While moviegoers are still abuzz about Matt Damon sci-fi flick “The Martian,” Wyle Laboratories Inc. is helping NASA figure out how to prepare astronauts for real-life flights to the Red Planet.

The El Segundo company recently secured a $1.4 billion contract to support NASA’s human space exploration. The deal will last five to 10 years, depending on any significant changes to NASA’s budget.

Wyle’s range of responsibilities includes everything from helping select astronauts to developing medical procedures and health care technology on space vehicles – not to mention life sciences research for assisting astronauts on future missions to boldly go where no one has gone before. Some Wyle staff members will even receive front-row seats in mission control.

“We really do the A to Z of handling humans in space,” said Vernon McDonald, president of Wyle’s science, technology and engineering group in Houston.

For example, one of his company’s specialties is adapting and modifying traditional lab methods for space flight: Even something as mundane as stirring liquids becomes a challenge in decreased gravity.

While providing engineering support and science research for a variety of U.S. government agencies is Wyle’s bread and butter, this latest contract is unusual because of both the high payout and lengthy duration.

“Deals in excess of $1 billion are rare. They don’t come along very often,” McDonald said. “A contract that lasts for 10 years gives you a tremendous amount of stability.”

In the two decades he has been at Wyle, McDonald said that the industry has changed a lot.

Federal funding has decreased over the past 10 years, forcing businesses such as Wyle to become a lot more cost-conscious. Competition has also intensified for the smaller contracts that do come along. While the government has earmarked more work for small businesses, Wyle and its 4,000-person workforce don’t qualify.

But McDonald has also seen the space exploration industry make huge strides in his decades-long career. When he started at Wyle in the 1990s, the space shuttle was the major program. Later, he helped dock a U.S. shuttle at the Russian space station MIR, saw the development of the International Space Station and the retirement of the shuttle.

It’s a journey that keeps evolving.

“We are now in a position to seriously begin missions beyond lower orbit much like you saw in the ‘Martian’ movie,” McDonald said.

New Chief

When Paul S. Viviano took over as chief executive of Children’s Hospital Los Angeles in Los Feliz this summer, he came to the job with a resume crammed full of C-Suite experience at health providers such as UC San Diego Health and USC’s old University Hospital.

But you have to read between the lines to see he really honed his business skills while running Newport Beach’s Alliance HealthCare Services, a diagnostic imaging group in which storied New York private equity firm Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co. owned a majority stake through an affiliate during Viviano’s tenure.

It was a real education about how to invest capital, generate returns and meet stock- and bondholders’ demands, Viviano said.

He hopes to bring that acumen to his new gig, where about 70 percent of the hospital’s patients are covered by Medi-Cal.

“Capital is precious here,” Viviano said, adding that he’s already identified some ways to maximize revenue.

Viviano wants to aggressively pursue more opportunities to operate and manage neonatal intensive care units at adult hospitals, forging partnerships similar to the one Children’s Hospital created with Providence Tarzana Medical Center over the summer. Such deals allow his organization access to a greater number of privately insured patients while getting the hospital’s name out in the community.

Viviano hopes to also increase the hospital’s footprint by establishing a so-called clinical integration network – a large swath of pediatricians who will partner with Children’s Hospital to negotiate better insurance reimbursements, integrate medical records and other procedures. The idea is that the doctors would benefit from access to the hospital’s infrastructure while the hospital might get more referrals when those pediatricians’ patients need a specialist.

“It’s maybe a $10 million investment in the first year,” Viviano said of establishing such a network. “If we were going to buy (practices), it would be many multiples of that.”

Checkups

Pasadena’s Huntington Memorial Hospital has elected Paul L.H. Ouyang board chairman, replacing Jim Rothenberg, who passed away in July. … El Segundo’s Avanti Hospitals has appointed Steven Blake chief financial officer. … Medbox Inc. interim Chief Executive Jeff Goh has joined the West Hollywood firm’s board.

Staff reporter Marni Usheroff can be reached at musheroff@labusinessjournal.com or (323) 549-5225, ext. 229.

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