Thursday, December 31, 2009

Rx#2 for end of year 2009

I went back to read a few blogs of 2009, just to see what I’d written, think about why I’d chosen these topics, and consider whether they still had relevance.

I smiled when I read “1/1/2009 – and no more pens, pads, or mugs!”

It’s so very tempting to complain of a tough year or place blame on guidelines, government, the economy, regulators, and others. Yet, I still feel a sense of gratitude.

I am mostly still the same creative “innovator” (except I turned 50 this year and have a year’s worth of experiences that have certainly affected me in ways both subtle and profound).

At this year’s end, I think about the opportunities and gifts I’ve received that will change my new year. Ones that will change the way I see the world, and maybe how the world sees me. Receiving what you asked for is both thrilling and terrifying. I am up for the challenge. I am ready. But mostly, I am filled with hopeful gratitude.

Looking back, it both seems as if it flew by and seems as if it is a long-distance run.

So on this last day of 2009, as we do every week at our office, I offer an Rx#2 to my staff, my clients, my friends, and most of all my family.

One writer for The Year of Gratitude project expressed it best when she wrote:

“Simply by the act of saying, Thank you, I am released from old demons. I am unchained from fear and worry. From the comfort of my couch where I am snuggled under a throw while the wild wind rushes over and across the mountain ridge, whips the bare branches, pushes against my log house, from this place of security I sigh as if an old dog on a porch and breathe out, Thank you. Does it matter who or what I give thanks to? No, it is only important that I breathe in the air and breathe out the gratitude.”

Looking forward to whatever comes our way next.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

8 favorite blogs of 2009 that deserve another look

Like so many writers, I go into year-end list-making mode because looking back is actually a creative adventure for me.

So without worrying a lot about balance or weightiness, here are some of the postings this year that really excited me, instructed me, motivated me — even though by definition, blogs may have the lifespan of a snowflake.
  1. Do smarter patients create cheaper care? To get more information to patients, advocates are pushing to change the incentives in the healthcare system.  A Washington state law, for instance, mandates demonstration projects in shared decision-making and raises malpractice protections for doctors who use the approach.  Other ideas include adding reimbursements for the decision-making process itself or paying a flat rate for an episode of, say, back pain, regardless of the treatment. The field is also expected to get a boost from new comparative effectiveness research. The Obama Administration is now pumping $1.1 billion into trials that will compare treatments. What do you think will drive shared decision-making:  politics, economics, or good medicine? 

  2. Ways to Make Your Personal Brand “Indispensable."  In the turbulent, toss-about world of work in America, all kinds of people are worried about their positions. Who among us hasn't seen a helpful, smart, hard-working person get laid off? Being let go is not for last-place performers anymore. Everyone is at risk. Can you avoid this? You can sure try. While no one may guarantee you a job these days, here are five tips from the Harvard Business Review on making your personal brand indispensable.

  3. Ask for – and get – what you want. Good things come to those who ask! Asking for what you need is probably the most underutilized tool for people. And yet, amazing requests have been granted to people simply because they've asked for it!

  4. Berinert approved by FDA to treat abdominal attacks, facial swelling associated with hereditary angioedema. The first treatment for acute abdominal attacks and facial swelling associated with a rare and potentially life-threatening genetic disease called hereditary angioedema (HAE).

  5. Core elements of our Ethos of Learning.  In our company’s first 5 years, I’ve learned about the importance of a culture based on learning. Together, these elements make learning more stimulating, vibrant, motivating, fun, challenging, and rewarding. We face challenging times, so we strive to help our team members to be proactive and innovative about learning.

  6. Basics of a personal brand story. Purpose, truth and action are three basic elements of a brand story. Beyond brands, these are three fundamentals of a personal story, too.  So as our teams at Stinson Brand Innovation are working on several new N-of-8® brand story development projects these days, it’s also a good time to analyze our own stories.

  7. Great sites on our tour of Tokyo. We had a wonderful local guide who helped us navigate the streets and subways – and even took us “behind the scenes” in a few places. Junko Matsuda was a fantastic hostess to us in Tokyo. She was more than just a tour guide; it was like spending a day in the city with a friend. She even took us to a great little neighborhood place for sushi.

  8. The Great Disruption demands we make innovation a strategic priority: now is the time for N-of-8. The world of innovation is going through important changes. Entrepreneurs and corporate innovators will continue to introduce disruptive innovations that transform existing markets and create new ones. In fact, the Great Disruption demands that companies make innovation a strategic priority. . .or suffer the consequences.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Counting down to the new year...

