Life Sciences Summit: Health Care Needs Innovation and Flexibility

By Ben Boulden

“Uber and AirBNB were successful in going around the transportation and hotel industries, and that is what is beginning to happen in health care,” Bledsoe said. “It’s going to happen at an increased rate. Whenever you have a system that’s no longer nimble, then something like Uber and AirBNB will come up. Those industries couldn’t move fast enough to solve problems.”

Nancy Gray, Ph.D., BioVentures director, at the summit discusses the Arkansas InnovatAR program.

Nancy Gray, Ph.D., BioVentures director, at the summit discusses the Arkansas InnovatAR program.

About 60 entrepreneurs, investors and research scientists gathered at the summit to learn from each other and presenters about building and expanding a life sciences company. The summit was organized and hosted by BioVentures at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS).

Bledsoe was the keynote speaker at the summit. He has provided clinical and strategic consultation to numerous nonprofit and commercial entities. Bledsoe is an operating partner for the venture capital firm New Road Capital Partners. A UAMS alumnus, he is board certified in emergency medicine and is medical director of the Emergency Medicine Department at the Arkansas Heart Hospital.

The event showcased presentations from nine of the fastest-growing, Arkansas-based technology companies with research and innovation in the life sciences. With many of them using research conducted at universities in the state, the companies are focused on products and services such as medical devices, drug discovery, diagnostics, biotechnology, natural products and agriculture sciences.

Among the presenting companies were Ascendant Diagnostics, Biotech Pharmacal, Zystein LLC, Blue in Green, Lapovations, Rejuvenix Technologies, Spektron, SFC Fluidics and Nanomatronix.

Bledsoe cited two companies as examples of the kind of disruption coming to the business of health care — Texas-based Urgent Care for Kids and NOW Diagnostics.

Urgent care is “booming in the United States,” Bledsoe said. Urgent Care for Kids has about twelve clinics located throughout Texas staffed with pediatricians. They partner with a local pediatric practice and offer to take night calls for the pediatricians to provide care to after-hours patients.

NOW Diagnostics has developed and marketed a device for using a drop of blood for a pregnancy test, Bledsoe said. Its product is already approved in Europe for over-the-counter sale and close to approval in the United States. The Springdale-based company also is developing similar tests for dengue, malaria, strep throat and flu.

“We need to allow for flexibility so innovators can grow. We don’t have enough flexibility and innovators are being stifled. A lot of the health care industry is highly regulated, and consumers are saying, ‘We’re very frustrated,’” Bledsoe said. “Someone is going to figure out how to go around this static much like Uber and AirBNB.”

After Bledsoe spoke, several companies on a panel presented their success stories, including Angel Eye, RxResults and Safe Foods. The panel members also discussed corporate alliances, funding opportunities, investments and state programs.

A morning panel that opened the summit discussed the makeup of life sciences in Arkansas.

Summit sponsors were BioVentures, University of Arkansas at Little Rock, Arkansas State University, Thermo Fisher Scientific and the Advertising and Promotion Commission of Conway.