Two SC organizations have launched a new investment fund designed to boost health care innovation see more
GREENVILLE, South Carolina — Two leading South Carolina organizations have launched a new investment fund designed to boost health care innovation in the state. The Clemson University Division of Research and the Health Sciences Center (HSC) at Prisma Health recently signed agreements to fund up to $200,000 per year in grants through the new Innovation Maturation Fund.
The health care-focused grants are intended to advance the development and implementation of new medical initiatives, advance translational science, create job and educational opportunities, improve health care and drive economic growth in the region.
“This is an important step to support health sciences research in our state,” said David Sudduth, vice president and chief operating officer of the Health Sciences Center at Prisma Health. “While we have a strong history of academic, research and innovation partnership in the Upstate through the Health Sciences Center, this is the first of what we hope will be many grant-making opportunities designed with our academic partners in order to support our community.”
“Pairing Clemson University’s health research and bioengineering capabilities with Prisma Health’s industry-leading clinical environment provides an incredible opportunity for the development of medical technologies and initiatives that will improve health care for South Carolinians and many others,” said Tanju Karanfil, Clemson University vice president for research. “I am excited to see the ideas and impactful innovations that stem from this partnership.”
The fund will be managed by the Clemson University Research Foundation (CURF), which manages the process of moving Clemson’s hundreds of innovative technologies from the laboratory into commercial markets. CURF has awarded more than $870,000 in maturation funds to Clemson researchers across academic disciplines since the launch of a similar fund in 2014. Those funds have led to startup companies, new technologies available for license and follow-on research investments.
The new Innovation Maturation Fund — launched in cooperation with the HSC and Prisma Health — is the first such fund targeted exclusively toward researchers in the health sciences.
“We look forward to working with Prisma Health to leverage this fund to advance promising medical technologies from ideation through initial phases of translational product development,” said Chris Gesswein, executive director of CURF. “By identifying and targeting unmet clinical needs early in the research process, we have a wonderful opportunity to impact successful downstream commercialization of technologies developed and matured through this Innovation Maturation Fund.”
Prisma Health clinicians, Clemson research faculty and graduate students are eligible for grant funds. Applications for the first round of grants will be accepted this fall. For more information, click here.
Innovation Maturation Fund Partners
The Clemson University Research Foundation (CURF) is an independent 501(c)3 organization and was created to support the Clemson University research enterprise, guiding Clemson researchers through the technology transfer process by identifying, protecting, and developing university intellectual property. CURF is committed to creating a sustainable model for research by connecting Clemson researchers to external organizations and identifying opportunities for research collaboration to feed back into Clemson University.
The Health Sciences Center at Prisma Health is a collaboration between Prisma Health, Clemson University, Furman University and University of South Carolina. Located on the Greenville Memorial Medical Campus, this nationally recognized center seeks to bridge the gap between academics, research, clinical practice and health care transformation in a way that is innovative, inter-institutional, interprofessional and interdisciplinary. Regional community, education and business leaders also participate in the Health Sciences Center’s shared governance.
Prisma Health, a not-for-profit health company, is committed to excellence in patient care, clinical research and teaching the next generation of medical professionals. Our organization – South Carolina’s largest private employer – was formed when Greenville Health System and Palmetto Health joined together in late 2017, officially becoming Prisma Health in January 2019. With 32,000 team members (including volunteers), 18 hospitals and over 300 physician practice sites, we serve more than 1.2 million patients annually – about a quarter of the state’s population. Our goal is to improve the health of all South Carolinians by enhancing clinical quality, the patient experience and access to affordable care. Our cardiovascular, neuroscience, OB/GYN, oncology and orthopedic programs attract patients throughout the region. Also noteworthy are our two renowned children’s hospitals, comprehensive diabetes care and extensive primary care network. Ultimately, we are dedicated to transforming the health care experience for our patients and families, our team members and guests by bringing our purpose to life: Inspire health. Serve with compassion. Be the difference. Learn more at PrismaHealth.org.
Prisma Health-Upstate’s Cancer Institute Awarded $8 million NCI grant to expand clinical trials for cancer treatmentsClinical trials are saving lives in South Carolina see more
When he was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer in 2011, Jimmy Alexander wasn’t expected to live more than a year.
So doctors enrolled him in a clinical trial of a new chemotherapy cocktail hoping it might make a difference.
