Parker Hannifin Corp. has become a key partner in the Cleveland Clinic's effort to develop new medical devices.
The two massive organizations quietly have been working to develop dozens of new products over the past several years, and now two of those devices are on the brink of hitting the market.
About a dozen more devices are close behind, according to Sam Kiderman, director of new ventures for Cleveland Clinic Innovations, the business development arm of the hospital system.
“Many, many more technologies are in the pipeline,” he said.
Now Cleveland Clinic Innovations is talking to other local corporations about forming similar partnerships, according to Kiderman.
He wouldn't identify them. However, he noted that it would make sense for the Clinic — which has commercialized a long list of medical technologies since the turn of the century — to work with a company that specializes in chemistry and material science. That knowledge could complement Parker Hannifin's expertise, which relates to industrial technology and manufacturing.
“We're going to have more collaborators,” Kiderman said, noting that some products might be developed by “Cleveland Clinic, Parker Hannifin and somebody else.”
For its part, Parker Hannifin has been aiming to develop more medical products ever since the Mayfield Heights-based company introduced its “Winovation” program in 2005. One of the goals of that initiative was to attract product ideas from people who don't work in research and development. And from people who don't even work at Parker Hannifin.
So getting into the life sciences business meant getting to know some doctors — the people in the best position to spot problems that existing medical devices have failed to solve.
The Cleveland Clinic and Parker Hannifin have been working behind the scenes to develop all sorts of new medical devices. Here are two that are about to hit the market:
• The Navis Torquer: This is essentially a handle that surgeons hold as they move guidewires through the body of a patient (a procedure often used on patients who need stents or some other cardiac intervention). However, most torquers have to be fed onto the end of the guidewire. The Navis Torquer has a slot down the middle; thus, it can be attached or removed at any point along the wire.
The device has a polycarbonate cylindrical body and an acetal cap.
• Flexible endoscopic sheath: This sheath is designed to make sure that the endoscope inside remains sterile. The sheath houses the endoscope, a tube equipped with a camera that lets the doctor see inside a patient's body, in a vacuum. And the sheath is designed in such a way that the surgeon will know if the vacuum is compromised — which means the sterility of the endoscope has been compromised. The sheath also contains a clear material on one end intended to help the endoscope produce better images.
The relationship got started in 2007, when executives from Parker Hannifin's Parflex hose and tubing division in Ravenna, Ohio, reached out to Cleveland Clinic Innovations. Soon, officials from both organizations were meeting at least once a month to brainstorm ideas for new products and figure out how to commercialize them.
Plus, Parker Hannifin employees started sitting in on surgeries. A group of more than 20 employees visited the Clinic regularly over the course of four months, often donning scrubs at 6 a.m. and sticking around all day. They sometimes spent hours talking to surgeons after they had finished their procedures.
All that brainstorming produced more than 100 ideas. And new ones are still being created, because the group still meets regularly.
“After each one of these meetings or presentations, we have dozens and dozens of ideas,” Kiderman said.
When Cleveland Clinic doctors come up with ideas for new devices, they often need help turning those ideas into products. That role traditionally has been filled by engineers who work for the Cleveland Clinic's Medical Device Solutions group.
But engineers from Parker Hannifin bring a different perspective, according to Pete Buca, vice president of innovation and technology within the fluid connectors group at Parker Hannifin. They've spent years developing technologies designed to solve industrial problems. And sometimes those concepts can be used to develop better medical devices.
“We actually had solved these problems before, in industrial settings,” Buca said.
The partnership also solves a broader problem that innovative physicians have always faced: Doctors often are the ones who come up with ideas for new medical devices, but they're busy people. Sometimes too busy to pursue those ideas.
Engineers from Parker Hannifin can help them out, according to Dale Ashby, vice president of technology and innovation in the company's engineered materials group.
“They have an idea, but they can't go home and work on it because they have to do another surgery,” he said.
If the Clinic and Parker Hannifin develop a product together, both organizations stand to benefit. In many cases, both organizations would take ownership of the technology. Sometimes Parker Hannifin would end up manufacturing the products.
For instance, the company helped the Clinic develop a new sheath designed to protect endoscopes — long tubes that often are equipped with cameras that let doctors see inside a patient's body. Parker Hannifin is slated to manufacture the sheath at one of its existing plants and sell it to a medical device company, starting this fall, Ashby said. The Clinic would receive royalties from any sales.
Clinic surgeons identified the need for a better sheath, so Parker Hannifin helped the Clinic develop one: The new sheath is designed so that surgeons can tell whether the sterility of the endoscope inside the sheath has been compromised. The sheath also contains a clear material on one end that is intended to help the endoscope produce better images.
Parker Hannifin also plans to manufacture another device called the Navis Torquer. The device works like a handle that surgeons use to manipulate guidewires that they weave through the body during operations.
What makes the device stand out? It's designed so that it's easy for surgeons to attach it to the guidewire and remove it: The Navis Torquer has a slot down the side, allowing surgeons to clamp it onto any part of the guidewire, instead of feeding the device onto the end of the wire.
The device has been tested at 100 hospitals in Ohio. Parker Hannifin helped refine early prototypes of the Navis Torquer that were created by Clinic doctors and a company called Windcrest LLC, which still owns a portion of the technology.
Parker Hannifin is good at taking a basic idea and turning it into a product that is ready for the assembly line, according to Kiderman, of Cleveland Clinic Innovations.
But without the Clinic, Parker Hannifin would've had a tough time finding medical problems worth solving, according to Buca.
“If we would have approached life sciences like a conventional industrial business, we would have failed miserably,” he said.