By Scott Meacham
Copyright © 2017, The Oklahoma Publishing Company
Innovation. It’s at the heart of entrepreneurial success.
There’s the groundbreaking science that comes out of our universities and internationally acclaimed research institutions, like the discoveries from OMRF licensed to Selexys that led to an experimental drug to treat sickle cell disease and a $665 million acquisition of Selexys by Novartis, the world’s second largest drug company.
But not all innovation comes out of the lab. Sometimes new ideas and new companies are the outcome of people just doing their “regular” jobs. Take Ryan Dennis, MD, CEO and founder of Linear Health Sciences.
Ryan was working as a hospitalist when he came up with an idea for reducing dislodgment of IV lines and medical tubing. He and a friend, who had worked on valves and tension disconnects in the oil industry, developed the Orchid valve — a valve that breaks away when a length of medical tubing gets pulled too far.
“Innovation comes down to being a skeptic and persistently questioning the status quo,” Ryan told me. “That was driven into me from the time I was at OSSM (Oklahoma School of Science and Mathematics) through medical school — if something happens that we aren’t happy with in daily life, ask why and don’t be satisfied with the answer of its just because that’s the way it is. Daily situations are the inspiration for coming up with a solution.”
For Adam and Lauren Hanna — he’s a physician in neonatal-perinatal medicine and she’s an attorney — the inspiration for innovation came from research that Adam produced during his fellowship in neonatology. He studied necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC), a disease of the intestines that affects about 20 percent of low-birthweight babies. The cause of NEC isn’t currently known and there’s no FDA-approved treatment for this disease.
Adam often discussed with Lauren a puzzling feature of NEC: Unlike most preemie dangers, the severity and onset of NEC did not seem to be directly correlated with degree of prematurity. Instead, most preemies develop NEC within the same window of two to three weeks after birth, regardless of their gestational age.
Adam had an idea for a therapeutic based on a naturally occurring enzyme that is present in the mother’s placenta as well as in good healthy bowels. Could supplementation of that enzyme be a way to head off NEC in a vulnerable preemie?
“We looked at each other, and said let’s pursue this. We didn’t want to stop without following it to a conclusion to see if it really could help,” Lauren said.
“Now it’s what we do late at night after we put our kids to bed,” said Adam.
That’s the thing about innovation, whether it happens in a research environment, on the job or late at night after you put the kids to bed, true innovators can’t get good ideas out of their heads. They constantly ask why. They work nights and weekends and team up with others to turn what is into what could be.
Scott Meacham is president and CEO of i2E Inc., a nonprofit corporation that mentors many of the state’s technology-based startup companies. i2E receives state support from the Oklahoma Center for the Advancement of Science and Technology and is an integral part of Oklahoma’s Innovation Model. Email Meacham at [email protected].