Q&A with Paul Yock, MD, Founder and Director of the Stanford Byers Center for Biodesign

by | Sep 3, 2016 | Alliances, Mentoring, Thought Leadership

A cardiologist, inventor, entrepreneur and educator, Paul Yock has played a critical role in helping shape medical technology and healthcare. And he continues to do so in his role as founder and director of the Stanford Byers Center for Biodesign, a program aimed at advancing health technology innovation and widely regarded as one of the most successful partnerships between academia and the health technology industry.

Yock’s career has progressed on two concurrent paths. He began his practicing and academic career as an interventional cardiologist at UC San Francisco before moving to Stanford in 1994. There, he became founding Co-Chair of the Department of Bioengineering where he continues research related to new device technologies, and founded the world-renowned Biodesign program.

He is equally regarded for his work inventing, developing and testing new devices, including the Rapid Exchange angioplasty and stenting system, which is the primary approach used worldwide; the Smart Needle; and the strain-reduction patch for wound healing of which he is a co-inventor.

We had the privilege of catching up with Yock to discuss Stanford Biodesign, its impact on young innovators, its relationship with the Fogarty Institute and exciting trends in the medtech training space.

Q. What was the impetus for launching the Stanford Biodesign program and what are some of your favorite accomplishments?
A. A big part of the reason I started the Biodesign program was that when I was younger, I had the fortune of being trained and mentored by Dr. Fogarty, who guided me and invested in my first company. Since this experience was so transformative for me, I wanted to create a program that replicated in some way what I gained from the mentoring of Dr. Fogarty and others.

What I find most satisfying about Biodesign is the quality of the trainees who have come through the program. We now have 184 fellowship alumni and over 1,000 students who have taken at least one of our courses.

We recently did an analysis of our fellows as part of our 15th year anniversary. One way of measuring success is the technologies that are developed out of the program and the number of patients who have benefitted from them. To date, 41 companies have been formed based on work that our trainees initiated during their time with Biodesign, creating devices that have treated more than 600,000 patients. In addition, alumni of our fellowship programs have launched an additional 35 companies after graduating from Biodesign, impacting one million patients.

Equally important, a number of our alums have had major impact in their roles inside existing health technology companies, as professors of medicine and engineering, or in a range of health technology professions spanning patent law to venture capital.

Another rewarding aspect is seeing our alumni devote major time to the mentoring of younger innovators. Our survey shows that 84 percent of our alumni devote time to training and mentoring aspiring innovators, with each one helping an average of 75 people in their careers to date. Several of our alums have also gone on to develop Biodesign-like programs in other universities.

It’s interesting to think back about the evolution of the program over the years. The fellowship has grown from one team of fellows per year to four teams, including our global program; we have added four new graduate and undergraduate classes reaching hundreds of students per year; and we have launched a new faculty training program led, in part, by Dr. Tom Krummel, co-director of Stanford Biodesign and chairman of the Fogarty Institute.

Our biggest challenge has been adjusting to the new economic environment of the healthcare field. We are working diligently to develop a curriculum and training approach to value-based innovation. This is driven by the fact that we now need to pay attention very early on in the innovation process to the economics of a need area, alongside the clinical characteristics of the need. In this new environment, we won’t come forward with a new technology unless it brings value to the patient at a manageable cost.

Q. How do you view the partnership with the Fogarty Institute and why is it beneficial to the medtech industry and ultimately patients?
A. We have a very important relationship with the Fogarty Institute. At Biodesign, we bring fellows and students to the point where they have developed a strong need-based invention, as well as a preliminary plan for how they will implement the technology into patient care. But what happens next – the in-depth planning and execution that takes place at the Institute — is in many ways the most difficult and essential work for bringing a technology forward.

I see the Fogarty Institute as an absolutely essential partner to the training we offer at Stanford Biodesign and a critical part of our ecosystem. Especially with the challenges and pressure that today’s medtech startups face to bring their products to market, it is imperative to have an organization focusing on early-stage implementation and providing a strong network and mentoring.

We are very fortunate to have such a good synergy between the Biodesign program and the Fogarty Institute, which sequences very nicely with our overlapping goals of benefitting patients and lowering healthcare costs.

Q. What is the Fogarty Institute’s role in the medtech innovation ecosystem and why do you think it is unique?
A. There are two components of mentoring that blend together at the Institute and provide a real advantage and value. The organization offers world-class mentoring from senior, experienced advisors. But the other type of “mentoring” that is equally critical comes from the young innovators from the different companies that are co-located in the same space and thus can share ideas, challenges, learning moments and connections. That type of peer-to-peer mentoring is just as important in helping move a company forward. The Institute does a really effective job with both.

Q. What are the challenges and opportunities you see in the medtech industry and what are some of the trends that excite you the most?
A. There are big challenges and opportunities presented by the new value-based healthcare environment. Most healthcare economists would say that the biggest single driver of increases in healthcare cost is the adoption of new technologies. The rate of cost escalation in the healthcare system is clearly unsustainable, so we all have a responsibility to understand what the system needs in terms of improving healthcare at a cost that is manageable.

The good news is that young innovators will find a way to solve this issue. They come from a millennial “culture” that drives them to be globally responsible and to look for ways to use resources wisely. I have been impressed by how our fellows are naturally adapting to a focus on value-based innovation; we are seeing it as a core component of all of the innovations they are developing.

What excites me too is that there are a number of Biodesign-like training programs emerging, all driven towards advancing healthcare technology. I think it’s fair to say that we were the first to introduce a post-graduate interdisciplinary program of this type—though, of course, there were a number of great existing programs in biomedical engineering.

Fast forward 15 years: there are now over 120 universities in the U.S. that have developed fellowships, graduate and/or undergraduate programs, which are focused on team-based innovation in health technology. And there are some absolutely fantastic programs out there. We’ve been happy to see that many of these universities use our textbook and open-source video library, which makes “mini-lectures” freely available to innovators and university faculty alike.

We are also proud that Stanford has directly or indirectly helped launch programs in both Europe and Asia. There is a great camaraderie among these programs internationally and we look forward to continued collaboration as the needs and markets for medical technology become truly global.

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