Jonathan Brouk, Chief Operating Officer of Children’s Hospital
Kris Khalil, President of the New Orleans BioInnovation Center
Dr. Steve Nelson, Dean of LSUHSC School of Medicine
Dr. Reynold Verret, President of Xavier University of Louisiana
Marshall Redmon, Managing Partner of Phelps Dunbar LLP
In the 1960s, Charity Hospital brought researchers, doctors, nurses and patients from across the country to New Orleans. After Hurricane Katrina, the city saw massive new investments in its health care and life sciences ecosystem to regain this distinction. How are we leveraging those assets, and how do we capitalize on opportunities brought on by our latest challenge—COVID-19? Our panelists agree big things are possible, even landing a much-coveted NCI-designated cancer center in the city, if they work together efficiently.
New Orleans has been through disasters before as a community. We can band together to fight COVID-19, too. Like after Hurricane Katrina, there will be a small window of opportunity after COVID-19 to set our priorities as a community, and we need to think big.
Our panel discussed several big-picture opportunities and priorities during the Sept. 8th health care roundtable. These include:
The panelists agree that collaboration among the city’s health care institutions is crucial to achieve these objectives. Read on for a transcript of the conversation.
Note: The comments in this article and accompanying video were made on Sept. 8, 2020. This transcript has been condensed for brevity and clarity. Click here to watch the full discussion.
Marshall Redmon: Let’s start with Dr. Steve Nelson. How do you see the opportunities presented by this pandemic?
Dr. Steve Nelson: In the 1960s and 70s, one of the destinations for health care professionals who wanted to train at the best facility was Charity Hospital. But due to cuts in state budgets and things like that, it didn’t remain a destination program. After Katrina, we were able to rethink how we do things and develop new programs. The opportunity is ripe for us to become a destination for health care once again.
And we don't need to compete with each other. We need to work with each other. Tulane is not my competition. Ochsner is not my competition. Alabama, Georgia, UAB, UT Texas—these are my competition. So we need to work together more in terms of our skills, and there’s a very bright future there.
In terms of COVID, unless you have good health care in this city, nothing's going to come back. We have to have a vibrant health care infrastructure for other industries like tourism to come back.
In some ways, COVID presented opportunities for us. Unfortunately, we were one of the hot spots. Half of the hospitals were filled with COVID patients, many in the ICU. But as a result, many pharmaceutical companies wanted to study their new therapeutic interventions in our patient population. So we formed new relationships with these companies. They knock on our door almost every other day wanting to start a new trial and build a relationship with us.
Also, our population is unique in terms of underserved people and people of color. Many of these patients have not always been included in pharmaceutical trials. Studies were done mostly with Caucasians and in certain parts of the country. As a result, many of the agents that were thought to be effective in one group of the population turned out not to be effective in the other. So this has become a very desirable patient population to study to mitigate those instances.
Our unique population has created many opportunities, and the key for us is to learn how to work better together to take advantage of that. And I'll just give you one example of that. Last week in the New England Journal of Medicine, there was a paper published between Pennington, LSU New Orleans, LSU Shreveport, Tulane and Xavier. It concerned interventions in obesity, which is obviously a major problem in the city, and it was highlighted in many national newspapers. So we can work together—we just need to do so more effectively and efficiently.
Marshall Redmon: Let’s come back to this theme of collaboration more at the end and talk about how we might take this to the next step. There are terrific examples of how you four and others are working together toward the ultimate goal, which is keeping patients and talent here. There's certainly the talent, infrastructure and creativity here now. That takes me to Kris. From the bioinnovation side, what opportunities are you seeing for New Orleans in health care and life sciences?
Kris Khalil: There's an opportunity for not just the city, but the state, to refocus and double down on efforts to support an early-stage life sciences and biotech ecosystem here. Two decades ago, the state funded three bioinnovation centers. The BioInnovation Center in New Orleans is the only one remaining that's focusing on taking technologies out of the research institutions’ labs and turning them into companies. We have a fantastic track record of doing this.
Recently, these major research institutions have doubled down on their efforts to support our mission. And this is creating an opportunity for everyone to stay. In the past, it would have been hard to envision New Orleans as a biotech and life science hub. But look at how far we’ve come in the last two decades. We have the new VA, the new UMC facility, teaching centers, and multiple med schools here in the city and in the state. So the opportunity is multifaceted in that it’s not just building a new small business and startup ecosystem but one that's focused on improving health outcomes for our population and attracting outside private capital into our region.
