area when it opens, offering 150,000 square feet of office & lab space, as well as street level space for cafes, restaurants & shopping.
“Vikor’s presence affirms the WestEdge vision. Scotty and Shea’s team represents the breadth of Charleston’s highly-educated workforce and underscores the potential and viability of our city to house world-class companies like Vikor,” said Michael Maher, CEO of The WestEdge Foundation, Inc. “Our neighborhood’s current and future living options, restaurants, retail, fitness, gathering and incubator spaces, were developed with businesses like Vikor in mind.”
Publix Super Market, the development’s flagship retailer, opened in April 2019 at 10 WestEdge, joining BkeDShop, Barre South, Jimmy Johns, and Hokkaido Sushi & Grill Restaurant, IX Artistry, 9Round Fitness and Domino’s Pizza at 99 WestEdge street. Recently-opened Woodhouse Spa occupies the retail space along the Spring Street frontage of 10 WestEdge.
Upon completion, WestEdge will encompass more than 3,000,000 square feet of space on 60 acres along the Ashley River adjacent to MUSC and the Medical District, and fronting on Brittlebank Park and the Joseph Riley Baseball Stadium. WestEdge is a public-private partnership created to advance economic development and expand the research capabilities of the Medical University of South Carolina and foster new companies and collaborative opportunities with private industry. It is an innovative redevelopment that is transforming the quality of life for Charleston's west side.
To learn more about WestEdge, visit http://www.westedgecharleston.com/ or follow the development’s progress on Twitter @westedgechs, Facebook @westedgecharleston, and Instagram @westedgechs.
WestEdge is a 60-acre master-planned development growing into a community of world-class office and lab space, beautiful apartment towers, restaurants, and retail shopping linked together by sweeping views and access to the Ashley River and Brittlebank Park. Key 22 WestEdge partners include Gateway Development (Developer) ELV Associates (Investor), BB&T (Lender), Trident Construction (General Contractor), Perkins & Will (Architect), Thomas and Hutton (Civil Engineer), and Lee & Associates (Marketing & Leasing).
Blinktbi of Charleston, SC pinpoints concussions see more
A startup that grew out of research at the Medical University of South Carolina and The Citadel has hit the market and closed on a new round of funding.
Blinktbi Inc.’s EyeStat device, now being sold to schools and athletic programs, puffs food-grade carbon dioxide into a subject’s eye, triggering the blink reflex. Then, high-speed cameras within the device capture thousands of images and gauge how long it took for the person to blink.
The upstart raised nearly $5 million in 2017, its first year. Those early funds were used in part to finance ongoing research at The Citadel to prove the device can be used to detect concussions and other maladies.
Ryan Fiorini, Blinktbi’s chief operations officer, said the EyeStat prototype weighed 100 pounds, and it utilized a gaming computer to process the images.
The next job was to cut it down to size.
“It didn’t fit in the back of my full-size SUV,” said Fiorini, who has a doctorate immunology and microbiology from MUSC. “We rolled that into the engineer’s office and said, ‘We need this to be four-and-a-half pounds.’”
They were able to pull it off.
The company cleared a formidable hurdle at the end of 2019, when the U.S. Food and Drug Administration gave Blinktbi permission to market its device, after a rigorous review process that took months to complete. One study published in 2013 found the FDA’s process to get medical devices to market from the idea phase typically takes between three and seven years.
Now free to begin selling EyeStat, Fiorini said the company is leasing the technology to lessen the blow of the device’s full cost of about $10,000.
The latest round of funding, for about $6 million, will help offset the costs of manufacturing the medical devices, to make that option possible.
Fiorini said organizations can rent EyeStat for around $200 per month.
One day, the company hopes insurance will cover the use of the technology.
The University of Pittsburgh Schools of the Health Sciences estimated the number sports-related concussions every year falls between 1.7 million and 3 million. About 300,000 are football injuries. Half go unreported.
Concussions happen when a blow to the head causes the brain to bounce around in the skull, leading to a chemical response, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Those chemical changes make the brain more sensitive to stress until it heals.
The CDC found in one study that children and teens account for 65 percent of all concussions.
Fiorini’s own son suffered a concussion when he fell off a dock as a toddler.
“What we would come to find out is that there was no way to test him,” Fiorini said in a TEDx talk in Charleston last year.
Studies of how the blink reflex can indicate diseases like Parkinson’s and schizophrenia date back to the 1950s. But no tool has been developed in the intervening decades to use the response to help with diagnosis.
Dr. Nancey Tsai, a neurosurgeon at MUSC, came up with the idea for a portable machine that could measure the blink reflex in 2011.
From there, the Zucker Institute for Applied Neurosciences, which is embedded within MUSC, helped to license the technology. Mark Semler, CEO of the institute and now an adviser to Blinktbi, said the startup is the second in the institute’s portfolio to pass FDA clearance.
“The market is huge, because there’s no good option out there,” Semler said. “The blink can’t be cheated.”
Right now, Fiorini said the company has fewer than 10 employees working out of its office on Rutledge Avenue. Among its advisers are heavy-hitters in the world of sports, including Danny Morrison, the former president of the Carolina Panthers, Steve Smith, a longtime wide receiver in the NFL, and Harvey Schiller, former executive director of the United States Olympic Committee and former president of the International Baseball Federation.
Looking forward, Blinktbi is researching whether its technology could help to detect Alzheimer’s disease and multiple sclerosis.
Fiorini said he can see EyeStat in the hands of police for field tests, giving officers an immediate, objective measure of sobriety — though each new application for the device would require a new round of FDA approvals.