Bangalore: Common thinking says innovation cannot be taught. Paul G. Yock, inventor of balloon angioplasty, a standard cardiac intervention, thinks otherwise.
At Stanford University in Palo Alto, California, where he’s a professor of medicine and mechanical engineering, Yock has proved that “innovation is a discipline that can be learnt” through an eight-year-old biodesign programme.
A similar programme in India—Stanford-India Biodesign, or SIB, with Yock as a director—has now helped develop five innovations that ready to be tested in the market.
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In May 2007, India’s department of biotechnology, or DBT, launched the $4.5 million (Rs22.5 crore), five-year SIB programme in collaboration with Stanford University, All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), Indian Institute of Technology-Delhi, Indo-US Science and Technology Forum and others, to catalyse medical technology innovation in India. The SIB centre at AIIMS offers one- and two-year fellowships to engineers and physicians just starting their careers.
In its second year now, the programme has developed devices that are inexpensive and have large application, says Balaram Bhargava, professor of cardiology and executive director of SIB at AIIMS.
While the fellows at the programme have created “substantial solutions,” sifted from a pool of some 250 ideas generated after a rigorous process of need finding, Yock says the real challenge is in implementing these as technologies that actually reach patients.
Since it would require collective efforts of many sections, including industry mentors, SIB is licensing them to companies rather than spinning them off as start-ups.
“This is largely due to the lack of early-stage venture capital, private equity money available to these types of medical technology start-ups in India,” says Rajiv Doshi, professor of medicine and executive director of SIB in the US, and an inventor.
The Stanford programme has proved successful in the US, says S. Nandakumar, founder and chief executive of Perfint Healthcare Pvt. Ltd, a medical device start-up in Chennai looking to hire or work with SIB fellows. Perfint also intends to dip into SIB’s pool of ideas. “We may find some ideas (discarded by SIB) that will perhaps take more time or people to develop.”
The medical devices market in India is estimated at $3-5 billion, according to Perfint, but existing products have a glaring disconnect with what is needed on the ground.
Yock has “great expectations” from the SIB programme. The SIB centre is seen as a blueprint to help set up more centres across India, whose creations will be overseen by its Indian and Stanford faculty. And possibly clinicians and engineers will begin talking to each other.
“We just need to make sure these two groups have the opportunity to share ideas—this will be a source of many medical technology innovations for India,” says Doshi.
Encouraged by SIB’s initial results, M.K. Bhan, secretary, DBT, plans to initiate more bilateral programmes that can eventually be “Indianized” to suit local needs.