As 2009 nears the end, we count down on how many great things we've accomplished this year:

9 complete brand, corporate, and clinical trial identities
8 new clients engaged
7 new websites designed
6 sales meetings themed
5 rewarding years in business celebrated
4 major patient conventions, meetings, and advisory boards
3 total customer outreach campaigns with newsletters, websites, booths, and brochures
2 direct marketing campaigns to hospital pharmacies and labs
1 life-changing global launch

Happy New Year!  We look forward to even more in 2010!

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Happy Holidays to our clients, partners, and friends around the world

Gesëende Kersfees
Prejeme Vam Vesele Vanoce a stastny Novy Rok
Glædelig Jul
Hyvää Joulua
Joyeux Noël
Froehliche Weihnachten
Kala Christouyenna
Mele Kalikimaka
Bada Din Mubarak Ho
Gledileg Jol
Nollaig Shona Dhuit
Buon Natale
Shinnen omedeto. Kurisumasu Omedeto
Sung Tan Chuk Ha
Linksmu Kaledu
God Jul
Wesolych Swiat Bozego Narodzenia
Feliz Natal
Srozhdestovm Kristovim
Feliz Navidad
Kuwa na Krismasi njema
Maligayang Pasko
Suksun Wan Christmas
Chuc Mung Giang Sinh
Nadolig Llawen
Chag Urim Sameach

Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Turning the page from 2009 to 2010

Let's face it – we’re all ready to turn the page on 2009.  I believe that 2010 will be a year of transformation for us. More and more people are going to be looking at innovative alternatives.

So, here are the first eight books whose pages I’m ready to gain from, learn from, and get ideas from.

10 Rules for Strategic Innovators:  From Idea to Execution
Vijay Govindarajan and Chris Trimble

The Future of Management
Gary Hamel

All For One: 10 Strategies For Building Trusted Client Partnerships
Andrew Sobel

The Leadership Code
Dave Ulrich, Norm Smallwood, and Kate Sweetman

Clients for Life: Evolving from an Expert-for-Hire to an Extraordinary Adviser
Jagdish N. Sheth and Andrew Sobel

Leadership Brand: Developing Customer-Focused Leaders to Drive Performance and Build Lasting Value
Dave Ulrich and Norm Smallwood

The Traveler's Gift

Andy Andrews

Reading in the Brain: The Science and Evolution of a Human Invention
Stanislas Dehaene

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Experiencing the Biltmore brand

Blog entry submitted by Brandy Gonsoulin, client service manager and “project innovator.”

I recently had the opportunity to visit the Biltmore Estate in Ashville, North Carolina, the magnificent real estate project of George and Edith Vanderbilt and architect Richard Morris Hunt.  I’ve never seen the castles of England but would assume that this American gem can’t be too far from one.  Going into the experience, my expectations were average: I was going to see a cliché tourist attraction - a really big house with expensive furniture and art – nothing different from your average museum experience.

Thankfully, I was proven wrong.

The experience begins as you wind through the tree lined s-drive lane, knowing that soon the trees will break through, and before you will be something magnificent.  You are not disappointed as you pass through the gates and there stands a massive structure of design and beauty.  The experience continues as you go walk through the entrance and travel through the four levels.  (There is an option to purchase an audio tour for $10 – take it – the stories about the house, the people and the art behind it are necessary to enhancing your experience).

Once completed you can eat at the Stable Café, which used to contain the estate’s horses - take a tour through the gardens and then the winery.

Through the well-crafted stories and commitment of employees, I left the estate with a sense that I could relate to the history, the landscape and the people who lived there.  Because of this first positive experience, I can say that the Biltmore brand is one that is recognizable, memorable, and permanent to me.

Monday, December 21, 2009

12/21 winter solstice -- let there be light for celebrations

Here are some ideas to celebrate the winter solstice tonight, suggested by Caitlin Murray Giles, a freelance writer in the Wicker Park neighborhood of Chicago.  In this month’s “Mindful Metropolis,” she writes:

Amidst all of the shopping, baking and merrymaking, the holiday season is sometimes short on opportunities to simply gather with loved ones in a spirit of reflection and appreciation.

