Newly combined institute looks to take health care improvements from concept to reality more quickly

July 18, 2022
Staff of the Zucker Institute for Innovation Commercialization stand outside smiling. Kaitlyn Crobar, Troy Huth, Alia Akins, Michael Yost, Pamela Kaufman, Paul Asper, Casey Charboneau.
Staff of the Zucker Institute for Innovation Commercialization includes, from left, Kaitlyn Crobar, J.D.; Troy Huth, Ph.D.; Alia Akins; Michael Yost, Ph.D.; Pamela Kaufman; Paul Asper; Casey Charboneau, J.D. Photo provided

A tiny baby with a brain injury unable to breastfeed properly. A frustrated surgeon having to stop operating momentarily to unclog a suction device. A rare and largely mysterious bone cancer robbing a child of precious life.

These are just a few examples of health care challenges that now have solutions – either through research or technology – thanks to two entities at the Medical University of South Carolina: the Zucker Institute for Applied Neuroscience (ZIAN) and the Foundation for Research Development (FRD).

For years, they have operated separately, with ZIAN focused on neurological devices and technology and the FRD housing all of MUSC’s intellectual property, such as patents, copyrights and trade secrets. Though separate, the groups have collaborated closely over the years, to the point where it was often difficult, especially for MUSC inventors and external partners, to understand where one organization began and the other ended.

To MUSC executive leadership and the boards of both entities, this offered a powerful opportunity to improve efficiency, nimbleness and innovation by having FRD and ZIAN officially join forces.

The result is the newly formed Zucker Institute for Innovation Commercialization (ZI). ZI, which is pronounced like the initials Z.I., officially launched this week.

“The truth is we’ve been pretty seriously dating for a long time, but we figured it was time to go all in and make this a full-on marriage,” said Paul Asper, senior vice president for commercialization and operations.

“This combination allows us to leverage the best parts of the FRD and ZIAN platforms more powerfully and serve inventors and their technologies across MUSC’s entire portfolio more effectively. It makes us more nimble, by simplifying and streamlining what we do. And it also gives innovators and commercialization partners a single ‘front door,’” he said.

Interim CEO Michael Yost, Ph.D., former chairman of the FRD Board of Directors, affirmed Asper’s comments, adding, “Creating this institute is a part of a larger plan to be a world leader in health care innovation,” he said. “In consultation with leaders from industry, medicine and the entrepreneurial community, senior leadership at MUSC crafted a brilliant plan to bring the FRD and ZIAN together, further realizing the vision of One MUSC.”

This reorganization creates a new tech-transfer group that will act as a component of the Office of Innovation at MUSC as it looks to continue to build a culture of innovation throughout the enterprise that is nationally recognized. The group will be tasked with translating MUSC’s intellectual property (IP)-backed scholarly research, clinical and education efforts into products used beyond MUSC.

“This positions the organization for growth and scale,” said Jesse Goodwin, chief innovation officer at MUSC. Goodwin will chair the board of directors for ZI. “This new institute will continue to support the endeavors of MUSC’s inventive employees and students, such that their ideas become products and services generating meaningful impact.”

Goodwin shared that an active national search is underway for the CEO position and explained that, currently, leadership and day-to-day operations are in the most capable of hands. “Having previously held both staff and board positions, including chair, with both organizations, it gives me great confidence that Mike, Paul, Troy (Huth) and the rest of the ZI team continue to provide excellent stewardship of MUSC IP.”

For Asper, the realization that ZI will give MUSC the ability to take ideas from theory to reality more rapidly might well be the most exciting aspect of this union.

“The possibilities are endless now,” he said. “Ultimately, this combination dramatically amps up our ability to help MUSC innovators to turn raw ideas quickly into real-life businesses, products and services that will better the lives of people across South Carolina, the U.S. and the world.”

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