IDG Supports Healthcare AI Applications

If you have an idea for improving healthcare in the field of artificial intelligence (AI), data science, cognitive computation, or machine learning that has the potential to turn into a commercial project, the organizers of the Innovation Discovery Grants Program (IDG) want to hear from you.

Now in its third year, the IDG awards will provide funding for proof-of-concept and validation studies for ideas that have the potential for commercialization. A total of 10 projects will be funded in 2018 for up to $50,000 each, inclusive of 15 percent indirect costs.

Pre-proposals are due on September 25th and will be evaluated on a variety of factors, including the potential healthcare impact of the idea, the probability of meeting milestones during the award period, the likelihood that achieving the endpoints would lead to further development (either by creating a spinoff company or partnering with industry), and the potential for attracting further investment.

Since AI is a relatively new term in the field of biomedical research, the IDG team is anticipating receiving a lot of questions from applicants, says Lesley Watts, who manages IDG program. The good news is that the field is fairly broad.

If you’re not sure if your idea falls into one of these fields—or if it is far enough along to seek grant funding—it is still a good idea to reach out, says Watts.

Watts, who is part of the Partners Innovation team, has compiled a list of contacts that members of the Partners HealthCare community can access to discuss their ideas and identify possible next steps.

“We included all the resources that investigators could turn to and say, ‘I know there is a good idea in here—I just don’t know what to do with it or how to make it into a reality.’”

The listing includes representatives from seven centers in the Partners HealthCare system with expertise in AI and machine learning as well as individual subject matter experts who can serve as a first point of contact.
“Reach out and access these resources,” Watts says. “Whether or not your idea turns into an IDG grant or a full application, it can start a conversation and point you in the right direction.”

“There are all kinds of different takes on it. We expect radiology and pathology to be well-represented among the applicants, but we have people from psychology and technicians who are planning to apply.”

Watts says the IDG Program has rated very highly with the investigators who have participated in it over the past two years. During two earlier rounds of the IDG Program, $2M dollars was awarded to 30 promising projects. More than 550 initial proposals were submitted in prior rounds.

For more information about the IDG program and to access AI resources, please visit

Innovation Discovery Grant Winners Detail the Benefits of the Program

Previous recipients of Innovation Discovery Grant (IDG) awards say the program not only helped them move projects from their lab closer to the clinic, it also helped them build valuable connections to members of the biotech, venture capital and commercialization fields.

Howard Weiner, MD, the co-director of the Ann Romney Center for Neurologic Diseases at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, received a 2016 IDG grant to support an innovative new approach to immuno-oncology that was developed based on insights his laboratory team had while developing strategies to fight multiple sclerosis.

In 2016, a new company, Tilos Therapeutics, was launched as a spinoff of the Partners Innovation Fund to continue developing new therapies for cancer patients based on the approach developed by Dr. Weiner and his team.

“Because of the IDG program, we were able to prepare our findings for translation to the clinic,” Weiner says. “I would strongly recommend any investigator wanting to develop an innovative finding they have to apply for an IDG grant.”

Lynn Bry, MD, PhD, Director of the Massachusetts Host Microbiome Center in the Department of Pathology at BWH, also received an IDG award in 2016, which she used to fund confirmatory research on the use of therapeutic microbes for the treatment of food allergies.

Bry and her team are developing beneficial bacteria that could help to prevent food allergies from developing in infants, and stop allergic reactions in adults. They have formed a company, Consortia Therapeutics, to bring their therapies to market.

The IDG program also gave Bry a platform to promote the team’s work to investors and potential collaborators, including the Partners Innovation Board of Advisors, the Partners Healthcare Board of Trustees, and the BWH Board of Overseers. It also helped her to pursue other sources of funding.

“There are a wealth of resources in Massachusetts alone that can help get new ideas to commercial application,” she says. “Per my role as Director of the Massachusetts Host-Microbiome Center, we received a $5M capital grant from the Massachusetts Life Sciences Center (MLSC) in 2015 to expand microbiome resources in the state.”

Bry encourages investigators interested to commercialization to consider the broad applications of their work, not only in Partners HealthCare, but in other settings as well.

“Commercializing a new idea requires thinking about things in ways that differ from how you would write a grant or manuscript for publication. Be open to pursuing different methods of funding an idea and working with individuals who have expertise in areas outside of basic or clinical research.”