Partnership with Southern Research Institute Brings New Opportunities

1114 sriBiomedical engineering professor Robert Hergenrother (second from left) is leading the new partnership between UAB and Southern Research. Technological advances are changing the way medicine is practiced, and the UAB Department of Biomedical Engineering is at the forefront of that change.

The department recently formed a partnership with Birmingham-based Southern Research Institute to create the Alliance for Innovative Medical Technology (AIMTech)—an interdisciplinary collaboration that combines the expertise of both organizations in the effort to design new medical devices that will improve the quality of health care in the United States and around the world.

“This partnership is another step forward for our department as we attempt to move biomedical applications from the laboratory to the hospitals and other health-care environments,” says Timothy Wick, Ph.D., chair of the Department of Biomedical Engineering. “Partnerships such as this one are accelerating the pace of research commercialization, with the ultimate goal of a better patient experience.”

hergenrotherRobert HergenrotherAs an initial step in the partnership, UAB and Southern Research jointly hired Robert Hergenrother, Ph.D., to be the director of AIMTech. Hergenrother, who also is a professor in the Department of Biomedical Engineering, has led the creation of 15 neurovascular, diagnostic, wound care, and orthopedic medical devices during his career. Eighteen of his inventions have been patented in the U.S.

“I’ve been involved in the development of medical devices and medical technology my entire career, so I thought this was a unique opportunity,” says Hergenrother. “Between what UAB does in the various engineering disciplines as well as in the clinical areas, coupled with the work Southern Research is doing in different technologies, there are some needs-driven areas where we can leverage the expertise from all those groups into creating useful products that will improve patients’ lives.”

Building on Success

This partnership with Southern Research marks another significant administrative move for the Department of Biomedical Engineering. Earlier this year, the department was reorganized as a joint department under the UAB Schools of Engineering and Medicine. “That move was designed to capitalize on the existing strengths in the two schools,” says Wick. “In the same way, our efforts in this partnership will focus on some of our core strengths—those areas where we already have significant research efforts underway.”

Initial focus areas for AIMTech are cardiology, orthopedics, ophthalmology, rehabilitation engineering, and trauma. “Partnering with UAB on this initiative allows us to accelerate commercialization of medical technologies, improve healthcare delivery and outcomes, and generate economic development and growth,” says Art Tipton, Ph.D., president and CEO of Southern Research. “This is also an opportunity to develop a lucrative business unit that will potentially create a number of new companies and jobs within the rapidly-growing biomedical engineering industry.”

The partnership with Southern Research is not a new experiment for the two Birmingham institutions, who previously partnered in the Alabama Drug Discovery Alliance. “One of the things that impressed me early on was the commitment on both sides of this partnership and the fact that they’ve already done this successfully with the Alabama Drug Discovery Alliance,” says Hergenrother. “The access to UAB’s engineers and clinicians is crucial in setting this alliance apart.”

UAB President Ray Watts, M.D., a graduate of the UAB School of Engineering, understands the importance of design and development of new medical devices. “Our partnership with Southern Research Institute in the Alabama Drug Discovery Alliance has already been a tremendous success,” he says. “We have approximately 18 new disease-changing therapies in the ADDA pipeline. We’re pushing hard to bring them to market as new treatments as rapidly as possible, which could have incredible health care and economic development implications. We envision a similar impact with the AIMTech collaboration.”

How It Will Work

  • AIMTech will invent the new medical devices, help raise venture capital, establish small medical device companies and manage the clinical trial and FDA approval processes. Major medical device companies will manufacture and sell the devices.
  • AIMTech will gain a return on investment through research grants, licensing, royalty fees and equity arrangements.
  • “We have all the ingredients here to create a powerhouse in the medical device industry,” said Hergenrother. “But what’s more exciting than that is knowing that we’ll be creating the technology that will help patients live longer and more active lives.”
  • “The regional investment community is excited to see these two Birmingham powerhouses coming together to develop medical devices,” said Robert L. Crutchfield, general partner, Harbert Venture Partners. “Combining the research and innovation development resources at UAB with the commercialization expertise, experience and capabilities at Southern Research Institute should create value by increasing the number of UAB commercial spin outs.”