A Global Healthcare Giant Engineers and Builds New In Connecticut

By Mitchell Young

stapler headNORTH HAVEN: Leon Hirsch was hoping to get his entrepreneurial dreams flying in 1963 in the helicopter parts business, when he came across a device described as a “surgical stapler” in a meeting at a patent broker.

The device seemed poorly designed to Hirsch, but he quickly understood its utility in providing a surgeon an alternative to sutures and “needle and thread” stitching.

Soon Hirsch had outfitted a prototype in his basement, and in 1964, he started the fledgling United States Surgical Corporation with four employees.

Hirsch’s early innovation helped to change how surgeries were performed, and his company, would become one of Connecticut’s most successful "start-ups” ever.

More than four decades later the “company” has stitched together its accumulated knowledge of Minimally Invasive Surgery MIS, [entering the body cavity through small incisions or even existing orifices], with advanced engineering, electronics and manufacturing techniques.  

Today’s innovation is an entirely new device with the introduction of a new generation of surgical stapler – The Signia (TM) Stapling System, built by the successor company Medtronic.

bio rez landing cover image 4NEW HAVEN: Biorez Inc  a privately owned biomedical company formerly known as Soft Tissue Regeneration, Inc., received  a $1.5 million investment following preliminary results of what it says is the “first in-human study of its novel implant for anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) reconstruction “


Keith M. Phaneuf, CTMirror.org

Lawmakers set aside partisanship to back bioscience industry

While partisan politics has bogged down many state legislative debates, Democratic and Republican leaders announced Tuesday they can agree on how to better support and plan the growth of Connecticut’s bioscience industry.

Top leaders in the Senate and on the Commerce Committee highlighted three bills that develop a strategy to elevate Connecticut to a national leader in biomedical research.

“Connecticut is locked in a global competition to create good-paying jobs and support high-growth industries,” Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff, D-Norwalk, said. “… Connecticut possesses all of the ingredients to capitalize on the exponential growth that is set to occur in precision medicine and biomedical research.”

“We have an incredible workforce in our state and Connecticut should always be looking at new ways to support those workers and to grow new job opportunities,” said Senate Republican President Pro Tem Len Fasano of North Haven. “Proposals to bring to light more information and oversight are certainly ideas that lawmakers on both sides of the aisle can come together on.”

All three of the bills highlighted Tuesday passed with strong bipartisan support on the Commerce Committee. That was aided by the fact that none of them require major state expenditures.

“This is low-cost/no-cost,” said Sen. Joan Hartley of Waterbury, the Senate Democratic chair on the committee.

One measure requires Connecticut to evaluate and strengthen its workforce to better meet the needs of the bioscience and precision medicine sector.

Lawmakers said the demand for these jobs is growing at: The Yale Center for Genomic Analysis in New Haven; The Jackson Laboratory and the University of Connecticut Health Center, both in Farmington; Mount Sinai Genetic Testing Laboratory in Branford; and at hospitals and insurance companies statewide.

A second measure would establish criteria and metrics to determine the effectiveness of state dollars used to support this sector of the economy.

And the third would provide for the continued work of the Connecticut Health Data Collaborative. This network of public and private groups was created by legislation last year to strengthen links between existing institutions in the state. It outlined goals including establishing a Connecticut Center for Genomic Medicine, establishing a more formal way to coordinate efforts and foster public-private partnerships, and identifying and addressing workforce gaps and needs.

bellNEW HAVEN: Leonard Bell Co-founded Alexion Pharmaceuticals [Nasdaq: Alxn] in 1992 in a small lab in New Havens’ Science Park  with Stephen Squinto Ph.D.  and David Keiser. Today as Bell announces his retirement as Chairman, [ he retired as CEO in April of 2015] the company has a market capitalization of $29 billion and occupies the signature building in downtown New Haven housing more than 1,000 employees.  Keiser retired as president in 2008 as president and Squinto as Executive VP in 2014.