Marshall Redmon: Let's talk about the capital issue and how we might work in public-private partnerships to bring capital in. How do you see us attracting other companies and other investors to help build on what we have?
Kris Khalil: Just within the last five or six years, we've seen several high-flying companies come out of our research institutions. There's no monopoly on smart ideas and bright and intelligent people, and we've seen a shift in culture in these institutions, as well as in our health care systems. That is really exciting and bodes well for the opportunity that we're faced with.
Just through some small programming and investments, we've been able to spin out companies like AxoSim, Obatala Sciences and Advano. These companies are attracting tens of millions of dollars in outside investment, but it took a long time to get here. This starts with being intentional about investments and what industries the state is going to support from a monetary perspective and an infrastructure perspective. The good news is that the infrastructure and the track record are already here, but we need a lot more volume, or we won't be able to survive and enjoy the benefits of our home-grown technology. Everyone wins when there's a windfall of private investment in a city, even prior to an exit. Some of these researchers who came from the Northeast to New Orleans typically to party and go back are now coming down to party and staying to develop a company and get involved in the next invention and the next technology.
So we're really excited about what's happened here in our own backyard, and we need to be very intentional about putting more support, more effort and more investment into this world.
Marshall Redmon: Speaking of technology, let’s talk about telehealth. John, what is Children’s experiencing in the COVID environment, and how are you dealing with the anxiety parents and patients have toward in-office visits?
Jonathan Brouk: We've seen a big ramp up in virtual care, like most other markets across the country, just out of necessity. Folks still wanted and needed in-person appointments. But if they couldn't come either because of anxiety or because of a government mandate closing certain functions, we were able to very quickly leverage virtual care to make sure our patients—specifically children—were able to get those appointments and the care they need. One of the positives is that, given the amount of screen time kids have, in some instances, they actually prefer virtual care appointments. So we've seen great adoption among our patient population. Parents love it as well, so it's going quite well so far.
Dr. Steve Nelson: Kids are smart. They know they're not going to get a shot over the computer, so they're thrilled with that.
One thing I’ll say about telehealth that's been very harmful during COVID is that many patients who have heart disease, cancer and other conditions have not been coming in for their routine care. So in addition to providing those office visits through telehealth, if we can develop more technology to reach out and provide adequate care for these patients outside of the hospital, that would be a major innovation.
And in terms of innovation, it's not just therapeutics. Many good ideas come from nurses, techs, OR techs and others, but they don't know how to implement it. That's where Kris comes in. And think about the richness of Xavier in terms of their School of Pharmacy, all that they can do in terms of new therapeutics or even modifying old drugs for new diseases and new indications. When you think of the breadth of knowledge and experience that's here, it’s an exceptional opportunity if we can figure out how best to work together.
Marshall Redmon: This brings me to Dr. Verret at Xavier. We’re so fortunate to have an institution of that caliber here. Dr. Verret, what are you seeing at Xavier during this time?
Dr. Reynold Verret: In the last few years before COVID-19, we've been elaborating a number of programs, especially programs where not only the talent is needed, but also programs that have remarkable volume and diversity. We have been producing more African Americans who go on to become physicians nationally for quite some time. But we also look at other areas beyond pharmacy, which we’re well known for, such as the physician assistant space. Around 3 or 4% of physician assistants around the country are people of color. So we've been elaborating programs that actually support the health industry in this area. Also, Xavier is not just a health professionals center. For example, most students have gone to doctoral programs in the sciences, and more African American students have done this at Xavier than any other school in the country. So we are actually lifting above our weight.
The research initiatives at Xavier on a per capita and student level actually compare well with LSU, and we’re only about a tenth the size. We have faculty who do major research on many fronts in both the basic sciences and life sciences. At Xavier, we’re always elaborating on what we can do to create talent pools, but also to find talent and form talent.
Our response to the pandemic has not just been focused on what we do internally, but also what we do externally in the community. This includes how we support the mayor and the governor’s staff in their thinking and planning, because we have public health, basic sciences and things like that. It also includes what we are doing on the issue of disparities. COVID exposes a lot of disparity, not just in how people are affected by an illness but also how social determinants show themselves quite radically and starkly.