This year, take a break from the December hustle and bustle to celebrate the winter solstice. Make this day a time for your family to reflect on the year gone by and look toward the promise of brighter days ahead.
  • Craft your own celebration. If you are thinking of observing the winter solstice this year, use these ideas as inspiration to create traditions and rituals that are right for your family.
  • Light a Yule log. Light plays an important role in any solstice celebration. Turn off the lights and burn a Yule log in the fireplace. As an alternative, gather around a “Yule candle.” Use this time to talk about the return of light and your plans for the coming year.
  • Solstice stockings. Introducing a new tradition this year—solstice stockings. Borrowing from the idea of a traditional Christmas stocking, The Witch puts small presents into your stocking on the solstice. This tradition highlights the idea of a positive female power while also limiting our seasonal buying to those things that fit into a stocking.
  • Make a pomander. Pay homage to the power of sun and light with this simple seasonal craft based around a fragrant citrus fruit. Gather together an orange and a bowl of cloves. Push the stem of the cloves into the skin of the fruit. Experiment with spirals, stripes, or any kind of patterns you like. Hang your pomander from a ribbon and enjoy the natural seasonal scent.
  • Celebrate outdoors. Although we often associate the winter solstice with cozy fireside celebrations, be sure to take a moment to actually observe the changes taking place in nature. Plan an outdoor family outing like ice-skating. Or head out to the yard to trim a tree with natural items like nuts, berries or apples that the birds and animals can enjoy.
For more ideas on how to celebrate the winter solstice, go to Candlegrove or School of the Seasons.

14 top pharma companies and their advertising as percent of sales

Source: Ad Age DataCenter, June 22, 2009.  Total ad spending including measured media and unmeasured spending. Measured media from TNS Media Intelligence.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

4 reasons to say, "Hello, Europe. Be the first to meet my new bio-pharma product."

The teams at STINSON Brand Innovation help clients on both sides of the Atlantic with brand strategies and design execution to launch health, science, and technology products.  And we often collaborate with other business consultants who bring a unique perspective to the planning.

One such collaborator is Technology Commercialization Group.  TCG works with senior executives worldwide to help them launch and develop markets and business operations in the medical device, pharmaceutical, biotechnology, veterinary and related healthcare industries.

TCG recently shared this article with us that talks to companies in the United States about launching their products in Europe.  I offered to share it with you through our blog.

The authors are Dr. Robert C. Keefer and Dr. Reinhard Merz.

Dr. Keefer, one of TCG's principals, has 20 plus years of experience in business, finance and marketing for Fortune 500 pharmaceutical and diagnostic companies, and for a number of start-ups and emerging biotech, diagnostic and pharmaceutical companies.

Dr. Merz, based in Heidelberg, Germany, is director of European Operations and part of the TCG management team. He has 20 years of experience in medical research, healthcare marketing and e-business for Fortune 500, mid-sized and start-up firms.


There are good reasons for U.S. companies to launch their products in Europe – for certain products and in certain situations.  But, as always, you need to look before you leap. Even though Europe is becoming a more unified market, there are certain country-to-country market differences. Knowing these will help you avoid some pitfalls, as well as take advantage of the differences.

Although the United States is universally recognized as the holy grail of markets for pharmaceuticals and medical devices, many companies lose sight of the incremental opportunity for sales of their product in Europe. Europe - and certain European countries, in particular - can offer great advantages depending on the situation. This is true whether you've already launched your product in the United States, or you are considering Europe for the initial launch.

Here are four reasons why:

1.    Less costly clinical trials

Many countries from Central and Eastern Europe joined the European Union (EU) in 2004 and 2007: Estonia, Czech Republic, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia, Slovenia, Bulgaria and Romania. Together with the implementation of the European Clinical Trial (EU CT) Directive, this created one pan-European clinical research market and unified the legal environment. A few of the cost/quality advantages to placing clinical research studies in these areas are:
  • Large population of over 300 million
  • Centralized healthcare system with large, highly specialized hospitals, especially in oncology, cardiology and rheumatology
  • High quality of medical care and clinical data confirmed by audits and inspections
  • Lower cost per completed case report form, due to fewer days needed to recruit one patient, low percentage of rejected recordings, and low number of queries per 100 case report form pages
2.    Easier approval

For medical devices, there is no European approval authority like the FDA (Food and Drug Administration). Instead, EU countries require medical devices to be issued a CE (Conformité Européenne) Mark by the European Commission before they can be marketed. The CE Mark certifies that the product meets EU standards for health, safety, quality and the environment. Once a product has received CE Marking, it can be marketed in all the EU countries (currently 27) without undergoing additional scrutiny or requirements from individual countries.

The CE Mark is more than just a rubber stamp, but earning it can be less of a hurdle compared to earning FDA approval. The first step is for companies to have an "Authorized Representative" in Europe - a subsidiary company or a legally appointed person in Europe to act for the manufacturer with regard to the regulatory aspects of the product.

