Boston Scientific Corp. has signed on as the latest member of a large health care innovation partnership that is spearheaded by UnitedHealth Group and the Mayo Clinic.

Boston Scientific CEO Mike Mahoney said the company is excited to become the founding medical device partner in the effort, Optum Labs, and "to collaborate with other health care leaders to help accelerate the pace of innovation across our industry." Boston Scientific has about 24,000 employees, 5,000 of them in Minnesota.

Its initial focus will be to champion a body of research that addresses the complexities, unmet needs and challenges facing patients with heart failure, Mahoney said.

Optum Labs was co-founded last year by Minnetonka-based UnitedHealth Group's Optum unit and Mayo to bring together major national health care leaders to improve research in different areas of medicine. AARP joined in December as founding consumer advocate partner.

The partnership manages one of the world's largest databases, which includes de-identified claims data on more than 150 million patients that can be linked with 30 million electronic health records. The idea is that being able to access that data will greatly assist researchers to treat and prevent complex diseases and address the nation's most costly and devastating chronic conditions.

More than 20 different research initiatives are currently underway.

Dr. Paul Bleicher, CEO of Optum Labs, said that Boston Scientific's expertise in congestive heart failure and other cardiac ailments "is of tremendous interest and value" to the collaboration. Bleicher said the reason for launching Optum Labs was not just to do interesting research, but to unite leading experts and health delivery institutions to directly improve patient care and bring down costs.

"We define patient value as successful patient outcome and patient experience and patient safety, plus quality, divided by the cost," he said. "That's a cute way of saying all of those things are important."

In February Optum Labs added seven partners including pharmaceutical giant Pfizer, the University of Minnesota Nursing School, the American Medical Group Association, Boston University School of Public Health, and Tufts Medical Center, also in Boston.

Bleicher said he expects that Optum Labs, based in Cambridge, Mass., will add more partners, perhaps later this year, and that future collaborators will include academic institutions and companies that offer unique expertise and value to the group.

He said that partners contribute financially, whether in finding ways to pay for the research that they perform, or sometimes by making a direct commitment as a sustaining partner. He did not discuss the specifics of Boston Scientific's arrangement with the group.

Optum Labs needs to be self-sustaining, Bleicher said, but the most important goal is a better health care system.

"We're all interested in seeing that this system which has many, many problems," he said, "improves and becomes more efficient and delivers better care for people."

Tom Meersman • 612-673-7388