When we spoke about the need for building diversity in enterprise, it comes back to thinking that the United States, and especially this region, is one of the most diverse countries in the world. Diversity is not our problem—it’s how we exploit that diversity. We’re not reaching and fully utilizing the talent available to us. We see geniuses in the third and fourth grades, but don’t utilize them when they come out of school. We have been looking at what we call wellness and well-being in a much more global way, maybe more of a social determinants point of view. The wellness and well-being of our community is much larger than that, and we undervalue some of the economic opportunities that we miss because we're leaving talent on the table undeveloped. That is an issue that goes back to Richard Florida’s notions about how one develops great cities. This is how one says to enterprises that we have the talent that you can hire to grow your enterprise. At Xavier, our mission, both internal and external, is to focus on that.
COVID does have health implications. It has larger implications as to how we grow talent, build a greater city and mobilize all those pieces on the table in front of us. What COVID brings to us is not just opportunities, but also challenges that we must meet if we want to be the greater metropolis that we wish to be.
Dr. Steve Nelson: To speak to that point, LSU together with Xavier put in a multimillion-dollar grant to the NIH to do testing in underserved populations, and it’s through relationships within the community that we're able to do that. So again, there are unique opportunities to make a difference in the communities we all serve.
Dr. Reynold Verret: It's only through collaborative efforts that we can do something greater than any one of us alone. We've been doing that, but there's much more that we need to do. And I’m highlighting K-12, because the gap in talent that we're not seeing is because we're leaving so much genius on the table undeveloped.
Marshall Redmon: To maximize our talent without allowing some of it to fall to the side, how are Xavier and LSU working together to pipeline Xavier students into the LSU medical program? Are there improvements that can be made there?
Dr. Steve Nelson: So we have multiple pipeline programs with many institutions throughout the city, and Xavier is one of them. We have summer internships where Xavier students spend their summer with our researchers and clinicians to get a sense of if it’s something they want to pursue. But what Dr. Verret is pointing out is that we need to start earlier.
I've been working with the Patrick Taylor Foundation, and they're going to support a program starting much earlier, where we're going to be able to work with students in high-risk schools in their very early years and nurture them along. The issue is how can you dream you're going to be somebody if you've never seen it. So what Dr. Verret points out is exactly the case, and we need to put more resources into that.
And it's only through making those connections with bright young minds that we're really going to take full advantage of the talent here. We also want to build a program with Xavier for early admissions into medical school here. There's no reason why these talented students from Xavier wind up going out of state to other schools that have certain relationships. So it's our intention to work more closely with Dr. Verret and Xavier to preserve that pipeline.
Marshall Redmon: Staying on the issue of attracting talent, John, is there something that Children’s is doing or something the community can do to bring the best and brightest to New Orleans to work for Children’s and other institutions?
Jonathan Brouk: The first thing that comes to my mind is to recruit top physicians to New Orleans. It's not really a new strategy, but it's certainly been highlighted during COVID. Something that's really resonated with a lot of recruits we're bringing in from top programs across the country is the idea that they have a chance to make a difference here. There’s plenty of people in places like Seattle, Houston, New York and Chicago, but we need your help here in New Orleans and in Louisiana. Come here and help us make a difference.
There's lots of stories about kids and even adults having to leave New Orleans and Louisiana for care. We don't think that needs to be the case. And so we're asking people to come in and help us build programs. There's a tremendous opportunity to give folks better access to higher quality care here. And that's really resonating with a lot of folks and has been particularly highlighted with COVID and with some of the social determinants we heard about earlier.
Dr. Steve Nelson: Your point about making a difference is the key. Since Katrina, we've recruited over 500 physicians here in New Orleans to LSU. Another thing that interests many of the younger people we’re able to recruit is the bioinnovation center. A lot of these people have this as part of their culture, so that's been a big draw as well.
But making a difference is the key. It's estimated that over 6,000 people each year leave Louisiana for cancer care. There is no NCI-designated cancer center in the state of Louisiana. That's something we need to correct. Together with Xavier, Tulane, Ochsner and all the other partners, that's something we can strive for together, especially since we have such a huge burden of cancer and very poor outcomes as it is right now.
Dr. Reynold Verret: I would add to that, it is quite possible, if we collaborate, to bring this to reality. An analogous state is Georgia—a large population, but it has no NCI-designated cancer center because of the failure to bring all the important players around the table. I served on a government advisory panel about 20 years ago trying to form an NCI center which did not result, because the collaborative work was lacking.