Eight years later, the Simpsonville man is still enjoying Clemson football and time with his family, including two daughters, five grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.
And now the program that helped Alexander is being expanded into the Midlands with an $8.2 million grant awarded Friday by the National Cancer Institute’s Community Oncology Program, or NCORP.
“People just don’t realize what clinicals may be able to do,” Alexander said. “They can be a lifesaver.”
Clinical trials are conducted to determine whether a treatment works while offering patients a shot at experimental therapies that aren’t otherwise available through normal channels.
They provide physicians with new weapons in the battle against cancer, said Dr. Larry Gluck, medical director of Prisma Health-Upstate’s Cancer Institute in Greenville, which was awarded the grant.
“Because of our NCI designation and support,” he said, “we can offer hundreds of leading-edge clinical trials that can provide treatments to patients years before approval by the FDA for general use.”
More than 300 clinical trials are underway at Prisma’s Cancer Institute at any time and the hospital has been awarded more than $30 million in NCI grants since 1995, according to Prisma, formerly Greenville Health System.
“What we learn from one patient helps that patient – but also many many more,” said Dr. Jeff Giguere, a Prisma oncologist.
“A unique aspect of research via the NCORP grant is that it interrogates every point on the cancer continuum from diagnosis, treatment, supportive care," he said, "as well as proactively evaluates cancer prevention and more effective and efficient ways of delivering cancer care.”
The latest six-year grant will enable trials for lymphoma, leukemia and solid tumors to begin in the Midlands this fall.
“Our goal ... is to continue to serve our Upstate patients with strengthened options here and extend our reach and expertise to the legacy Palmetto Health institutions via Prisma Health,” said Giguere. “We hope to meet an unmet need for our state.”
There was no guarantee when Alexander was enrolled in the trial that he would benefit from the drugs. But the 78-year-old said he would have participated anyway in case it would help others.
“If whatever I am doing helps other people, I was glad to do it,” he said. “But here I am eight years later.”
Alexander said his cancer is stable, thanks to a weekly infusion of a drug called Erbitux, which is provided through the trial.
Fortunately, the retired engineer was able to live to see a great-granddaughter born seven months ago.
“I’m doing pretty good. The only problem I have is old age,” he says with a chuckle. “I’m still around to play with her. It’s a great, great thing.”
Clemson, Prisma health professionals working to develop early cancer screening test see more
When her younger brother was diagnosed with cancer, Clemson bioengineering professor Terri Bruce re solved to tap her knowledge of human cells to find a way to help others suffering from the dis ease. After devouring all the scientific literature she could, she chose to focus on developing a screening test to detect the disease in its earliest stages when it has a better chance of being cured.
“It was a time in my life when I felt helpless,” she told The Greenville News.
“And I felt there’s got to be something I can do — even if I can’t help Greg — to help other people.”
Because he suffered from brain cancer, she looked to another form of the disease that wasn’t as emotionally entangled but had no early screening tests. She decided on ovarian cancer.
Now Bruce and her research team are on the brink of a test that they believe could be a screening tool — not only for ovarian cancer, but other cancers too.
“The hope,” she said, “is to ... catch this deadly cancer much earlier and give women a fighting chance.”
Ovarian cancer will strike 22,530 women this year, according to the American Cancer Society, and about 14,000 will die of the disease.
But only about one in five cases is discovered early because there are no reliable screening tests, the society reports.
A late diagnosis reduces survival. And because the symptoms are so vague, about three quarters of all women are diagnosed at a late stage, said Dr. Larry Puls, the director of gynecologic oncology at Prisma Health Cancer Institute.
Only 10% to 15% of them will survive long-term. And overall survival numbers haven’t changed much in 40 years, he said.
Though blood work can test for a protein that can identify some ovarian cancers, only half of stage 1 patients test positive for it, Puls said.
“One of the things that has eluded us in ovarian cancer is that we have no screening for it,” he said. “But if you can find it when it’s confined to just the ovary alone, 90% of patients beat their cancer.
“If we could shift women out of stage 3 and into stage 1,” he added, “we can make a huge impact on this disease.”
For some time, Bruce has been studying exosomes, which are microscopic droplets found in body fluids that were traditionally regarded as a way for cells to rid themselves of debris.
But further research revealed that they contain parts of the cell they are from as well as proteins that can serve as biomarkers of what’s going on in that cell, she said.
