Patient-focused pragmatism: The Mayo Clinic innovation model

Eye on Innovation

In a world of ever-faster technical change, Mayo Clinic Laboratories is uniquely positioned to innovate. Collaboration with clinicians pinpoints unmet patient needs and facilitates the development of diagnostic testing that provides answers.

Patient-focused pragmatism: The Mayo Clinic innovation model

In a world of ever-faster technical change, Mayo Clinic Laboratories is uniquely positioned to innovate. Collaboration with clinicians pinpoints unmet patient needs and facilitates the development of diagnostic testing that provides answers.

"The wellspring of our innovation is our integrated practice, which brings multiple specialists together to identify gaps in our knowledge of patient care," says William Morice, II, M.D., Ph.D., chair of the Department of Laboratory Medicine and Pathology at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, and president of Mayo Clinic Laboratories.

William Morice, II, M.D., Ph.D.

"Pragmatism is critical. The quality of any innovation must be proven before we offer a new test to health care providers."

The laboratory's test development paradigm has three main steps:

  • Research in basic science and clinical laboratories, to generate knowledge around a medical or scientific question
  • Innovation activities, to prototype new products and services
  • Test development, to translate a test into production

"Innovation sits squarely between the discovery of knowledge and our highly formal process to move a test into production," says Scott Beck, chief operating officer for Laboratory Service at Mayo Clinic.

"We apply a new approach that we think might solve the problem we've identified. When we have a successful prototype, our success rate at test development is about 95%. Innovation is what bridges the translational chasm."

That commitment to patient-focused, pragmatic innovation underlies the laboratory's ability to provide testing that meets patients' needs — not only now but also in the future.

"The breadth and depth of our testing differentiates us," Dr. Morice says. "We maintain that differentiation not only by being a purveyor of standard lab tests but also through innovation that anticipates future needs."

Structured ingenuity

Innovative environments face a core challenge: how to encourage the creativity that generates new ideas while also channeling resources to truly viable efforts. Mayo Clinic's solution is the Translational Research, Innovation, and Test Development Office, or TRITDO, which links the research, innovation, and test development processes.

TRITDO solicits laboratorians and clinicians' input on unmet patient needs to identify opportunities for diagnostic innovation. Selected projects are funded and guided through the innovation process with direction on goals, metrics, and performance. Mayo Clinic's new Advanced Diagnostics Laboratory (ADL) provides a space focused on innovation where new technology and testing can be quickly evaluated.

"The ADL allows for structured interface between innovation and test development," Dr. Morice says. "Innovation, by definition, pushes boundaries. We're taking chances, and we don't expect every effort to succeed. But we learn something from every one of them. It's a data-focused and fact-based approach."

That rigor has allowed Mayo Clinic to increase overall investment in research, innovation, and testing. "Researchers doing their own things in their own labs may not have a lot of resources available," Mr. Beck says. "The needle we're threading in the ADL is giving people the flexibility to pursue their ideas while providing enough structure to ensure we can support those ideas, without the heavy hand of bureaucracy."

Recent innovations from Mayo Clinic Laboratories include the MayoComplete Solid Tumor Panel— the laboratory's most comprehensive genetic profiling assay to date — and four COVID-19 tests. That innovative strength is further evidenced by a growing list of projects with external companies, such as a three-year, $15 million collaboration with Thermo Fisher Scientific.

"Our ability to make a difference for patients is amplified through the mind share around innovation," Dr. Morice says. "Ultimately, everyone at Mayo Clinic wants to make a difference for patients."

Anticipating future needs

Perhaps the true mark of innovation is the ability to anticipate future needs — to provide something that customers aren't asking for but nevertheless provides benefit. Mayo Clinic has a record of doing so.

A prime example is Mayo Clinic's pioneering work in neuromyelitis optica, a debilitating inflammatory central nervous system condition. Led by Mayo Clinic immunologist Vanda Lennon, M.D., Ph.D., Mayo Clinic clinician-researchers identified a unique phenotype, researched its pathophysiology, discovered a biomarker, developed and subsequently refined a diagnostic test, and then partnered with industry to create FDA-approved treatments. Mayo Clinic's work helped spawn a new medical subspecialty — neuro-immunology.

"In the long run, we want to figure out the next areas where we can have a similar impact," Mr. Beck says. "Our innovation process is designed in such a way that we can identify needs our customers haven't put their fingers on yet."

"That innovation environment is critical," Dr. Morice says. "There are lots of ideas and technologies out there now. But the reality is that we want to bring into clinical use tests that provide our customers with a reliable answer — an answer that's repeated not one time but 1,000 times."

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Barbara J. Toman

Barbara J. Toman is a Senior Communications Specialist at Mayo Clinic Laboratories. She is also the science writer for Mayo’s Neurosciences Update newsletter, which helps referring physicians to stay informed about Mayo’s treatment and research. Barbara has worked at Mayo Clinic since 2007. She enjoys international travel and cooking.