Dr. Steve Nelson: If we all move forward, as long as all parties benefit, that's how we work together.
Marshall Redmon: Dr. Nelson, can you expand on the issue of how our population is unique in terms of attracting these sorts of developments?
Dr. Steve Nelson: One of our greatest weaknesses is a resource, and that's the health disparities. We excel at health disparities in underserved populations. And so in terms of the burden, whether it be cancer, diabetes, obesity or hypertension, that's what the virus preys on. So NIH and pharmaceutical companies want to investigate this unique population. Because of the issue of health disparities and everything else that's going on in the wider public sphere, there's a lot of goodwill toward trying to fix some of these problems that have been generational. So it's a great opportunity. I don’t know if many people are aware, but the Mayo Clinic has a relationship with the medical school in Jackson, Mississippi, because they are trying to study some of those issues related to certain patient populations that they don't have in Rochester, Minnesota. So both one of our weaknesses and one of the sad statements about this state also gives us an opportunity to make a difference and to have an impact.
Marshall Redmon: For those who want to have an impact, Kris, what can we do to keep that talent here to develop new products and therapies? New Orleans is an attraction on its own, but what are we doing to continue to bring in new blood and keep the best and the brightest here?
Kris Khalil: We all know New Orleans is a wonderful place, but you have to ask yourself why that's the case. Throughout COVID, the areas that have taken the biggest hit are our culture-bearers in the city. I'd like to make sure that we don't lose focus on supporting the hospitality and tourism industry, the musicians, the bartenders and everyone that's hurting right now, because we might lose this attraction mechanism.
To come back to the question on talent, I agree that it’s one of the biggest issues that we face here. From our portfolio company standpoint, what we've seen in the last decade is a shift. It's a shift away from the folks that are coming to New Orleans to patch it back up after a huge, devastating hurricane. It's a shift toward opportunity. And this is a great thing for our state and our city.
There are more opportunities for the best and the brightest PhDs, engineers and entrepreneurs to come and start a business, join a thriving startup or start a new team. Half of our companies are PhDs, and they're coming from all over the world, not just our local research institutions. But as far as maximizing our local talent, growing up here, it's hard pressed to envision yourself as a biomedical engineer or somebody that can develop a novel technology. We need to put the tools in young students’ hands, and we need to give them as much exposure as possible so they know that they can be a doctor, scientist, physician, clinician or executive. Let them sit with those who are here working day-to-day on that grind. We're providing those opportunities through our partnerships with Youth Force NOLA, Stem NOLA and nonprofits and other groups focusing on these efforts. So there are multiple ways to do it. The state and New Orleans, in particular, are very ripe for folks looking to come down and start businesses, but we have to be very intentional about providing the playground for entrepreneurs to set up their companies or scientists to take their inventions out of the research institutions and create jobs with those novel technologies.
We've pivoted a lot of our efforts and programming towards COVID countermeasures, so there's no better time for students and entrepreneurs to come in and feel like they're making an impact on everything that's happening in today's society.
Dr. Steve Nelson: The only other thing I would add is the quality of life. Many of these young entrepreneurs who want to come and make a difference also want a place that’s safe with good schools and things like that. So quality of life is something that's very important as well that we need to look at.
Marshall Redmon: We’ve talked about how you all have worked together in the past. Steve, what might we do to move forward during this time to attract people to and diversify the industry?
Dr. Steve Nelson: The more that we bring in the whole network, the more likely it is that we will succeed. Everybody has to get something out of it. It's like a marriage. At any one point in time, one partner may be doing a little bit better than the other, but at the end of the day, everybody has to benefit.
So what do we have here, in terms of New Orleans as a place to do clinical research or develop new therapeutics? We have one of eight primate centers in the U.S.. We have unbelievable state-of-the-art basic science labs. We have an unbelievably diverse population and many patients suffering from health disparities. We have a very fruitful group in terms of doing clinical studies. So we could take something from inception to final product if we could just align all these resources together in a streamlined way.
I've worked with major pharmaceutical companies all my life, and they want things that are effective and efficient that work. They don't want to wait six months for somebody to get something going. So maybe there's some way that we could form a group and figure out a way that we can align our operations together that would highlight each of our individual strengths. Then we can pick a particular area, whether it's cancer, neuroscience, cardiovascular—three of the major health problems affecting Louisiana and the nation—and sort of devise a pilot project or pilot trial where we could show how we all put some skin in the game and work together.