In addition, companies need to obtain the CE Mark through the services of a "Notified Body," who will inspect and recommend approval of the CE Mark. The Notified Body will determine which class the product is in, from low to high risk, and work with the manufacturer to obtain:
  • Certification based on risk class
  • Documentation on the product's construction
  • Data supporting the product's safety, efficacy, quality control and risk assessment
  • Procedures for tracking and reporting incidents or adverse effects of the product once it is out in the marketplace
For pharmaceuticals, the route to approval depends on the novelty of the product.  The majority of existing medicines throughout the European Union's member states can be authorized more quickly because the decisions are made on a national basis.  Novel medicines are authorized through the EMEA. If the relevant Committee for Medicinal Products for Human Use (CHMP) or Veterinary Use (CVMP) concludes that quality, safety and efficacy of the medicinal product is sufficiently proven, it adopts a positive opinion. This is sent to the European Commission to be transformed into a marketing authorization valid for the whole of the European Union.

3.    Well-funded healthcare systems frequently cover a broader range of conditions

European insurers cover a broader range of diseases than in the United States. Fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome, for example, are controversial diagnoses in the United States, while in Europe they are recognized illnesses. If your diagnostic test or therapeutic treatment targets a condition that is not fully recognized in the United States, you may find better market acceptance in Europe. European reimbursement policies generally cover more conditions, but it is important to know the specific reimbursement policies and procedures on a country-by-country and organization-by-organization basis. And, of course, it is key to understand any pricing constraints, such as government controlled pricing, and how it differs by country.

4.    High-quality specialty centers

Although there are specialty healthcare centers in the United States - for pain or cancer treatment, for example - they are much more prevalent in Europe. By nature, Germans are organizers; so it is possible to find many specialized healthcare-related centers within its borders. For example, there are at least 50 centers that specialize in the treatment of tinnitus. It is important early on to identify the specialty centers that are most relevant to your product and where it is most likely to be used.

The existence of centers specializing in your therapeutic areas can give you several advantages to launching a pharmaceutical or medical device in Europe. First, recruiting candidates for clinical trials and tracking results is easier and more efficient if there are centers specializing in that condition or disease. The key opinion leaders (KOLs) at these centers can give you crucial feedback on current practices and the medical need for your product. In fact, KOLs may be even more important to a successful product launch in Europe than in other markets.

Second, if you are trying to get a foothold in the marketplace with a new product, selling your product first to a recognized center of excellence can lead to a more effective product launch. Let's say you have a medical device for the treatment of tinnitus. Targeting a few key specialty centers could generate word-of-mouth advertising as the physicians in those centers publish papers and give presentations to the wider tinnitus community.

Marketing that same product in the United States would be more difficult because physicians who specialize in tinnitus are not centralized.

Even with these advantages, a European launch is not without its complications, which means potential pitfalls if you don't know the individual geographical and customer markets and develop the right strategy for each:
  • Despite the EU, Europe is still very fragmented. The centralized European Commission administers the CE Mark for medical devices and approves pharmaceuticals for marketing; but questions of insurance, pricing, reimbursement and other healthcare issues are handled differently from country to country.  In Germany, for example, the authority for health insurance and reimbursement is separate from the German Ministry of Health; while in France, the Ministry of Health deals with all healthcare issues. It can take twice the time to resolve an issue in France as in Germany, because you are dealing with a government entity interested in multiple issues along with pricing. In Italy and Spain, it's even more fragmented with regional healthcare authorities influencing decisions.  For example, reimbursement can be different in Lombardia, in northern Italy, than it is in Sicily.
  • In each country, the specialists who treat patients may not be the same as in the United States. For instance in Germany, office specialists operating in the public sector, who give injections of hyaluronic acid for early stage arthritis, predominantly use multiple injection treatments; whereas orthopaedic physicians in Spain mostly operate in the private sector and use the more effective single injection therapies. The differences are driven by the different reimbursement policies in Germany and Spain — policies that apply to the physician as well as the product.
  • Other European countries not in the EU (Switzerland, for example) do not recognize the CE Mark and have their own systems for approving products for marketing.
Bottom line: if you are thinking about launching in Europe, you have to know these dynamics and select countries that allow you to get your product on the market more quickly and with the highest generation of revenue and profit. While it might be tempting to launch in a particular country because it is the biggest market, if approval or reimbursement hurdles are too high it will slow your launch and cost precious time and money.

An Opportunity Assessment, however, is a critical first step. We've said this before in discussing U.S. launches, and it's just as important with European launches. Surveying health care providers on a country-by-country basis will provide information that can be factored into the clinical trial protocols and product launch plans. Small differences in how a product is used or prescribed by providers can make a huge difference in where, and how big, the opportunity is and how the product is marketed.

