A Special “Workbench” Session Honors Medtech Innovation’s Past and Present
When you think of medtech innovation, there are few individuals who were as influential and inspiring as Tracy Lefteroff, which was why it was so fitting that the recent Stanford Biodesign “From the Innovator’s Workbench” honored his legacy.
Continuing the theme, it also featured accomplished innovator Josh Makower and panelists from his team at ExploraMed, a prolific medical and health technology incubator.
The session had special meaning given the ties to both: The Workbench series, Makower’s brainchild, was launched by Stanford Biodesign in 2003, with Dr. Fogarty as the first guest. Its goal is to enable the Stanford Biodesign community and the public to learn from some of the greatest health technology innovators, and the Fogarty Institute has co-sponsored one event a year as part of its Lefteroff Fund.
Participating panelists included the architects behind Acclarent, a pioneer in minimally invasive treatment for ear, nose and throat (ENT) conditions that was acquired by Johnson & Johnson for $820M; NeoTract, a minimally invasive treatment for urinary tract symptoms due to benign prostatic hypertrophy (BPH) that was acquired by Teleflex for $1.1B; and Willow, the first all-in-one breast pump that easily fits inside a bra and recently was honored as CES’ Best Healthcare Innovation of 2018.
The event was moderated by David Cassak, managing partner, Innovation in Medtech LLC, publishers of The MedTech Strategist.
Makower founded ExploraMed following a stint at Pfizer, where he had the opportunity to play a role developing the next generation of medical devices and in identifying the best process for innovating new medical technologies. Eager to make stronger headway with this newly developed process, especially with more disruptive technologies, he formed the incubator ExploraMed with limited funding, as the first and only employee in 1995. To date, the firm has touched countless lives through the creation of eight companies and four funding rounds.
One of the key ingredients behind the development of successful technologies is identifying a significant clinical need and focusing on areas where there hasn’t already been a lot of innovation or investment. “We focused on needs where no one really wanted to be and took a holistic approach,” explained Makower. “When developing our technologies, we take into consideration the feelings of the people we are trying to help, which raises new ways of thinking about the problem and often forces us down a path that tends to be more minimally invasive and more sensitive to how a body can heal on its own.”
One of their most recent companies, Willow, embodies this philosophy. Despite the proven benefits to babies and the mother, more than 35 percent of U.S. women stop breastfeeding after six months because of work or other obligations, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
ExploraMed set to create a company that would address this problem. The field was ripe for innovation, given the clinical need, the vast audience and the fact that the last innovation was nearly 30 years ago. “Our goal was to help moms pump anywhere, anytime, with dignity, by developing a device that was mobile and discreet and emulated the natural mechanism of breast feeding,” said John Chang, founder and CTO, Willow and ExploraMed. “We were inspired in part by a New York Times article that said, ‘Why can’t my breast pump be as quiet as a Prius and as elegant as an iPhone?'”
Among the many pieces of advice that were passed on during the evening, the panel concluded with a summary of the ingredients that help make a company successful: “The central theme is focusing on important needs and trying to find that space that is not already filled with solutions. And, we wouldn’t be here without our incredibly talented team with their broad range of skillsets and expertise, drive and passion,” Makower said.
A copy of the recording of the event will be available on the Stanford Biodesign website as soon as it is available. Upcoming Workbench events will feature Joe Almeida, CEO of Baxter International on Tues., March 20; and Yoh-Chie Lu, founder of Biosensors International Group Ltd., who will give a perspective on medtech in China on Wed., April 25.