Just over a year into its existence, a new research institute at Roper St. Francis Healthcare is reeling in its first big catch: An Israeli biotech company will sign a lease this month to establish headquarters in Charleston.
The first task of the company, NeuroQuest, will be finding a way to diagnose Alzheimer's Disease early with blood tests.
Roper's Clinical Biotechnology Research Institute (CBRI), established in March 2013, takes up part of the fifth floor of Pettit Tower on the hospital's downtown campus. According to Dr. Jacobo Mintzer, executive director of CBRI, the institute connects patient care with clinical research. This means that patients in the Roper healthcare system can seek out cutting-edge treatments, and companies and doctors with new ideas can test them out at Roper.
"The only condition we request from the company is that they will have a promising approach and that they will agree to establish their headquarters in Charleston," Mintzer says.
Mintzer's last job was at the Medical University of South Carolina, the Charleston hospital better known for its medical research. He worked at MUSC for 21 years, ending his time there as the chair for clinical research in the Department of Neuroscience. He says he was lured across the street to Roper by the chance to pursue new ideas with doctors, patients, and engineers. "We are scouting new techniques. We meet literally every week to discuss with a company or different group about an idea and decide whether we're going to move forward," Mintzer says.
Mintzer, a native of Argentina, completed a medical residency at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, where he studied cellular processes and Alzheimer's disease. His Israeli connection came in handy when he started working at Roper, helping to establish a collaborative partnership with the Israeli company Trendlines Labs.
Through that partnership, he learned about an Israeli professor named Michal Schwartz, whose company, NeuroQuest, was working on new methods of diagnosis and treatment for Alzheimer's Disease. "Her work was stalled because she didn't have the resources to move from animals to humans. So we did an evaluation of the science, and we decided that it was a promising approach," Mintzer says.
After that, Mintzer and CBRI sought out capital to fund the research, eventually getting it from the InterTech Group, MUSC, the S.C. Research Authority, Clemson University, the University of South Carolina, and the American-Israel Chamber of Commerce Southeast Region.
Mintzer says CBRI will continue seeking out new ideas in the areas of genetic disorders, oncology, cardiovascular disease, and HIV/AIDS. But not all of the ideas will come from outside the hospital.
Recently, he says, a doctor in the Roper St. Francis system noticed that the regular method for delivering medication to patients who are on respirators was cumbersome. The doctor came up with an idea to use computers to run the process and remove the possibility of human error. Mintzer is vague in describing the details (the process has been patented, he says), but he says the idea shows promise.
"The whole idea is to use research to better treatment of patients, but also to bring new jobs and opportunities to the area," Mintzer says. "So hopefully when somebody graduates from one of our universities, they won't need to go to another place in the world to exercise what they learned. They will have all the opportunities they need here in Charleston."