West Wireless Health Institute Distances Itself from Qualcomm, Seeks to Recast its Role

4/21/11Follow @bvbigelow

When the West Wireless Health Institute named Don Casey as its first CEO last year, the San Diego nonprofit said the former Johnson & Johnson executive was hired to drive development of the institute as “a world-class research organization focused on accelerating wireless health innovations, technology incubation, advocacy and education.”

Today the institute is describing its mission differently. Instead of working to “accelerate wireless health innovations” (as an end in itself), the institute has a more pronounced mission to lower the cost of healthcare. Casey says the difference does not reflect a change in the institute’s core strategy as a catalyst for innovation—but rather a shift in emphasis.

The distinction is crucial, though, because it reflects how the institute has struggled through key personnel moves and other internal changes—including a move to distance itself from Qualcomm—in an effort to redefine its prime directive.

By shedding some commercial initiatives and overt industry ties, the institute has sought to recast itself as what Casey calls an independent and “honest broker” for events like the all-day conference on “Health Care Innovation” that the institute is hosting in Washington D.C. on April 28. In organizing the conference as a free and open event, the institute has refined its identity and adopted a new role for itself among government policy makers, regulators, strategic leaders, business development executives, and technology specialists who have an interest in health care and wireless innovation.

Don Casey

As part of its struggle—or “evolution,” as Casey prefers to put it—the institute has moved to distance itself from San Diego-based Qualcomm (NASDAQ: QCOM). So the institute no longer refers to the world’s biggest wireless chipmaker as “a founding sponsor.” Likewise, Qualcomm Vice President Don Jones, who heads Qualcomm’s initiatives in wireless health and life sciences, resigned last year from the institute as “a founding board member,” and Qualcomm no longer has a seat in the institute’s boardroom.

“When we were talking to policy makers in Washington, there was a concern that [the institute] looks like a creature of Qualcomm,” Casey said. “And as such, with [Qualcomm CEO] Paul Jacobs’ absolute blessing, we said we’re going to shift Qualcomm off our board and we’re going to be … Next Page »

Bruce V. Bigelow is the editor of Xconomy San Diego. You can e-mail him at bbigelow@xconomy.com or call (619) 669-8788 Follow @bvbigelow

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