David Spencer (left) and Dr. George Peoples speak about collaboration between the local entrepreneur community and the U.S. military at the InnoTech Conference. Credit: JJ Velasquez / San Antonio Report

The local health care industry is looking to open channels of collaboration among medical professionals, tech entrepreneurs, the military, and academics to create world-class health technology offerings in San Antonio, panelists at a symposium on the subject said Thursday.

InnoTech, a business and technology innovation conference, hosted a symposium on emerging medical technologies during which a common thread emerged in the day’s lineup of panels: Barriers to creative partnerships exist in San Antonio between key communities, but if some of those barriers can be removed, there is tremendous opportunity on which the city can capitalize.

David Spencer, CEO of local medical device company Prytime, spoke during the panel on collaborations between the medical technology industry and the U.S. Department of Defense. He said part of the problem is the absence of venues for what he called “creative collisions,” such as co-working space Geekdom, which bring together people of varying backgrounds to form entrepreneurial teams.

“The profound impact Geekdom has had on this community is it creates an environment for creative collision,” Spencer said. “We profoundly lack that [in the medical technology space]. How do you interact with military folk? You can’t get on base. They can’t take time off to get off base. That’s a challenge – it’s a big challenge.”

San Antonio is well-positioned for partnerships between the health care industry and the military, said Spencer and co-panelist Dr. George Peoples, a retired military surgeon and researcher.

With the presence of a large community of retired military personnel and facilities such as the U.S. Army Institute of Surgical Research, entrepreneurs in the area have a deep well to draw from, but bringing the technologies it develops into civilian society is not the military’s role, Peoples said.

“The civilian world has a way of absorbing these concepts, but then they’re left with, ‘How do we make use of these things?’” he said. “And that is the delay that occurs because now the civilian world is trying to replicate what the military is doing.

“The shortest answer here is to figure out how to get it out of the military sooner. Put it in the hands of the people that can advance it.”

Although military innovation in health care can be opaque, Peoples said, it is happening. He reminded audience members that military physicians treat not only soldiers but also their families, and they provide a full spectrum of health care from birth to death.

Peoples is the CEO of Cancer Insight, which runs clinical trials on cancer immunotherapy.

Because the military aims to protect its soldiers from nuclear, biological, and chemical warfare, Peoples said, it has studied how the human body responds to radiation exposure, which can translate into advancements for treating cancer in the civilian world.

“Even though the military won’t say they’re cancer researchers, they’re doing it,” he said. “There is a phenomenal number of areas that have had significant innovations within the military that could be exploited [in a beneficial way]. Take that idea and run with it.”

At a session on the state of health care innovation in San Antonio, stakeholders spoke about the city’s assets and the opportunities to commercialize research that is happening at institutions of higher learning, such as the University of Texas at San Antonio and UT Health San Antonio.

Peoples suggested having a liaison between the military and entrepreneur communities could be a way to establish links so that further innovation and commercialization can happen.

“We have the innovators here, the facilities are here,” he said. “Now the challenge among us is: ‘How do we figure out how to make the system work and be efficient?’”

JJ Velasquez

JJ Velasquez

JJ Velasquez is a columnist at the San Antonio Report. A former reporter and editor at the SA Report, he currently works as a project manager for New York City-based Advance Local.