This article was originally published on MedCityNews.

by Andrew Zaleski

In his role as senior VP and managing director of Safeguard Scientifics, a venture capital firm based just outside Philadelphia, Gary Kurtzman leads the firm’s healthcare investments. So he’s perhaps a bit biased when he says that Philadelphia is the “center of the healthcare universe,” as he did in a 2016 interview.

“I really hate the ‘Silicon Valley of’ characterization because we have our own character,” Kurtzman said during an interview at MedCity’s recent CONVERGE conference. “But we should be a destination for healthcare innovation.”

Leading cancer centers and hospital systems are all in and around Philadelphia. “Eds and meds,” referring to the twin titan industries of education and healthcare, is commonly how Philly’s economic prowess is described. In partnership with eight other organizations, Safeguard recently joined the Health Care Innovation Collaborative, an initiative of the CEO Council for Growth of the Chamber of Commerce for Greater Philadelphia. In MedCity’s interview with him during CONVERGE, Kurtzman talked more about the collaborative, and reiterated why Philadelphia makes a good laboratory for healthcare innovation, especially the kind that early-stage health startups are working on now.

What’s the need for a Health Care Innovation Collaborative, and what is it hoping to achieve?

If you think about the region, the potential for innovative science has been there. That’s less interesting if you really think about it. That’s going to go on regardless of whether people are going collaborate. If you really think about our region, healthcare delivery is huge, not only from an economic standpoint, but also just for the health and wellbeing of the community. We have to get that one right. How do we get together and bring stakeholders together to figure out what to do to catalyze innovation?

And I understand the focus for this particular working group is oncology, right?

The working title is Philly Cures Cancer. We need to deliver better solutions and outcomes at a lower cost. That was the idea. We can create all of the best therapies, but if we don’t deliver to the right patient and if we don’t care for that patient in the right way, we’re not going to get the best results.

We’ve been discussing precision medicine at this year’s CONVERGE. How can hospitals and cancer centers get better at determining what treatment is appropriate for patients?

Fundamentally what we can learn to do better in cancer care is the delivery of care. That’s bringing the best therapy and using the data, and then also caring for that patient. It’s not about just giving them therapy; it’s about following that patient, making sure he or she has continual access to the healthcare system, and then what happens to that patient. To me those are software tools. … One of our themes is how do you use data or machine learning or advanced computational tools to improve decision-making [in healthcare].

And there’s where Safeguard Scientifics, when it comes to healthcare, seems to focus its investments — on digital health tools. What’s the $2 million Safeguard has contributed to a bigger pot of $6 million to invest in early-stage digital health startups?

It’s a collaboration with Independence Blue Cross, Ben Franklin Technology Partners, and Safeguard. We’ll be a seed for early-stage digital health companies, $2 million from each [organization] over time. Hopefully some of those companies will filter up and become companies that Safeguard will ultimately invest in.

That seems like one more way the Philadelphia region is making itself a “destination,” as you say, for healthcare. Maybe the West Coast owns consumer tech, but the East Coast can be about healthcare technology.

Companies tend to collocate with capital, and a lot of capital is in California. But we actually have very high visibility with West Coast companies. Coming from where we come, at least we give the impression that we understand what healthcare is all about. We know healthcare’s more complicated than consumer tech. This region is a laboratory for healthcare. You can almost walk to the majority of the institutions. Maybe you can achieve the same in New York. But I do think that if you look at our economy, and what drives our economy, I think it gets back to we need to use [the healthcare sector] in a way that serves us locally.