Diagnostics & Imaging Week Associate

Medical Alley/MNBIO (St. Louis Park, Minnesota), the 21-year-old organization committed to promoting the medical sciences in the state of Minnesota, declared the next step in its evolution last week by formally changing its name and broadening its core focus to include the more diverse term "life sciences."

The organization is now LifeScience Alley, saying the change is designed to highlight the organization's ever-expanding role in support of its work to help member organizations succeed. It comes as a result of the merger between Medical Alley and MNBIO in early 2005.

According to Don Gerhardt, president and CEO of Lifescience Alley, since the merger with MNBIO, the organization's members now include medical device and equipment manufacturers, medical technology, bioscience and pharmaceutical organizations, health plans, insurers, hospitals and clinics.

While there was some concern about changing the name of an organization with the long history of Medical Alley, Gerhardt told Diagnostics & Imaging Week that in conversations with members, "we figured out that the real thing with the old Medical Alley identity was the 'Alley' part. Translating to LifeScience Alley and then being very open about enabling the business success for this broad-based [industry] of life sciences wasn't a stretch."

While Gerhardt said the mixing together of med-tech and life science-related technologies makes it increasingly difficult to separate them out into percentages of the organization's total representation, he estimated that the "old connotation of med-tech" still represents about 65% to 70% of the organization's constituency.

However, as an illustration of the blurring of the two disciplines, he pointed out that the 40 of the companies that Lifescience Alley represents were members of both Medical Alley and MNBIO prior to the merger.

The name change came about as a requisite for the merger between the two organizations to take place, according to Gerhardt.

"As we put the two organizations together, we agreed that we would use the Medical Alley/MNBIO name but that there would be a [name change] inside of 24 months. We did it right at 12 months … it was hard work"

To get the word out about the name change and what it means, Liz Rammer, vice president of marketing and communications for LifeScience Alley, told D&IW that the organization is doing an e-mail campaign, sending out a post card to everyone on its database, as well as archiving a webcast that explains the rationale for the name change.

While there was some small amount of pushback about the name change, Gerhardt said he was surprised by the overwhelming support the initiative received.

"[Members] know that we're not going to decrease the offerings; we're in fact going to increase the values added for the old human health side and increase the biotech side."

Rammer noted that the name change process was spearheaded by a committee of the organization's board of directors, "half from MNBIO and half from Medical Alley . . . and we had a unanimous vote by our board for the new name."

The name change also represents the increasing spirit of cooperation between the different healthcare disciplines, and Gerhardt said he has seen more interaction between the groups. "We're for sure seeing it at the board level and then at the other kind of decision maker level. We're [particularly] seeing the interaction of small companies between the biotech and med-tech groups."

LifeScience Alley is comprised of more than 500 members from a wide array of organizations and employing more than 250,000 people in Minnesota alone. It said it also will work to expand its regional impact to Canada, Wisconsin, Iowa, Illinois and North and South Dakota in an effort to strengthen cross-border collaboration in the life sciences.

"We are committed to acting, partnering and strengthening the business climate for the life sciences in Minnesota and surrounding region to compete on a global scale," said Gerhardt. "As our new tagline suggests, we are 'coming together to collaborate, innovate and succeed.'"

"There's really no other organization quite like this in the world, and this presents our members with a powerful opportunity to access expertise and information from diverse resources," he said.