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MHT 01-25-08


Friday, January 25, 2008

Mass High Tech: The Journal of New England Technology - by Brendan Lynch Mass High Tech

Local medical device startups may soon find a starter home at the University of Massachusetts Lowell.

The Massachusetts Medical Device Development Center is renovating UMass Lowell's Institute for Plastics Innovation building into its new headquarters. The building is expected to be ready by June, and to serve as a temporary headquarters to startups M2D2 incubates, said co-director Stephen McCarthy.

Plans for the new building include offices as well as a prototyping lab, analytical lab, machine shop, clinical product assembly, project lab, project management center and a room for plastics processing. McCarthy said M2D2's former headquarters held offices only, with no labs or manufacturing facilities that startups need to support growth.

"They need some designs and ideas, but they really need an actual device that works," he said.

The renovations will cost an estimated $10.5 million, McCarthy said. UMass Lowell has already committed $4.5 million, and McCarthy said M2D2 hopes to get $4 million allocated from Gov. Deval Patrick's not-yet-approved $1 billion life sciences initiative, and $2.5 million to $3 million from private donors or the federal government.

Among the first that may benefit from the new facility are five companies in M2D2's evaluation process. Boston-based BosteQ Inc. developed both a vibrating sock and belt that alert a wearer who is about to fall. Springfield's Oz Technologies has developed a user-friendly device for women's pelvic support. Waltham's Simplicity Orthopedic Solutions LLC has developed a fixation device for broken bones. And Vista Scientific LLC of Andover is developing a contact lens able to release drugs into the eye. "They have an idea, and they're trying to make a go of it," said McCarthy. "It would be nice if they grew in Massachusetts."

Another benefit of the new space will be getting medical people and businesspeople under the same roof, according to Hooks Johnston, chair of M2D2's steering committee. "Communication is critical for early development," he said.

The new building will also offer UMass Lowell students the opportunity to work with the entrepreneurs. "They'll be more experienced," said McCarthy. "They'll have developed real products instead of just learning from a book."

Meanwhile, UMass Medical School and the UMass Memorial Medical Center in Worcester are planning to open a six-to-eight-bed inpatient clinical research facility by this summer, according to Sheila Noone, director of clinical research at UMass Medical and co-director of M2D2.

To fund the renovation of an existing building, Noone said the institutions are applying for a Clinical and Translational Science Award grant from the National Institute of Health, which she expects to total about $4 million a year over five years. Having a dedicated inpatient clinical facility should help the institutions' research, Noone said. And it will also encourage collaboration, she said.

"We need to have people at the bedside and people at the lab come together," she said.

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