Medtech Pioneer Shares Insight on Innovation

Thomas Fogarty, MD knows more than a thing or two about R&D and medical technology. When he was in the eighth grade, he began working at the Good Samaritan Hospital in Cincinnati where he eventually became a scrub technician tasked with handing instruments to surgeons during operations. While working that job, he designed and built what later became known as the Fogarty arterial embolectomy catheter. The device went on to revolutionize vascular surgery. In the decades that followed, Fogarty became a cardiovascular surgeon, became a professor at Stanford University Medical Center, and invented numerous other medical devices, acquiring more than 100 surgical patents. He received the Jacobson Innovation Award of the American College of Surgeons, the 2000 Lemelson-MIT prize for Invention and Innovation, and was inducted into the Inventors Hall of Fame in December 2001. 

Fogarty will share his expertise on innovation at the upcomign MD+DI Conferences R&D Portfolio Management for Medical Devices conference. MD+DI recently had the chance to talk to Fogarty about the keynote address that he will deliver at the conference, which is titled Perspectives on InnovationLarge Company vs. Start-Up.
There are vastly different perspectives at a large device company as opposed to a startup, he says. You know, the large companies are fighting to stay in the market place and actually increase market share while the smaller companies are usually interested in displacing whatever technology has the current market share, Fogarty explains.
Dr. Thomas FogartyPeople who work at large companies tend to focus on managing their careers. People working at smaller outfits focus more on managing products. Fogarty says that this distinction isnt true in every single case, but its true generally.
He says that large and small companies are mutually dependent. And I think the more enlightened large companies recognize that its important to maintain good relationships with the smaller companies and not just stomp on them, he says. Although many will do that.
There are many other aspects that I probably will explore when I give the talk, he says. But I wanted to stress that I think collaboration is a more enlightened way to handle the two differences [between startups and large device companies].

You have to [...] ask, primarily, is this going to benefit a patient?”

Fogarty says there is growing evidence of collaboration between small and large device companies, adding that the level varies within the different divisions of the same company. To back up that assertion, Fogarty points out that is now common practice for large companies to have their own venture arm. [They get involved with venture capital] to get close to these smaller companies and make investments when they think it is appropriate, he says. You know they do that because they have to if they are going to survive. And the large companies are not very good at coming up with significant changes that could change the marketplace, he says. They cant study something that doesnt exist. And when they go out to determine whether it has value, they usually access the same people who could not understand that something else other than what they do could exist, Fogarty adds.
He says that if a large company is presented with a technology that could threaten its existing business, they are going to tell you [that the new technology] is not going to work; they are going to tell you its crazy. And thats self preservation, he says. So, you have to look beyond that and ask, primarily, is this going to benefit a patient? And if you look at it from that perspective, I think youll be much better off because at the end of the day, its the patient that chooses the therapy.