Zuckers put $5M into fueling bright ideas at MUSC

Chief Operating Officer for The Zucker Institute for Applied Neurosciences, Ted Bird, holds the minimally invasive spine surgery product called Sinu-Lok. It is the first product developed through the new institute.

Anita Zucker and her son, Jonathan Zucker, have donated $5 million to fund an idea incubator at the Medical University of South Carolina.

The Zucker Institute of Applied Neurosciences at MUSC will allow doctors, nurses, students and staff to pitch ideas for new drugs or medical devices. The institute will vet their proposals and see some of them through the complex process from idea to operating room.

“Each of us has an obligation to make the world a better place,” Anita Zucker told an auditorium full of MUSC leaders and supporters on Wednesday. “As a family, that is something we greatly believe in ... I feel so blessed that we as a family can invest in things that really, really, really change people’s lives.”

Ted Bird was hired from the private medical device industry as the chief operating officer for the new institute. He said their first product — a device called Sinu-Lok — will simplify and improve minimally invasive spinal surgery. Sinu-Lok is patented and should be introduced to market late this year.

Jonathan Zucker said his family’s financial gift was born of personal tragedy. His father, the late Jerry Zucker, who was founder of The Intertech Group Inc., was diagnosed with a brain tumor in 2007.

“When it came to treating himself, my father would try anything he could get his hands on,” Jonathan Zucker said.

But that wasn’t always possible. The lengthy vetting process for promising new medical devices or drugs tends to stymie some good ideas, he said. So the Zucker family decided they wanted to finance a way to accelerate the development of new technology.

“We have a lot of new ideas, a lot of problems we face and we don’t know how to quickly resolve these questions that we have and bring answers to the patients,” said Dr. Sunil Patel, one of the institute’s founders. Patel developed a close relationship with Jerry Zucker both before and after he was diagnosed with cancer.

“Ninety-nine percent of our ideas never even hit a piece of paper,” Patel said. “(The institute) is very rare, very unusual ... where you can have engineers, business people, patent experts and everybody in one room with the inventor and help them develop and accelerate their concept very, very quickly to become marketable ideas and bring them to the patient.”

Products developed through the institute will eventually become mini-businesses on their own, with budgets and timelines. MUSC leaders hope the institute will become self-sustaining, even generating revenue one day for the university and its investors.

“This is a very innovative way of doing research,” Patel said.

Reach Lauren Sausser at 843-937-5598.

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