Information from the Opportunity Assessment will allow you to:
  • decide which European countries to target for your launch, and in what order;
  • build a country-by-country forecast of unit volume, revenue and profit;
  • make a well-informed decision on whether to "go it alone" in marketing your product in Europe, sell your product through European distributors, or partner with a company already well established in Europe; 
  • and negotiate better performance-driven contracts with qualified distributors, if that is the chosen strategy.
For more information on TCG, you can visit, or call the U.S. office at 1-919-941-0700 or the European office at 49-6221-27262.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

2D Barcodes Are On the Way to Revolutionize Marketing

The blog entry today was submitted by Greg Dosmann, our Associate Creative Director and Visual Brand CHEMist.

We are all familiar with barcodes, we see them on products everywhere. But there are some new forms of barcodes, 2D barcodes (for 2 dimensional) that we will be seeing more and more for use with mobile devices.

To use these codes, you need to have special reader software in your handset. Then, for example, if you see a magazine ad which includes a 2D barcode, you can simply take a picture of the code, and your mobile browser will take you to a mobile web site that has information about that product.

Getting the necessary software into handsets has always been one of the biggest hurdles for the adoption of 2D barcodes, but the emergence of “app stores” has helped a lot. Plus several handset manufacturers are rumored to have pre-installed barcode readers for future releases. In Japan, QR barcodes (See images) have been very popular for years, and there are QR barcodes on many items including billboards, magazine ads, even T-shirts.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Endo Pharmaceuticals collaboration in India to move new oncology drug candidates forward...faster

Jubilant Biosys announced recently that the Bangalore-based company has entered into a discovery and development collaboration with Endo Pharmaceuticals, a US-based pharmaceutical company. As part of the agreement, Jubilant and Endo would collaborate initially to develop a portfolio of targets in the area of oncology, with a focus on delivering preclinical candidates that could be selected for joint clinical development.

Endo will own any compounds developed under the collaboration and will be responsible for worldwide commercialization.

Under an initial 3-year agreement, Jubilant will receive from Endo research funding and success-based development milestones and royalties on the successful commercialization of the compounds developed.

Endo Pharmaceuticals, is a specialty pharmaceutical company engaged in R&D, sales and marketing of branded and generic medicines in pain management, urology, endocrinology and oncology.

Commenting on the collaboration, Shyam Bhartia, chairman & managing director and Hari Bhartia, co-chairman & managing director, of Jubilant said: "We are pleased to announce this collaboration with Endo Pharmaceuticals and look forward to the prospect of contributing to Endo's expanding discovery pipeline. We anticipate significant rewards on successful development of compounds and its subsequent commercialization. This partnership continues to demonstrate Jubilant's mission to be India's largest provider of innovative solutions for accelerating global drug development and enabling affordable patient care."


At STINSON Brand Innovation, we have expanded our health, science, and technology branding work into India through a collaboration with BrandCare, a leading pharma brand management agency based in Mumbai.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Conversations in verbal craftsmanship

In an era of high attitude/low content corporate image ads, IBM bucks the trend with its latest copy-heavy corporate image campaign. This particular ad addresses healthcare problems, and with the exception of a large, colorful and simple graphic at the top of this full-page ad, the entire page is full of copy. Long-form copy.

Entitled "Conversations for a Smarter Planet," this ad campaign seeks to establish its new position as a trusted global services partner. This particular ad speaks to the current topic of healthcare reform.

Certainly for IBM this campaign takes risks:
  1. They’re connecting readers with IBM’s IT solutions to real global issues
  2. They’re employing a very copy heavy approach
  3. And worst of all, they’re daring to engage us in a conversation.
Then again, you have to admire the craftsmanship with which this ad is written. The copy is inviting. In essence, it’s all how our human healthcare systems connect and communicate.

The story moves quickly to connect with us, share an honest story about a particular problem, and introduce examples of easy ways that IT can solve each problem. The closing motivates us to connect with IBM to discover more. At Stinson, we recognize these as the hallmarks of our C.H.E.M.® tool. But examine this copy deeper and the craftsmanship is everywhere, from economical phrasing and succinct word choices to parallel paragraph and sentence construction.

Green publisher Joel Makower comments in his blog that the “series of fascinating full-page ads from IBM Corp. got the better of me.” Later in his review he asks, “Can a series of ads really start a conversation with customers that will lead to profitable engagements, unprecedented partnerships, and systemic transformations that improve all of our lives? I’ll reserve the right to maintain a healthy dose of skepticism. But you’ve got to like IBM’s bold, clear vision.”