Dr. Bell's  efforts were first covered in Business New Haven in 1994 and he was recognized as a greater New Haven Healthcare Hero in 2011. Bell said of his departure and the future, “I am incredibly proud of all that we have achieved over the past 25 years, and I have great confidence in the future of the company.. I am very much looking forward to spending increasing time with my family, and also exploring new and different opportunities.”

Alexion drug development has been toward rare diseases, but it still has been among the fastest growing and most successful start ups in Connecticut history. In 2008 when Keiser retired, Alexion had sales of $76 million, 2016 sales were $3.1 billion. As CEO, Bell engineered two major acquisitions in 2015 to diversify the company’s drug pipeline, totalling nearly $10 billion dollars in purchase costs, a gamble on two drugs that had not received final FDA approval.

[see The Future is Suddenly Uncertain and The News is Not Completely Good  ] the drugs Strensiq and Kanuma did receive approvals and while reportedly off to a slow start, are expected to eventually produce sales of more than $1.5 billion.

With a new headquarters, hefty profits, and more than $3 billion in sales, 2016 was to be the best year ever as Bell contemplated his retirement. A controversy and an internal investigation in November, led to questions about financial controls and the resignation of the company’s CEO and CFO.

In response to the allegation and investigations, Alexion stock began to tank and two class action lawsuits were filed.  By early January the company had an interim CEO, David Brennan a board member and former CEO of Pharma giant AstraZeneca  and it satisfied itself no material effect were caused by the shortcomings.

Before founding Alexion, Bell was an attending physician at Yale-New Haven Hospital and assistant professor of Medicine and Pathology at the Yale University School of Medicine. Bell’s current stock ownership of the company has a value of approximately $50 million.

CT aims to compete in precision medicine. What will it take?

By, Arielle Levin Becker, CTmirror.org

HARTFORD: Connecticut has the potential to become a national leader in the growing field of precision medicine, which aims to tailor disease prevention and medical treatment to individuals’ unique genetic code, environment and experiences, scientists and industry officials told a state economic competitiveness panel Friday.

But that potential comes with caveats, several said: Connecticut is far from alone in seeking to be a top player in the field. Other states have put money into supporting the field, and Connecticut must too, some researchers said.

drpeter bowers anthem Alpern Robert wks YaleNews McGee Joe Fairfield Business council 2014 Dr Murat Gunel
Dr. Peter Bowers, Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield Dr. Robert Alpern, Yale School of Medicine  Joe McGee, Fairfield County Business Council Dr. Mural Gunel, Yale Center of Genomic Analysis

“This opportunity is huge from an economic perspective. I think the question is whether Connecticut wants to play,” Dr. Peter Bowers, chief medical officer at Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield, told members of the Connecticut Commission on Economic Competitiveness and the legislature’s Commerce Committee Friday.

During the meeting at the Legislative Office Building in Hartford, commission members wrestled with issues including Connecticut’s ability to compete and whether there’s a role for people without college degrees in a field based on advanced science and medicine.


Genetic risk of autism spectrum disorder linked to evolutionary brain benefit

By Bill Hathaway

New Haven: Genetic variants linked to autism spectrum disorders (ASD) may have been positively selected during human evolution because they also contribute to enhanced cognition, a new Yale study suggests.

A study based on a genome-wide association study of ASD conducted by the Psychiatric Genomics Consortium and information regarding evolutionary gene selection showed that inherited variants linked to ASD were found under positive selection in larger numbers than would have been expected by chance.

The final version of the paper was published Feb. 27 in the journal PLOS Genetics.   

By, Mitchell Young

NEW HAVEN: When a company reports organic revenue growth of 18.6% year over year, hats typically get tipped to the company, all over Wall Street.
New Haven’s Alexion Pharmaceuticals [ NASDAQ: ALXN] did just that and more, its fourth quarter income was up substantially, from $67 million to $93 million. That’s real money, in anyone’s book, but there remain Alexion doubters still.

Alexion logo colorOnly a couple of months back the company parted ways with its CEO David Hallal and CFO Vikhas Sinha and installed an interim CEO, David Brennan a board member and former CEO of Astra Zeneca.