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Jacobs Institute launches initiative to attract medical companies, commercialize work

The Jacobs Institute arose on the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus in 2012 to shepherd new medical technologies from the lab to the market and, it was hoped, lead new companies to locate in the city.

It took a significant step in that direction Wednesday with the launch of its Idea to Reality Center -- i2R, for short -- to foster collaboration between entrepreneurs, physicians, engineers and researchers, with a focus on new therapies for strokes and heart attacks.

At the same time, officials at the Institute announced two initial business partners -- the Silicon Valley startup Spinnaker and the established Elma manufacturer Moog Inc.

Spinnaker in Campbell, Calif., is a new company begun by two scientist/entrepreneurs working on a device to prevent strokes during heart procedures.

Moog, known for its flight simulators, is applying similar technology to develop training simulators for cataract and dental surgery, while also exploring the potential for use in other areas of medicine.

The initiative furthers the Buffalo Niagara region's aspiration to attract medical companies to develop devices and treatments, and commercialize them.

It builds on world-class expertise in neurosurgery and other endovascular procedures, the minimally invasive treatments done inside blood vessels, that grew out of the work of Dr. L. Nelson Hopkins, the institute's founder and chief scientific officer, as well as former chairman of neurosurgery at the University at Buffalo.

"We're bringing opportunities in the neurovascular space to Buffalo. We want Buffalo to be the go-to place with the ultimate goal of creating jobs on the medical campus," said Bill Maggio, chief executive officer of the institute.

The nonprofit Jacobs Institute is in the building that houses the Gates Vascular Institute and the UB Center for Translational Research next to the Buffalo General Medical Center. It opened in 2012 thanks largely to a gift from the Jacobs family, including Jeremy M. Jacobs Sr., chairman of institute and the Delaware North Cos. to honor his brother, Dr. Lawrence D. Jacobs.

The Buffalo neurologist gained international recognition, before his death in 2001, for his research on multiple sclerosis that led to the development of Avonex, one of the most prescribed treatments for relapsing forms of the condition.

Physicians and others involved with the creation of the institute say Avonex, a blockbuster therapy eventually commercialized by Biogen in Boston, might not have gotten away from Buffalo if the city had the resources to do the work here.

Working closely with the University at Buffalo and Kaleida Health, the institute has earned a reputation since its opening for testing endovascular devices for medical manufacturers.

Among other things, the institute is a leader in using 3D printed patient-specific models to examine procedures. It also builds device prototypes and offers medical engineering consulting to companies. And, it trains physicians, engineers, sales representatives, and federal regulators on the use of new devices for stroke and heart procedures.

"We have built a super platform. It sets us up perfectly for the next step -- entrepreneurship. It's time to return to our original goal," said Dr. Adnan Siddiqui, chief medical officer at the institute, and director of the neurosurgical stroke service at Kaleida Health’s Gates Vascular Institute.

Spinnaker's founders, Brian Martin and Martin Dieck, are experienced scientist-entrepreneurs in the endovascular device field. In 2015, they sold another company they co-founded, Lazarus Effect, to Medtronic for $100 million. Lazarus Effect focused on acute ischemic stroke products that help capture and removal clots.

With Spinnaker, they have a patent for technology designed to protect against brain injuries that can result when potentially dangerous particles break loose during heart procedures. The Jacobs Institute will help design and build a prototype device.

"We have a deep respect for the folks in Buffalo. We'll connect with the team here and figure it out," said Martin.

The Moog arrangement is more loose, with the parties interested in exploring how they can work together. Moog has expertise in haptics, the science of creating a realistic sense of touch in a virtual environment that is used in flight and automotive simulation.

Although haptics is common in some forms of robotic surgery, it continues to be a technical challenge in other areas, such as recreating the feel and visual presentation of working on the soft tissue of the eye.

"We look at this as an exploratory effort. We want to put physicians in the simulators, get feedback, and look at how the simulators might work in other areas of medical care," said George Small, Moog's chief technology officer.

"It's not just about developing simulators for training," he said. "It's also about robotics. Long term, we think, there is the possibility of doing remote surgery."

Depending on the project with the businesses it collaborates with, the institute stands to benefit potentially from an equity stake or royalties.

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