Make no mistake — good copy writing takes time and energy. What makes this ad really strong is that you never feel like IBM is attempting to sell you. Instead you feel drawn into an honest conversation concerning global issues – and in this case, an intelligent conversation with a partner that has carefully envisioned the road ahead. Read more about this series at and

Click here to read Joel Makower’s comments on this series.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

3 steps in creating the MVP Factor

History has taught us that now is the perfect time to step up our branding efforts to ensure that we inspire customers – medical professionals and patients alike – to feel a closer relationship with our products.

One expert in branded content, Samir Husni, coined his approach the MVP Factor.

M = meet the customer’s need for information

V = Validate the information we provide them on printed pages and digital sites

P = Preview the future by informing consumers about what lies ahead and how it might affect them.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

StemSave – a brand to watch because "human imagination is always ahead of the advance of technology"

This blog was written by Norah Wei Tang, a global communications and marketing research intern at Stinson Brand Innovation, and a survey project assistant at University of Illinois at Chicago

StemSave is now offering to bank your own cells. The promise of stem cells has been in scientists’ imagination for a long time, yet what StemSave does seems to make a step forward to making the potentials of stem cell technology become more real.

The New York-based company can harvest stem cells from human teeth and preserve them in the lab to keep cells alive.

Some experts call it insurance against the uncertainty of the future and there are already people lining up for the procedure. Researchers at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) discovered stem cells in teeth and stem cell research is envisioned to eventually treat conditions like diabetes, heart disease, leukemia, and more.

However, experts cautiously suggest that this kind of procedure is still not essentially efficient as it is neither cost-effective nor energy-efficient. But it could be a timely opportunity to secure and store the family’s own unique stem cells to treat future disease or injury. After all, human imagination is always ahead of the advance of technology.

For more information, view the company website.

You can also click here to read their blog.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

8th annual Charlotte Biotechnology Conference: “uniting and leveraging resources to maintain and foster new developments”

The blog was submitted by Martin Stinson, our business development analyst in the Mid-Atlantic Region.

I was pleased to attend the 8th annual Charlotte Biotechnology Conference at the beautiful new Bioinformatics & Genomics Center on the campus of UNCC.  Sponsored by the Charlotte Research Institute, attendees included biotechnology and life sciences industry leaders, government and finance partners, as well as faculty and students from several surrounding colleges and universities.  Participants numbered well over 300, making this year’s event their largest ever.

With so many economic challenges in the U.S. and worldwide over the last 18 months, many of the presentations and discussions were related to uniting and leveraging resources to maintain and foster new developments in the biotechnology sector.

The consensus was that our region has done an outstanding job in collaborating and networking to overcome these challenges.  As a result, North Carolina is now #3 in the biotechnology field, trailing only California and Massachusetts.  While funding and resources may be somewhat more scarce than in the recent past, these are still very exciting times in the industry and many expect that renewed growth is not far away.

Specifically, the Greater Charlotte region is home to more than two dozen bioscience companies in a variety of fields including nutrition studies, nanotechnology, bioinformatics and computational biology. The region also has North Carolina’s largest concentration of biomedical device companies.

The keynote speaker was Dr. Anthony Atala, renowned surgeon and researcher from Wake Forest University.  Dr. Atala provided a fascinating look into the world of tissue engineering, regenerative medicine, and stem cell biology.  The advances in growing new human tissues and organs are absolutely incredible.  The work in this field by experts like Dr. Atala and others will certainly play a significant role in the medical profession’s ability to repair or replace substantially more diseased tissues and organs in the future.

Just prior to his presentation, Dr. Atala showed a video called “Nano Girls”, a spoof on PhD candidates and their work in the lab, created by UNCC graduate student Kevin Major and his team.  For those of you in the mood for a good chuckle, check out this link:

Other topics and speakers included:

Future Trends in Biotechnology Funding
  • Michael Luther, PhD, President, David H. Murdock Research Institute (DHMRI)
  • June Blalock, Office of Technology Transfer, US Department of Agriculture
  • Daniel Shaughnessy, PhD, Program Administrator, Susceptibility and Population Health Branch Division of Extramural Research and Training, National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS), National Institutes of Health 
  • Joanne Tornow, PhD, Senior Advisor, Office of the Assistant Director, Directorate for the Biological Sciences, National Science Foundation
The State of Biotechnology in the Charlotte Region
  • Mark Rumsey, News Host & Community Engagement Coordinator, WFAE-FM
  • Simon Pedder, PhD, CEO and Founder, Chelsea Therapeutics International, Inc.
  • Tammy Trexler-Whaley, Regional Manager, Economic Development, Duke Energy 
  • Todd Wiebusch, CEO and Board President, Saebo, Inc.
Research Highlights
  • Daniel B. Vorhaus, Attorney - Robinson, Bradshaw & Hinson - “Commercialization Strategies for Biotechnology, Pharmaceutical & Genomics Research”
  • Mirsad Hadzikadic, PhD, Director - NC Complex Systems Institute, UNC Charlotte - “Complex Software Systems and”
  • Jeffrey A. Kline, MD, Director - Emergency Medical Research, Carolinas Medical Center - “Commercializable Research from CMC” 
  • Carol Cheatham, PhD, Assistant Professor - Nutrition Research Institute, UNC Chapel Hill - “Nutrition Impact on Pediatric Brain Development”
  • Pinku Mukherjee, PhD, Irwin Belk Endowed Scholar for Cancer Research & Associate Professor of Biology, UNC Charlotte - “Pancreatic Cancer Progression and Metastasis”

Thursday, December 03, 2009

4 medical research areas at Rush that are moving medicine forward ... fast

Advances in medicine can begin with a sudden insight or arise from years of meticulous research.

At STINSON Brand Innovation, we love developing brand stories for new medical advancements – to support effective communication of ideas that can transform health, science, and technology.

What’s more, we love to share stories of people, companies, and institutions that are accelerating the adoption of new ideas.  Because “faster” is what we’re all about.

So, in this blog, here are four stories about medical researches at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago.  These are doctors and researchers taking every opportunity to move medicine into the future, with the aim of improving patient care.

1. The gates of knowledge – through ion channels

For years, researchers have been searching for a vital piece to the puzzle of how cells function in the body.

The puzzle involves the process for the opening and closing of ion channels — the pore-like pathways that allow the movement of ions across the membrane of the cell. Ions are electrically charged particles that control how cells work. The answer to this puzzle could lead to giant strides in understanding many diseases and their treatments. For example, cystic fibrosis, type 2 diabetes and heart disease involve malfunctions in ion channels.

A study at Rush may hold the missing piece — bubbles.

According to study author Bob Eisenberg, PhD, bubbles can form and break inside the tiny pathways. The ions are blocked by a bubble and are free to travel when the bubble breaks. This on-and-off mechanism lets the bubbles function as gates for ions. Dr. Eisenberg is chair of the Department of Molecular Biophysics and Physiology at Rush and a national leader in ion channel research.

The understanding of the link between ion channels and disease is relatively new. If this insight about bubbles as gates is confirmed, it could change the way researchers study many diseases and ultimately lead to new ways to manage or even cure them.

To read more about Eisneberg's research, click here to visit his laboratory homepage.

2. The road less traveled – in Huntington's disease

Huntington's disease involves problems with thinking, memory and personality, but jerky, involuntary movements called chorea are the hallmark symptom. It is rare enough to be classified as an "orphan disease," so few researchers focus on it. That's why, until recently, treatment for Huntington's disease has been woefully inadequate.

Now, however, a study at Rush has helped lead to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's approval of a new drug called tetrabenazine — the first treatment for Huntington's disease to be approved in the United States.

Tetrabenazine treats chorea in Huntington's disease, and according to Kathleen Shannon, MD, a movement disorders specialist at Rush, virtually everyone with significant chorea responds to it.

"This drug decreases the chorea of Huntington's," Shannon says. "Patients see really substantial improvement."

Tetrabenazine isn't a cure for Huntington's disease, and it does have side effects. But it can significantly improve the quality of life for people with this condition.

3. Keeping people moving – with biomechanical loading

Thousands of people are walking — and running — today because surgeons have replaced their damaged joints. In fact, orthopedic surgeons at Rush pioneered many advances in joint replacement surgery. But researchers at Rush also look for ways to alleviate joint problems without surgery.

According to Joel Block, MD, a rheumatologist at Rush, changing the way people walk may help. Dr. Block researches osteoarthritis and cartilage cell biology and has published numerous articles on these and other issues in rheumatology.

Block and others are studying biomechanical loading of the knee — the force exerted on this joint as you walk. Previous evidence suggested altering the way the foot is positioned can reduce such loading, and Block's group designed a shoe insert that does just that. The insert — which mimics barefoot walking — reduces the load on the knee by about 12 percent. "For people in this study, their pain got substantially better and the progression of their condition was significantly reduced," Block says.

