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From Idea to Life-Saving Innovation

Only through innovation will we find new treatments and solutions with which to meet challenges of chronic diseases.

By Toby Cosgrove . 01 October 2015

Every year, thousands of people with life-threatening aortic valve disease are told they are too old, too sick or too frail to undergo reparative surgery. Many hospitals are able to tell these patients what’s wrong with them. The vast majority will also tell them they’re simply out of luck.


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At Cleveland Clinic, we found this practice to be unacceptable. Through extensive research and innovation, we pioneered a new, minimally invasive procedure – transcatheter aortic valve replacement (TAVR) – to treat these previously ‘untreatable patients’. It is just one of many innovations helping America cope with the diseases of aging. 


As innovative as medicine already is, though, I believe we can do far better. Currently, it takes 13 years to take a new healthcare innovation from a proven benefit to an established standard of care. We need to reform our complex medical institutions so that they energise innovation through a culture that does not automatically discourage the new and untried.

Medicine attracts smart people, many of whom have great ideas. An idea, though, is just the beginning - to become an innovation, an idea must be effectively deployed for the benefit of patients and organisations. At Cleveland Clinic, we’ve developed the acronym INVENT: 


  • Ideas
  • Need
  • Viability
  • Enhancement
  • Negotiations
  • Translation. 


We’ve also established a dedicated in-house team called CC Innovations, which manages the INVENT process from beginning to end. Clinical and research areas both have embedded innovations managers and peer review committees, and all of our caregivers have access to an online Innovation Toolkit that guides them through the process of submitting an idea and making it viable.

The process works. Over the past 14 years, CC Innovations has spun off almost 75 companies, manages close to 450 active royalty-bearing licenses, and has attracted more than US$1bn in equity investments.

Explorys is one of those spin-offs. The company began six years ago as an idea by a Cleveland Clinic physician who suspected that patient medical records contained a treasure trove of data that could lead to better treatments for his diabetes patients. From that idea, Explorys has grown into one of the largest healthcare databases in the world, with access to the anonymous medical records of 50 million patients. In an era when American healthcare is increasingly focused on patient outcomes and efficiency, Explorys has found a way to scan big data for disease patterns and treatment outcomes for millions of patients, leading to data-based best practices.

As further proof that Explorys hit the target, the company was recently purchased by IBM, where it will be incorporated into IBM's Watson business unit.

Such business successes are gratifying, but ultimately our business is saving lives, promoting health, and meeting the long-term challenges of chronic disease. Only through innovation and subsequent successful deployment will we find new treatments and solutions with which to meet these challenges.

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