If he wanted to, medical device entrepreneur William E. “Billy” Cohn, M.D. could move his cluttered workshop out of his garage and into a dream workspace.
The famous cardiac surgeon was selected to lead the new Center for Device Innovation at the Texas Medical Center (CDI @ TMC), a collaboration between Johnson & Johnson Innovation and the Texas Medical Center, to accelerate the development of medical devices.
Cohn recently joined the medical devices division of Johnson & Johnson.
“My resources at home are very limited, so having more equipment and more space will be wonderful,” said Cohn. “However, the real value will be more people—the brilliant scientists, engineers and entrepreneurs who will conspire with me to move projects along.”
As director, Cohn will focus on cutting-edge internal research and development projects. He’ll also have an opportunity to work with external entrepreneurs and innovators who will use the CDI @ TMC space.
The new center is an outgrowth of the Texas Medical Center’s relationship with Johnson & Johnson Innovation, which opened JLABS @ TMC earlier this year in the TMC Innovation Institute to promote collaborations between health care businesses and entrepreneurs.
“We are proud to have Johnson & Johnson Innovation expand their presence in the Texas Medical Center with the new Center for Device Innovation,” said Robert C. Robbins, M.D., president and CEO of the Texas Medical Center. “We are also glad that they were able to tap Billy Cohn to lead the center. He has been instrumental in so many cutting-edge and innovative projects that it is a natural fit for him to be here.”
CDI @ TMC will be built out in the current National Center for Human Performance in the TMC Innovation Institute. This state-of-the-art space will be home to the research and development staff of the Johnson & Johnson medical device division.
In January, Johnson & Johnson announced that it was restructuring its medical devices division to increase the pace of innovation and streamline operations. The restructuring, which is ongoing through the end of 2017, will eliminate some 3,000 jobs and deliver an estimated savings of as much as $1 billion to allow for new growth opportunities.
At 25,000 square feet, the CDI will include a new medical device engineering studio filled with fun gadgets and technology, including 3D printers and an electrical shop, said Bruce Rosengard, M.D., chief technology and medical science officer of Johnson & Johnson’s global surgery group.
Rosengard expects initial design plans to be drawn up by the end of the year, with an estimated move-in date of late 2017.
“By putting the resources and capabilities of Johnson & Johnson, the world’s largest medical device company, together with the Texas Medical Center, the world’s largest medical center, we can make something very special,” he said.
The facility will allow for rapid prototyping and “fast failure” for early and mid-stage development, Rosengard said. While the time period to commercialization won’t necessarily be faster at this facility, he acknowledges that being located in the Texas Medical Center, with 9,000 hospital beds and numerous experts within a two-mile radius, provides CDI @ TMC with an advantage.
“We are betting on the Texas Medical Center and Houston,” he said. “We believe in the overall vision of the TMC and, in the mid to long term, it is well-positioned to achieve becoming the ‘third coast’ of innovation.”
Under Cohn’s leadership, research and development staff will work together to vet ideas with clinicians to make sure they are addressing all the right needs. Then they will build and test prototypes, eventually putting them in the hands of physicians who will try them out in a clinical environment, he said.
“We hired Billy Cohn because we believe he is really one-of-a-kind,” Rosengard said.
Cohn brings with him more than 30 years of knowledge and experience from the Baylor College of Medicine and the Texas Heart Institute (THI), where he was the director of THI’s Center for Technology and Innovation and the Cullen Cardiovascular Research Laboratory.
And he doesn’t have to leave those institutions behind. Johnson & Johnson Innovation (JJI) will expand its partnerships to include Baylor College of Medicine and the Texas Heart Institute, as well as Houston Methodist Hospital, the TMC Clinical Trials Institute and the TMC Biodesign, a one-year innovation fellowship program. All these institutions and programs will help take medical devices from prototype to clinical trial to commercialization.
“The Texas Medical Center is uniquely qualified to have this kind of collaboration because we have all of this within walking distance,” Cohn said. “Being able to have anyone come over on their lunch break to provide rich input is an incredibly valuable resource.”
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