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Meet the Innovation Expert

Innovator: Emily Blum, MD

Roles: Medical Director, Global Center for Medical Innovation (GCMI)

Pediatric Urologist, Georgia Urology

Areas of Innovation: All medical devices and digital health with a particular interest in surgical subspecialties.

Description: I operate at the crossroads of medical technology and clinical expertise. My role involves understanding the gaps in healthcare and bridging them with potential tech solutions. Through clinical needs assessments, clinical trial reviews, and strategic planning, I work to seamlessly integrate unmet clinical needs with engineering capabilities and expedite commercialization successes.

Emily Blum, MD

Favorite innovation project and what role did you play in it:  

As a practicing pediatric urologist, I see the emotional trauma, the financial impact, and frustrations that bedwetting causes. There is very little we can offer to help these kids. Global Continence is a company co-founded by Andrew Kirsch MD, one of my partners in clinical practice. Soluu is their first product being developed and is the first real impactful solution to be introduced for bedwetting in decades. I have been privileged to be a part of the project as an advisor for quite a few years now. I have been involved in all aspects from design development to grant writing and go-to market strategy and cannot wait to see the final product be able to enter the hands of the kids that need it.

What inspired you to focus on innovation?  

During my time as a surgical resident, I often found myself pondering how we could improve the procedures we were performing. My fellowship in pediatric urology at Children’s National included a one-year fellowship in surgical innovation at the Sheikh Zayed Surgical Innovations Institute. This was truly a transformative experience for me and my exposure to early medical device development. Collaborating with engineers in the lab, I saw firsthand the untapped potential of leveraging technology for medical advancements in a human-centered design fashion. This exposure awakened me to the transformative changes we can bring into patient care through the right technological interventions. I recognized that innovation in healthcare is not everyone's calling; but for me, it became a mission. I aspired to serve as a catalyst, spearheading advancements across various facets of medical innovation, and aiding multiple startups on their journeys to success.

How are you advancing pediatric innovation?

I am actively involved in a few organizations that focus on advancing pediatric innovation, including the International Society of Pediatric Innovation (iSPI) and the Global Center for Medical Innovation (GCMI). By streamlining efforts through these organizations, we are not just fast-tracking innovation; we are shaping a healthcare landscape where the specific needs of pediatric patients are not only acknowledged but proactively addressed through cutting-edge technology.

iSPI is a unique organization that gathers thought leaders in the field of pediatric healthcare. It serves as a central hub for professionals to collaborate, share their insights, and articulate their needs, thereby fostering a culture of innovation specifically tailored to pediatric care.

GCMI also has a distinct focus on pediatrics. We have a strong partnership with Georgia Tech and their pediatric research initiatives. We also collaborate with Children's Healthcare of Atlanta and numerous other pediatric hospitals across the nation. One of our primary goals is to accelerate the complex process of bringing new medical devices to the market. We offer our collective experience and established processes as tools to help innovators overcome the critical issue of "you don't know what you don't know."

What are the biggest barriers to accelerating pediatric innovation? 

The most significant barrier to accelerating pediatric innovation is arguably the perceived limited market size, which often makes investors cautious about dedicating time and resources to this area. While the pediatric sector may not offer the same scale of financial returns as other medical markets, it holds immeasurable value in enhancing the quality of life for young patients.

Another formidable challenge lies in the complexities associated with conducting clinical trials within a pediatric population. Ethical concerns, parental consent, and the physiological differences between children and adults make the design and implementation of such trials considerably more intricate. These factors often lengthen the timeline for product development and market introduction, further deterring potential investors who are looking for quicker returns.

Therefore, in the pediatric innovation sphere, there is a unique balance that must be struck between "return on mission" and "return on investment." While you may not create a billion-dollar product in the pediatric space, the impact on the quality of life for these young patients—and the ethical and emotional dividends that brings—can be just as valuable, albeit in a way that's not easily quantified on a balance sheet. 

What role does collaboration play in breaking down these barriers? 

Collaboration is a linchpin in overcoming the barriers that hinder pediatric innovation. By partnering with the right organizations and experts, you can significantly compress the development timeline. A shortened timeline means less "cash burn" during the R&D phase, thereby reducing the financial risk for investors and the amount of initial capital needed. Consequently, companies can reach the market quicker and with less debt, allowing them to retain more value in the long run.

Experienced collaborators bring a wealth of knowledge that can streamline multiple stages of development, from conceptualization to regulatory approval. Their expertise can expedite the process, making the pathway more efficient and less prone to costly errors or delays.

Furthermore, effective collaboration ensures that the developed device is clinically relevant. Through proper outreach and consultation with clinicians, engineers, and other stakeholders, collaborators can identify and address the most pressing and widespread clinical needs. This approach not only speeds up the development but also maximizes the device's impact, offering a better "return on mission" and increasing the likelihood of a successful "return on investment."

What advice would you give others who are innovating in pediatric healthcare?

If you are innovating in pediatric healthcare, my foremost advice would be: Do not shy away from collaboration. Many innovators are naturally protective of their ideas and try to go it alone, but in the pediatric space, collaboration is not just beneficial—it's essential.

Firstly, ensure that your device has widespread applicability. Working within your own bubble could limit your device's impact, leaving you with a product that, while novel, may not address the broader needs of the pediatric community. Collaborating with clinicians, researchers, and other innovators exposes you to diverse perspectives that can refine your focus and increase your device's clinical relevance.

Secondly, prioritize design efficiency to streamline regulatory approval. Partners with experience in device development can offer invaluable guidance in navigating the complex landscape of FDA regulations, thereby expediting your product's journey from the lab to the clinic.

Lastly, seek out mentorship and stay connected with the broader healthcare innovation community. Healthcare is a multifaceted field, as is innovation within it. Conversing with other groups working on different projects can offer fresh perspectives, help you anticipate pitfalls, and even present opportunities for synergy. The collective wisdom garnered from diverse experiences can be your greatest asset in navigating the intricate and often challenging path of pediatric healthcare innovation.

Is there anything else you would like to share?

I genuinely believe that platforms like PedsMrkt, created by Children's Mercy Kansas City, are instrumental in propelling pediatric innovation forward. This platform serves as a centralized hub where pediatric hospitals, pediatricians, and pediatric subspecialists can explore existing solutions, thereby avoiding redundancy in innovation.

One of the biggest challenges we face in this space is the unintended overlap in development efforts. Innovators frequently work on similar or identical ideas simply because they are unaware of what's already being developed or what has already been launched. If we don't know where to look, we risk duplicating efforts and wasting valuable resources.

Platforms like PedMrkt offer a solution to this problem by providing a centralized location for innovators and healthcare professionals to learn about existing and forthcoming products. This not only fosters informed innovation but also accelerates the process of getting impactful products into the hands of those who need them most.


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