Thinking ahead: Michigan’s bioindustry promotes innovation in health care delivery

Kali Katerberg/Daily Mining Gazette The first ever Houghton biosciences industry BioMixer at the Continental Firehouse. MichBio President and CEO Stephen Rapundalo (center left) and MTECH Smart Zone CEO, Marilyn Clark (center right).

HOUGHTON — In the bioscience industry, it’s almost easier to ask what does not fall under its purview. The common thread is it all contributes to health care and its future developments.

“Think of our industry as everything leading up to health care delivery,” said Stephen Rapundalo, president and CEO of MichBio.

That includes health systems, medical devices, transportation, pharmaceuticals, health IT, agricultural biosciences and research.

MichBio is a state and industry-wide trade association or “chamber of commerce,” that focuses on connecting industry players and advocacy. MichBio connects both large companies and small and helps new ideas get funding, pushing forward medical advancements around the state. With players all across the state and in both peninsulas that’s not an easy task, said Rapundalo.

“We’re scattered everywhere. Part of our job is to try and bring those different corners together and connect them,” he said.

Locally, that took Rapundalo to Houghton earlier this month for the first local biosciences industry “Biomixer,” an opportunity for professionals and students to network and connect.

Rapundalo hopes to see Michigan become a stronger player in the bio-industry in the coming years. He’s currently seeing significant growth in the medical device industry and many new company launches from research university discoveries including here in Houghton.

“Michigan Tech, for its size, does phenomenally well,” he said.

In fact, there are several biomedical businesses around the Upper Peninsula and new ideas in development at MTU.

MTU Associate Vice President for Research Administration Jim Baker is focused on getting those products to market, something easier said than done. However, he sees MTU growing in tech and bio-related research.

Developments are created on campus, connected with the smart zone and eventually make it out into the business community.

Active projects include FM Wound Care a company built around self-sterilizing wound patches and a blood typing device.

There are also projects still in development including bone integration for implants using 3-D printed sensors and absorbable coronary stents made from zinc, said biomedical engineering professor Keat Ghee Ong.

The challenge for Tech and other smaller innovators is the cost of regulation. FDA approval of an equivalent device can take $20-40 million while something new can take $100-200 million.

“The return is huge if you get that, if you survive,” Ong said.

Getting there is the tricky part.

With medical devices, the process can take 3-7 years, but pharmaceuticals can take 12-15, Rapundalo explained, and only 1 in 40 make it.

“We don’t have the volume that other institutions have, so we talk about the home run,” said Baker. “So if more pitches come across the plate your chances of a home run are higher but we don’t have as many pitches coming across the plate and every pitch is expensive.”

However, even with those challenges, smaller research universities like Tech have the advantage of agility when opportunities arise that require quick action, which shows even the remote Keweenaw Peninsula has a lot to offer the growing Michigan bioindustry.

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