Dr. Reynold Verret: I'm all for that. One of the options we have is to begin to think about the future of medicine, not just health care, which is changing from what we are doing today.
A cancer center in Louisiana is not just about treating patients with cancer. Because a cancer center becomes a center for innovation on a number of medical fronts. For example, one of the things that will be occurring is personalized medicine, even designer drugs personalized for an individual. There will be opportunities for a lot to occur here that requires special collaboration and special ways of bringing the pieces together to make things happen and to be attractive to the NIH and other national agencies. It's like building an airport. You're not just building an airport. You bring many other things to the region. So the cancer center becomes something that we may have to sit down and say, what are some clear goals that require bringing all the players together around the table to make it happen? It requires learning to play well together, because we all have our territories and we'll have to allow them to be broached in some way.
Dr. Steve Nelson: Indeed, there are many benefits from a cancer center. The machine we just purchased for the project we're doing with Xavier on COVID testing is really intended for personalized medicine and aligning therapeutics, based on your genomic profile, whether that's cancer or cardiovascular disease. So there’s great potential for us to do those things together.
Dr. Reynold Verret: There’s a much larger platform. We have to actually create these new structures, but the cost structures are not sufficient to take us into this future.
Dr. Steve Nelson: That's correct. To build an NCI-designated cancer center is about a $250 to $500 billion investment over probably 10 years.
Dr. Reynold Verret: It will bring a lot of rich talent and keep it here.
Dr. Steve Nelson: And a large amount of benefit to the patients that we all serve.
Marshall Redmon: If that were to be pursued, would we need to have some federal or state support? What might we do to move something like that along?
Dr. Steve Nelson: There is already the LCRC, which is a joint group between LSU, Tulane, Xavier and Ochsner that functions primarily as a research infrastructure building where we all partner in their work. But again, it would need to be markedly expanded and invested in. Usually, any sort of cancer center like that is a partnership between the state, federal, philanthropy and multiple partners to generate the amount of resources needed to get there.
So I've been funded by the NIH for 40 years. The director of the cancer center programs for the NIH has already told Louisiana that they would like to put a cancer center in this state, if we could do the things that Dr. Verret pointed out. So we're ripe for this now.
Marshall Redmon: John, how does LCMC fit into this?
Jonathan Brouk: Having a freestanding children's hospital, like our Children's Hospital in New Orleans, would be of tremendous benefit to that NCI designation process. From a brick-and-mortar and infrastructure standpoint, we're pretty far down the line already as part of a $300 million campus transformation effort that we're about three-fourths of the way through. We’ll have a totally new comprehensive cancer center coming online early Q1 of next year.
We're also continuing to recruit for a new service line chief, our top physician for pediatric cancer, and have a number of outstanding candidates from across the country thinking about joining. So from a pediatric perspective, we'd love to be on board and participate in that as well.
Marshall Redmon: Kris, is there anything we've missed that we need to address?
Kris Khalil: Well, the main takeaway is that as a community, we really need to be thinking big. And we really need to understand that there's going to be a small window of opportunity in the wake of COVID, as there was in the wake of Katrina, to determine what our priorities are as a community. This includes what types of businesses we want to see and what major infrastructure pieces we need to support and put in place over the next decade to inspire young people to participate in this economy, one that pays a lot more than our legacy economies, an economy that is of the future, not of the past and fossil fuels, but one that is virtuous in many regards. It's going to take a lot of money, effort, time and determination to make this happen, and it won't happen in a silo.
We're all committed to this, as well as our leadership at the city and state level. So putting all those things together, I'm very optimistic about the future, despite seeing the challenges and the devastation since March. But we’ve been through disaster before as a community, and I have no doubt that we’ll band together to fight this and come out on the back end of this better off.
Dr. Steve Nelson: This showed how incredibly unprepared we are. This caused more destruction than one nuclear bomb. So, to me, there's a whole other line of industries in terms of being ready for the next challenge that comes, because another one will come.
Marshall Redmon: We weren't ready the first time, so let's be ready the second.
Thank you, panelists. It’s really exciting to hear not just the substance of plans, but the enthusiasm and the will, which seems to be very clear in each of your eyes and each of your words, that we do need to do something beyond what we've done in the past, we do need to look forward and to act.
