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February 21, 2013

Intramural Hopkins Team Wins Biotech Competition

So a public health professional, an engineer, a doctor, a businessman and an economist walk into a case competition.

Although they hailed from different backgrounds and professional interests, all the Hopkins team members were either international students or had international experience. Representing the Bloomberg School of Public Health, the Carey Business School and the Whiting School of Engineering, this five-person team impressed the judges at the recent Wake Forest University Biotechnology Case Competition.

Eight teams–from the University of Florida to the University of California San Diego–competed in the annual contest. This year’s challenge was to develop a business strategy for Boston Scientific, one of the competition’s sponsors, to launch a real product—for kidney stone management—in a very challenging market—China. The company will use ideas from the competition in its actual product launch.

"We are so glad that we represented Hopkins well," said Kyung Min (Minnie) Song, MD, a combined MPH/MBA candidate with the Bloomberg School and the Carey School’s Global MBA program. Song is from South Korea and knows Chinese, and her teammate Nicolae Done from Rumania has done comparative international research on health systems and outcomes. The team’s captain, Kalyan Kanakamedala, is a research assistant at the Center for Alcohol Marketing and Youth, where he is analyzing online marketing techniques used to build brand recognition among underage drinkers.

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Pictured from left to right are Robin Kabir, MBA candidate, Carey School; Michelle Zwernemann, MSE candidate, Whiting School; Kalyan Kanakamedala, team captain, combined MPH/MBA candidate, Bloomberg School/Carey School; Nicolae Done, PhD in Health Economics and Policy candidate, Bloomberg School; and Kyung Min Song, MD, combined MPH/MBA candidate, Bloomberg School/Carey School.

With only one week advance notice, the team first focused on the specific needs of the target market—known as “segmenting the market,” in business terms. The company would have to assess its product’s business risks in China’s regulatory market and adapt to the country’s regulatory environment. One major hurdle was to introduce a new disposable medical product that had never been used in China, a resource-scarce society where doctors commonly reuse health technology and patients are restricted from suing for medical errors or product liability. The Hopkins team advised Boston Scientific that the best strategy was to generate evidence from within China that reuse was harmful, and then work to generate support for disposable products from the whole biotech industry.

In the end, it was the Hopkins team’s public health perspective that gave them the edge. The three JHSPH members are taking a course together this semester in Spatial Analysis and Geographic Information Systems (GIS). They used epidemiological methods and GIS software to map 100 Chinese hospitals for the case and demonstrate how geographic and economic variations in factors such as hospital access, regulation and reimbursement would affect the new product’s success in China’s multi-layered bureaucracy.

The winning strategy proposed a phased roll-out, first in large, big-city hospitals where kidney stone procedures were already common practice. After displacing existing competitors with a new product in an established market with good reimbursement practices, the company could then target smaller, more remote hospitals. The product would enable rural and small-town hospitals to offer new procedures to patients, but this would require additional capital in order to build the market.

The highly interdisciplinary Hopkins group brought diverse skills and backgrounds to the table, and even though “we sometimes disagreed a lot,” noted Done, it proved to be the right combination to secure first place and the $10,000 prize.

Photo credit: Allen Aycock.

Media contact: Tim Parsons, director of Public Affairs, at 410-955-7619 or tmparson@jhsph.edu.