One thing was clear, from the opening keynote to the final session, after a unique gathering of North Carolina business and Pentagon procurement leaders: The military is actively seeking private-sector partners to support the health and healing of U.S. warfighters and their families.

That’s the upshot from the Medical, Biomedical, & Biodefense: Support to the Warfighter symposium at the Friday Center in Chapel Hill this week. The North Carolina Biotechnology Center’s Bio Defense initiative and numerous other sponsors helped the North Carolina Military Business Center develop the program.

Vice Admiral Raquel Bono, director, Defense Health Agency (DHA), Defense Health Headquarters, Falls Church, VA, provided the opening keynote address. “We are looking for opportunities to increase our partnering with corporations and others in the private sector,” she said.

Bono leads a joint, integrated combat support agency enabling the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps medical services to provide a medically ready force and ready medical force to combatant commands in both peacetime and wartime.

The DHA directs the execution of ten joint shared services to include the health plan (TRICARE), pharmacy, health Information technology, research & acquisition, education & training, public health, medical logistics, facility management, budget resource management, and contracting.

The TRICARE Health Plan provides worldwide medical, dental and pharmacy programs to more than 9.4 million uniformed service members, retirees and their families.

“Partners are essential to everything we do,” said Bono. “Partners help us provide better integrated care, deliver new, innovative capabilities, improve our efficiency, reduce costs, increase access and enhance the quality of care.”

Outlines partnering opportunities

Bono said some of the best opportunities for partnering include:

  • Health information technology: Both innovative and adopting and adapting commercial processes.
  • Security: “We’re very aware that medical information is seen as exploitable,” Bono said, citing recent ransomeware attacks on hospitals.
  • R&D and medical logistics: “We are very much looking for what we can adopt,” Bono said. “You can be in an ICU (Intensive Care Unit) and have ten medical devices that don’t talk to each other. We’re looking for solutions.”
  • Medical devices: “We’re looking for medical devices with a security profile that allows us to put it easily on our network,” Bono said.
  • Training and education: “We need to create training scenarios and simulations that are realistic,” Bono said. That includes imagining future battlefield conditions. “We have to figure out what we need to do in delivering healthcare in whatever the future battle space looks like.” That includes taking advantage of emerging technologies such as unmanned vehicles, recovery and transport, robotics and communications.
  • Biodefense: The military’s interest in combating infectious diseases dates to the time of George Washington and smallpox vaccinations, Bono noted, and includes the well-known story of Walter Reed and his battle against Yellow Fever. Today it seeks vaccines and defenses against the Ebola and Zika viruses, future pandemics, and potential bio-weapons.

Logistics, AI, weather data among other needs

Other areas of interest, Bono said, involve managing patient movement and ways to use artificial intelligence to augment the understanding of data that include not only health information but also weather, social media and other sources.

“Creativity, innovation and out-of-the-box thinking are what we’re seeking,” Bono said. “Our ability to continue to serve our military to the best of our ability rests on how well we find solutions outside the military and incorporate them.”

In search of partners, the military holds an annual Military Health System Research Symposium. There, potential private sector and academic partners submit a 10-page idea subjected to a “Shark Tank” competition, although the 2017 deadline for submissions has passed.

(C) N.C. Biotech Center