Alfred Mann Wins MDEA Lifetime Achievement Award

Serial entrepreneur, inventor, and philanthropist Alfred Mann has become something of a legend in the medical device industry. So it’s only fitting that on June 8, Mann will the recipient of the MDEA Lifetime Achievement Award. “I’m really honored to receive this award,” Mann says. “Over my career, I’ve received a number of awards but this one is especially important,” he adds.

Mann, who at 85 years old still spends 70–80 hours per week at work, was selected by the MD+DI editorial advisory board and UBM content team because of his storied career in the life sciences industry. In all, he has dedicated the past 42 years of his career to developing new medical technologies.

He initially got involved in the medical device space after founding Spectrolab in 1956. Now a part of Boeing, Spectrolab was and still is a provider of solar panels that are used to power spacecraft. “One of our good customers was Johns Hopkins University, whose Applied Physics Laboratory was trying to advance medical products by using the methods developed in the military and aerospace programs,” Mann says. “In 1969, [Johns Hopkins] came asking me to develop a long-lived cardiac pacemaker with some of the Spectrolab technology.” At that time, pacemakers were large and heavy, and they only had enough power to last about a year and a half before needing to be replaced. “Johns Hopkins persuaded me to start a company to develop a long-lived pacemaker. The company, known as Pacesetter Systems, had the goal of developing a smaller device with a rechargeable battery, which we did,” he says. “Our second patient, who was implanted with the new pacemaker technology in 1973, is still alive today and is using the same pacemaker after 37 years.”

Mann’s involvement in the medical device field expanded in the early 1980s as he began looking for ways to diversify the business of Pacesetter Systems. “We undertook development of implantable and external insulin pumps and continuous glucose sensors for treating diabetes. That project was later spun off and became a company known as MiniMed. The devices we produced have really revolutionized the treatment for Type-1 diabetes.”

Mann’s interest in the disease continues to the present. “I’ve been involved with developing technologies to treat diabetes for a long time,” he acknowledges. “There wasn’t really a family connection that inspired me to work on improving the treatment of the disease. But the more I understood the disease and the need to develop new technologies in this area, the more I wanted to help in this field.” Mann says he became worried about 15 years ago that an increase in incidence of Type-2 diabetes was imminent. “And that has happened. There are now 300 million people in the world the disease,” he says. “We’re looking at a half a billion people with diabetes in the world within a couple of decades.” In late 2010, UnitedHealth Group projected that half of all adults in the United States have either diabetes or prediabetes by 2020.

Most recently through his work as the leader of biopharmaceutical firm Mannkind Corp., Mann has been involved with a therapy that mimics the insulin kinetics of a healthy pancreas. “If you take an injection of today’s regular commercial insulin, it doesn’t peak for roughly two to three hours,” Mann explains. “A normal person digests a meal in roughly three hours. So you have all of that late excess insulin, which causes severe low blood pressure, a condition known as hypoglycemia, which can be a problem in the short term.” Approximately 15 years ago, Eli Lilly and Novo Nordisk created rapid-acting analogs of insulin, which sped up the breakdown of insulin hexamers in all current insulins. “These rapid-acting analogues last for five to seven hours and peak in 30–90 minutes. That’s much better but it’s still too slow. I’ve been very involved with a unique insulin product that mimics the insulin kinetics of a non-diabetic person. That insulin created at Mannkind is an ultrarapid-acting form of insulin that peaks in 12–15 minutes and is gone within three hours.”

Mann expected FDA to approve the AFREZZA inhaler that dispenses the novel insulin in January 2011. That, however, didn’t happen. “While we were conducting our trials, we developed a better delivery device. This new inhaler is much more convenient, discreet, and less expensive. It is also more efficient for delivery,” Mann says. “We were able to make it much more convenient and discreet and less expensive. It also actually has a better profile for delivery.” Mann decided to launch with the new device since a later transition might be confusing to patients. “FDA told us what we needed to do for the substitution and we did it all,” he says. “In January, they came back to us and told us they wanted to see two new trials with the new device to bridge the extensive trials that were conducted with the earlier clinical device.” Mann explains that FDA is asking for a 12-week human trial. To recruit the 900 patients for that trial will probably take at least a year, he estimates. Because it will take FDA an expected six months to do their review, the company does not expect the product to be ready for the market until the end of 2012 or early 2013.

Mann’s work with medical devices extends far beyond improving pacemakers and diabetes treatment. Among the companies he has founded are cochlear implant maker Advanced Bionics, visual-prosthesis manufacturer Second Sight, hearing-aid manufacturer Implantable Acoustics, drug-therapy specialist NeuroSystec, electrostimulation firm Bioness, and Infusion Systems, a manufacturer of drug-delivery systems. In addition, he heads Quallion, which develops advanced batteries for medical, aerospace, and military applications.

When asked which medical technology he is the most proud of, Mann says he has a hard time picking one. “I’ve been involved in projects that have, for example, enabled a deaf child to hear, a blind person to see, and a crippled person to walk,” he explains. “The technologies such as pacemakers and glucose sensors that I’ve been involved with are obviously very important, too.”

In all, Mann has founded 17 companies and maintains an affiliation with nine of them. “What drives me is trying to find solutions that enable people to live longer and more fruitful lives,” Mann says. “I get such satisfaction from helping improve patients’ lives. It’s absolutely rewarding,” he explains. “You see a kid who can’t hear and give him a cochlear implant. Doesn’t that make a difference? It’s hard not to be overwhelmed by such experiences. I’ve been involved with many device advances. There are so many of those developments that are very satisfying to me.”

Mann is also a major supporter of institutional research. He has founded and endowed the Alfred Mann Foundation, a nonprofit research organization dedicated to advancing medical technology. That organization employs more than 100 people. He has founded Alfred E. Mann Institutes for Biomedical Engineering at the University of Southern California, at Purdue University, and at the Technion–Israel Institute of Technology. The institutes are business incubators for medical device development that are principally endowed by Mann. “What I’m trying to do by supporting research at universities is to have some of my work to continue to solve other problems. The institutes at the universities are looking at a number of applications,” he says. “For example, one of the programs is working to develop a micro-mass spectrometer that could be used for detection of cancer. There’s also some work underway to develop surgical glues that are vastly better than what exists today,” he says. “There’s also research on a fascinating new cancer therapy that may be able to cure major cancers.”

Mann plans on further supporting medical research by donating his estate to charity. One of the primary focuses of the charity will be supporting the Alfred E. Mann Institutes for Biomedical Engineering.

Earning bachelor’s and master’s degrees in physics from the UCLA, Mann’s graduate work focused on nuclear and mathematical physics. He holds honorary doctorate degrees from the University of Southern California (USC), The Johns Hopkins University, Western University, and the Technion Institute.

In addition, Mann serves as a trustee for USC, is a member of the board of overseers of the Keck USC School of Medicine, and has served as the chairman of the Southern California Biomedical Council—a nonprofit organization devoted to supporting the biomedical industry in the Los Angeles metropolitan area. He is a research professor at USC and is on the USC Viterbi Board of Councilors. He is also an adjunct professor in the UCLA Department of Bioengineering.

Mann will accept the award at a ceremony at MD&M East in New York this June.

—Brian Buntz