Cancer often develops because something goes awry in the DNA, leading to aberrant proteins and tumor growth, she said. So she theorized that finding those protein signatures in exosomes could be a way to diagnose cancer.
“If we can find those aberrant protein signatures and see them on the cells and exosomes,” she said, “ ... it potentially could be used for any type of cancer, as long as you find the biomarker.”
The process has the potential to be used as a diagnostic tool for other diseases as well, she said.
So Bruce approached Clemson chemistry professor Ken Marcus, who’d been separating whole human cells for years using fiber strips, and asked if he could separate exosomes.
“I said, ‘I don’t even know what they are,’ ” he recalls with a chuckle.
“But she got us some samples and in pretty short order ... we made some really good educated guesses and it worked.”
Marcus and his “very talented students” were not only able to separate the exosomes, but reduced the time needed to do it from 2 1 / 2 hours to 8 min utes using a test strip made of a polymer that is grooved much like the top of a zip lock bag.
When fluid is added, it flows down the channels where it interacts with different antibodies that in turn isolate the exosomes, he said, much the way a pregnancy test works.
Catching it early
Bruce and Marcus were then introduced to Puls, who joined the research team.
He’s collecting samples of cervical fluid containing exosomes and proteins obtained at the same time as a pap test. So far, 49 women have been tested with the strip, Puls said, and two who had no symptoms and normal blood tests were revealed to have stage 1 ovarian cancer.
“That’s the patient we covet the most because we cure 90% of those patients,” he said.
Puls also hopes the test will one day detect precancerous changes, enabling doctors to surgically remove the tissue — like they do when a pap test reveals a precancerous change — and prevent the development of cancer in the first place.
While the initial data will be crunched in the next few weeks, Puls said he’s optimistic that the test could be a promising new tool in the battle against ovarian cancer.
He hopes the test could be used to screen for uterine cancer as well, which strikes another 63,000 women a year.
The Holy Grail for the process, Marcus said, would be a urine test because it can show what’s going on inside the whole body. But the first step is testing cervical fluid in the doctor’s office.
“And even that is an infinite step up from where we are today,” he said.
Because tumors can be caused by a variety of proteins, the test will look for a bank of markers in an effort to capture more cancers, said Bruce, who is also director of Clemson’s Light Imaging Facility.
“I think we’re close on getting some kind of screening tool,” she said. “And we’re in the process now of (getting) all the patents.”
So far, the research has been privately funded, but the team plans to use their initial data to apply for federal grants to continue their work.
They estimate a test could be ready for market in about five years.
Carmen Brotherton hopes the test will be routine in her daughter and grand-daughters’ lifetimes.
The Easley woman’s ovarian cancer was discovered in 2009, making her one of the few to be diagnosed in stage 1.
“I’ve lost some good friends ... who weren’t caught in time,” said Brotherton, who volunteers with the South Carolina Ovarian Cancer Foundation.
“It’s always been one of my prayers that some day they would come up with something that would catch it,” she said.
“This is just a small place compared to the U.S. or the rest of the world. Imagine how many women this could catch. And it might save their lives.”
When Bruce’s brother was diagnosed in 2012, little could be done to stop the progress of the cancer, she said. He died in January, leaving his two sons fatherless.
Now she hopes the test will one day mean that fewer people will be left without a parent like her nephews.
“In conjunction with the discovery of distinct biomarkers, the fibers could lead to finding diseases such as ovarian cancer — and brain cancer — much earlier,” she said.
“Early enough, I hope, to save many lives in the future.”
Prisma Health has named its new President and CEO see more
Prisma Health announced the selection of Mark S. O’Halla as the health company’s new president and chief executive officer (CEO). O’Halla, along with the members of the executive leadership team, will be responsible for advancing the health company’s goal to create a better state of health in South Carolina by improving clinical quality, the patient experience, access to care, and addressing rising health care costs. O’Halla will join Prisma Health in mid-August. Prisma Health is a Mission Partner of SCBIO, the life sciences organization of South Carolina.
O’Halla has been serving as executive vice president/chief operating officer of Michigan-based McLaren Health Care since 2014. He has more than 30 years of progressive experience in health care senior executive roles, including 13 years with the McLaren organization.