If this ongoing study confirms the benefits of relieving the biomechanical load on the knee, it could mean therapies such as shoe inserts could help some people delay joint replacement surgery.

4. Hitting a moving target – with new cancer treatments

Radiation therapy has helped thousands of people become cancer free. But it can cause side effects such as red, blistered skin; fatigue; nausea and vomiting.

Newer cancer treatments aim to lessen these problems by killing the cancer without harming normal cells. Rush is on the leading edge of these targeted treatments with technologies that do just that.

For example, a special computed tomography (CT) scanner uses 4-D to focus radiation at targets that don’t stand still.

"With lung cancer, the tumor can move as the patient breathes," says Thomas Zusag, MD, a radiation oncologist at Rush. "We use the movement pattern to target the treatment." Dr. Zusag, researches precision radiation treatments and specializes in lung and gynecologic cancers.

Standard CT scanning works by taking multiple x-rays as it rotates around the patient. The 4-D CT has an additional sensor that reconstructs the movement of the tumor through the respiratory cycle. This creates a composite picture of the area the tumor occupies over time. Sophisticated treatment machines, such as Varian Trilogy and TomoTherapy, then use this information to direct radiation to the exact area, sparing surrounding tissue. Both of these treatment options are also available at Rush.

Precise treatments such as these spare normal tissue and reduce side effects, which is also the goal of targeted drug treatments — to kill the cancer without harming normal cells.

There are many kinds of targeted drug therapies, and researchers at Rush are working to find more. According to Stephanie Gregory, MD, hematologist and oncologist, Rush is participating in the development of a drug called an SYK inhibitor that works by preventing cancer cells from dividing, while sparing healthy cells. If approved, it will be an important tool for fighting cancer. Dr. Gregory specializes in blood cancers. She is involved in research on targeted therapies for cancer and is the medical director of the Section of Hematology at Rush.

Targeted therapies are often used in combination with other cancer treatments. Find out about other cancer therapies by visiting

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Do smarter patients create cheaper care?

Whenever researchers compare drugs or treatments to see which works best, somebody's ox gets gored (in the words of BusinessWeek magazine).

Such "comparative effectiveness" studies have already cast doubt on new blood pressure and schizophrenia drugs, as well as spinal fusions and other surgeries.  And the latest case involves a very expensive ox: the heart procedure angioplasty.

A series of studies — the newest published in the June 11 issue of The New England Journal of Medicine — finds that stable patients with chronic heart disease who have the angioplasty procedure get little benefit compared with similar patients treated only with drugs, such as Pfizer's cholesterol-lowering Lipitor and other statins, plus aspirin.

That's why there's a growing effort led by physicians, health insurers and even state legislatures to make sure patients truly understand the medical evidence about angioplasty and other treatments and procedures.  Once informed, the patients are encouraged to make their own choices.  This idea is shared (or informed) decision-making.

Studies show that this process, using comprehensive videos and other materials prepared by groups such as the non-profit Foundation for Informed Medical Decision Making (FIMDM), leads patients to choose conservative options more often.  Put into widespread use, the approach has the potential to trim hundreds of billions of dollars from the nation's $2.4 trillion healthcare bill.

Some health insurers are modifying their strategies.  Pennsylvania's Highmark tries to contact patients when a claim comes in for an MRI for back pain, showing that they may be facing a choice.  "We may send a card saying, 'Do you know you can call in for materials?'" says Chief Medical Officer Dr. Donald R. Fischer.

So far, these efforts reach only a tiny percentage of patients.  When FIMDM was set up in 1989, "we totally minimized the difficulty of getting this used," says Massachusetts General's Mulley.  One reason is that people are naturally suspicious of information from insurers or employers.  "The tension in this is whether it is just another way to talk patients out of something expensive," says Kaiser's Wallace.

There's another obstacle in getting information out: It's hard to reach patients before they've seen their specialists and gotten a perhaps incomplete picture of the risks and benefits of a procedure.  That problem is particularly acute with angioplasty, because patients are typically whisked in for the procedure immediately after having diagnostic tests, according to BusinessWeek.

To get more information to patients, advocates are pushing to change the incentives in the healthcare system.  The Washington State law, for instance, mandates demonstration projects in shared decision-making and raises malpractice protections for doctors who use the approach.  Other ideas include adding reimbursements for the decision-making process itself or paying a flat rate for an episode of, say, back pain, regardless of the treatment.

The field is also expected to get a boost from new comparative effectiveness research. The Obama Administration is now pumping $1.1 billion into trials that will compare treatments.

What do you think will drive shared decision-making:  politics, economics, or good medicine?