In classic Silicon Valley style, it began with an informal group of about a dozen physicians and engineers wanting to invent new medical devices desperately needed by patients. They came together under the rubric Stanford Biodesign and began training others on the discipline of technology innovation.
This year, the program celebrates its 15th anniversary with a new name – the Stanford Byers Center for Biodesign – and a new focus on building technologies that not only benefit patients but also consider the economics of health care today.
“We have been very successful in training high-tech innovators in the last 15 years,” said Paul Yock, MD, the program’s director and a successful inventor himself. “Going forward, with the monumental changes in health care and the many cost pressures on the system, we need to create technology that enhances care and does it in a way that’s not unduly expensive. That’s a sea change.”
In its first 15 years, the program has trained more than 1,000 graduate students and nearly 200 fellows, who spend a year or two on campus identifying important, unmet clinical needs and developing marketable devices to meet those needs. They have founded more than 40 companies and created products used by more than half a million patients. These include devices to stop night terrors in children, a patch to monitor heart rhythm outside the clinic, a method to relieve symptoms of enlarged prostate, an approach to prevent infections after surgery and a low-cost respirator that can be used in developing countries.
“Their fellows and medical innovators change health care and have already directly benefited hundreds of thousands of patients,” said longtime Silicon Valley venture capitalist Brook Byers, after whom the center is named. “And they’re inspiring and empowering others by sharing best practices globally.”
The biodesign center has established itself as the international model for innovation, attracting considerable interest from abroad. That has led to collaborations with India, Ireland and Singapore. Most recently, it helped initiate a program in Japan, announced last year by Prime Minister Abe on his visit to the Stanford campus.
Through these partnerships, particularly in India and Southeast Asia, “we are trying to absorb their culture of cost-effective innovation,” Yock said and benefit from the experience of entrepreneurs who may live and work in a resource-limited environment.
“We are moving the entire fellowship to a more global orientation and will be accepting fellows from any country on a ‘best athlete,’ basis,” he said. He said the program will teach future fellows about global markets during their training and help make connections for those who want to go to the developing world after their fellowship year.
Previously: Using innovation to improve health in the developing world, Stanford-India Biodesign co-founder: “You can become a millionaire, but also make a difference” and The next challenge for biodesign: constraining health-care costs
Photo by Norbert von der Groeben