As the largest academic medical research enterprise in the U.S., Partners HealthCare supports more than 3,100 investigators who created more than 500 new inventions and 363 patents issued in fiscal year 2015. Partners estimates that inventions conceived by its researchers in the past 15 years have generated more than $75 billion in commercial sales revenue, providing fertile ground for smart scientific investments. This brings innovations closer to patients who need them, while creating a new paradigm for generating vital research funding.

Scientific breakthroughs bring astounding returns

In the investing world, venture capital firms bet on new ideas that can dramatically improve people’s lives. They fund a wide variety of promising startup companies developing breakthrough drugs and extraordinary medical technologies, hoping one of them might invent the next big treatment or cure—and generate the next big profit.

With such tremendous potential to impact medicine, in 2007 Partners’ two founding members—Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH) and Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH)—created an internal fund to launch startup companies by pooling $35 million. Known as the Partners Innovation Fund, the joint effort aims to bring life-changing therapies to market more quickly and funnel profits back into cutting-edge research.

From ideas to therapies

“It is very exciting to take great science and turn it into a startup, and then turn that startup into a product that reaches patients,” said Roger Kitterman, managing partner of the Partners Innovation Fund.

Under Kitterman’s direction, the Partners Innovation Fund has launched 25 startup companies whose breakthroughs span cancer immunotherapies, anesthesia, electronic medical record intelligence software and genome editing. As of October 2015, three of these Partners-driven companies (see below) have been sold to major biotechnology firms. Partners’ portfolio has attracted more than $800 million of co-investment from other institutional investors and strategic partners to support new ventures through the long product development and regulatory approval process.

“We are ushering in a new era of collaboration between academia and industry—collaboration with the potential to advance new technologies and introduce new treatments to the marketplace,” said Betsy Nabel, MD, president of Brigham and Women’s Health Care.

A new era of investing in research

Building on the success of the Partners Innovation Fund, Partners is launching the first-ever venture capital fund in an academic medical center that is open to individual investors: the Partners Impact Investing Fund (the Impact Fund).

The Impact Fund enables private equity investments in startup companies based on biotechnologies, pharmaceuticals, medical devices, diagnostics and other breakthroughs developed by Partners’ world-class investigators. Like the Innovation Fund, revenue generated by the Impact Fund will cycle back into new biomedical technology and strengthen Partners’ mission to improve health at home and abroad. Profits gained from sales of startups will return a portion to support new research ideas within Partners while rewarding external investors with return on capital.

“Thinking about the science and the idea, exploring the options and planning its evolution into a company is exciting,” says Kitterman. “And then someday the company starts to have a real impact on health care, creating jobs and benefiting patients. That’s what makes it all worthwhile.” 

Medical return on investments

BWH and Partners HealthCare are creating new ways to transform health care—not just in the clinic or laboratory, but in the investing world as well. Here are three success stories from Partners Innovation.

Conquering cancer: CoStim Pharmaceuticals

Spurred by growing interest among pharmaceutical companies for new immunology-based cancer treatments, the Partners Innovation Fund provided seed money to CoStim Pharmaceuticals in 2012 to advance its approach to interrupting immune blocking signals from cancer. Under the leadership of Vijay Kuchroo, DVM, PhD, senior scientist in the Department of Neurology at BWH, CoStim made significant research gains. In 2014, it was sold to Novartis for a many-fold return on invested capital—profits that cycle back to the fund for new and expanded program development led by Partners investigators.

Safer anesthesia: Annovation Biopharma

In 2008, following their discovery of a way to improve the safety of an anesthesia drug called etomidate, researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital collaborated with a BWH medicinal chemistry group to develop compounds that enable the drug to clear from the body rapidly with fewer side effects. This work spawned Annovation Biopharma in 2011, which was purchased by The Medicines Company in February 2015, which is advancing the program through clinical trial in the hope of bringing it to market by 2019.

Quelling inflammation and immune disorders: Adheron Therapeutics

Michael Brenner, MD, chief of BWH’s Division of Rheumatology, Immunology and Allergy, and his colleague David M. Lee, MD, PhD, founded Adheron Therapeutics to develop breakthrough medicines for inflammatory and autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis and fibrosis. Their newest therapy targets a specific protein that plays a major role in these diseases. Swiss drugmaker Roche purchased Adheron Therapeutics in October 2015 to ultimately complement its lineup of products that treat those conditions.