The board of directors was pleased with the high-quality candidates they reviewed for this important role. “We are honored to select Mark as our next leader. We believe his experience leading a multiregional health care system will be a critical element in ensuring Prisma Health continues its journey to transform health care for our communities. We look forward to working with Mark to ensure that South Carolinians get the quality health care they need and deserve,” said James E. “Rick” Wheeler, chair of the Prisma Health board of directors and vice president of M-D Metal Source.
O’Halla added, “Joining Prisma Health and its 32,000 team members is an exciting opportunity to help redefine and continue improving health care for patients in South Carolina. I am proud to be part of this vibrant new health company, focused on providing exemplary quality, smart growth and sustained financial strength. I am also excited to work with physicians and university partners to advance its academic mission.”
As the executive vice president/chief operating officer at McLaren Health Care, a 14-hospital system with two health insurance plans covering 583,000 lives, O’Halla spearheaded initiatives to achieve top performance in areas of financial, operating and clinical quality, created a standardized patient-centered focus across the system that improved patient satisfaction, directed the alignment and growth of its Medical Group, and led efforts to integrate various clinical and administrative elements of the health system.
O’Halla earned his bachelor’s degree in Accounting and Finance from the University of Toledo, Toledo, Ohio; and master’s degree in Business Administration from William E. Simon Graduate School of Business at the University of Rochester, Rochester, New York. He is active in several health care organizations including American College of Healthcare Executives and served on several community boards.
O’Halla and his wife, Anita, will be relocating to Greenville, South Carolina. They have three grown children.
In January, Prisma Health launched the national search for its new CEO to lead the organization formed by the partnership of South Carolina’s largest health care systems, Greenville Health System (GHS), now Prisma Health–Upstate and Palmetto Health, now Prisma Health–Midlands.
Physicians who participated in O’Halla’s selection look forward to working with him as Prisma Health’s first president and CEO.
The current Co-CEOs, Michael C. Riordan, former CEO of Greenville Health System and Charles D. Beaman Jr., former CEO of Palmetto Health, have been working together over the last two years to set a strong foundation of governance and leadership for Prisma Health. Six months ago, Beaman and Riordan began focusing on specific areas to ensure Prisma Health was operating efficiently. Riordan has been responsible for driving several strategic projects to position the organization for long-term success, including facilitating the CEO search. On Friday, May 31, he will conclude his final project and fulfill his commitment to the organization, at which time he will retire from Prisma Health. Beaman has been focused on Prisma Health operations and will fulfill his commitment to the organization and step down from Prisma Health upon O’Halla’s arrival.
About Prisma Health
Prisma Health is a not-for-profit health company and South Carolina’s largest private employer. We are committed to excellence in providing patient care, conducting clinical research and teaching the next generation of physicians, nurses, dentists and other medical professionals. Our organization was formed in late 2017 when Greenville Health System and Palmetto Health joined together, officially becoming Prisma Health in January 2019. With nearly 32,000 team members, 18 hospitals and more than 300 physician practice sites, Prisma Health serves more than 1.2 million patients annually – about one quarter of the state’s population. Our goal is to improve the health of all South Carolinians by improving clinical quality, the patient experience and access to affordable care. Our groundbreaking programs in cardiovascular, diabetes, neuroscience, oncology and orthopedics care – as well as our two renowned Children’s Hospitals – attract patients from throughout the Southeast. Ultimately, we are dedicated to transforming the health care experience for our patients and their families, our team members and our guests by bringing our purpose to life: Inspire health. Serve with compassion. Be the difference. For more information, visit PrismaHealth.org.
Center for Cancer Prevention and Wellness Aims to Identify, Prevent Cancer at Earliest Molecular DevelopmentPrisma Health Center aims to identify, prevent cancer... see more
As someone familiar with the devastation of a loved one’s cancer diagnosis, Steve Johnson has long been an advocate for knowing his own risks for developing the disease. So when a genetic test revealed he carried a BRCA1 gene mutation, a high indicator for breast cancer, he suggested his three daughters get tested as well. But when two of the three tested positive for the gene, and subsequent tests revealed one had developed breast cancer at a barely detectable point, knowledge of the family’s risk factors became truly life-saving.
An innovative new initiative at the Prisma Health Cancer Institute aims to help people like the Johnsons identify and manage their risk factors for cancer, examining links between lifestyle, genetics and cancer formation, with the goal of eventually preventing cancer at its earliest molecular development.