ABOUT THE PANELISTS
Dr. Reynold Verret | President, Xavier University of New Orleans
Dr. Reynold Verret is president of Xavier University of Louisiana, whose College of Pharmacy is among the top three producers of African Americans with a Doctor of Pharmacy degree in the nation.
Prior to Xavier, Dr. Verret served as provost at Savannah State University, provost at Wilkes University, Dean of Arts and Sciences at University of the Sciences in Philadelphia, and on the Chemistry faculty at Tulane University and Clark Atlanta University. During his tenure at Clark, he also joined Morehouse School of Medicine as an adjunct professor of immunology while taking part in a research collaboration with the School of Medicine Immunology and Microbiology faculty.
As a biochemist and immunologist, Dr. Verret has published numerous scientific articles on various biochemical research.
Throughout his career, Dr. Verret has dedicated effort to increase the number of students, especially those from underrepresented groups, pursuing degrees in STEM disciplines. He has served on many professional organizations and advisory bodies, including those of the National Institutes of Health, the Board of the Pennsylvania Humanities Council, and the Georgia Coastal Indicators Coalition.
A Haitian native, Dr. Verret received his undergraduate degree in biochemistry from Columbia University and a Ph.D. in biochemistry from MIT. Beyond his degrees, he has postdoctoral experiences as a fellow at the Howard Hughes Institute for Immunology at Yale and the Center for Cancer Research at MIT where he completed research regarding immunology.
Dr. Steve Nelson | Dean, LSUHSC School of Medicine
Dr. Steve Nelson has served as dean of the LSU School of Medicine at New Orleans since 2007 and first joined the LSU faculty in 1984. His clinical interests include lung immunology, pneumonia, adult cystic fibrosis and sepsis. His research is primarily directed toward understanding normal pulmonary host defense mechanisms. He has been awarded more than $30 million in research funding and has been continuously funded since 1981.
Dr. Nelson authored or co-authored nearly 200 journal papers, seven books/monographs, 30 book chapters, 15 audio-visual scientific presentations and 199 abstracts.
Dr. Nelson has been honored in multiple volumes of Best Doctors in America and Guide to America’s Top Physicians as well as New Orleans Magazine’s Top Doctors and the 2006 Edward C. Rosenow, III, Honor Lecture Award from the American College of Chest Physicians for outstanding contributions to mentorship and training of chest physicians.
He is a Diplomate of the National Board of Medical Examiners, the American Board of Internal Medicine, the American Board of Internal Medicine in Pulmonary Disease as well as in Critical Care Medicine.
Dr. Nelson earned his medical degree at McGill University and completed his residency at the Johns Hopkins Hospital, as well as a Clinical Fellowship and a Research Fellowship in Pulmonary Medicine.
Jonathan Brouk | Chief Operating Officer, Children’s Hospital
Jonathan Brouk serves as chief operating officer at Children's Hospital. Prior to assuming this role, he served as Children’s vice president of strategy and business development and has been a member of the hospital’s leadership team since 2016. Before joining Children’s, Brouk practiced corporate law in the health care group of a large national law firm headquartered in Chicago and a regional firm based in New Orleans, focusing primarily on hospital-physician alignment strategies, population health initiatives and associated regulatory matters. Brouk earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Economics, cum laude, from Tulane University and earned his Juris Doctor, cum laude, from Loyola University Chicago, where he was awarded a Beazley Institute for Health Law and Policy Fellowship.
Kris Khalil | President, New Orleans BioInnovation Center
Kris Khalil is the managing director of the BioFund, an early-stage life science investment firm housed within the New Orleans Bioinnovation Center. Kris has over a decade of working knowledge in the early stage investment and credit industries. Prior to joining the Center, Kris gained valuable experience as an underwriter and analyst for multi-national and community-based financial institutions such as Capital One Bank and Omni Bank. Kris holds a bachelor’s degree in finance from Louisiana State University, with concentrations in entrepreneurship and accounting, and an MBA from Tulane’s A.B. Freeman School of Business. Kris is a New Orleans native, is an active volunteer in the community, and is passionate about investments that ultimately generate a positive impact. Since 2013, the BioFund has invested in over 30 New Orleans seed-stage companies, with a primary focus on the life sciences, advanced manufacturing, and commercialization of university-affiliated technologies.