Next month, Robert Langer, the David H. Koch Institute Professor at MIT, will receive the MDEA Lifetime Achievement Award at a special ceremony at MD&M East in Philadelphia. MD+DI recently spoke with Langer, who has made groundbreaking discoveries and advances in fields including drug delivery, tissue engineering, nanotechnology and personalized medicine, to get his thoughts on the issues facing the industry today.
MD+DI: What's biggest issue facing medtech today?
Langer: I just wish there was more funding. Any laws that ease funding would be good.
MD+DI: What do you think of the new first-to-file patent system in the United States?
Langer: On the positive side, it simplifies judging whether somebody has invented something or not. On the other hand, it will make it harder for the small inventor, and that’s unfortunate.
MD+DI: Some pharmaceutical companies are starting to get into the drug delivery business. What do you think of that?
Langer: I hope it’s a good thing. I hope it will create opportunities for medical device companies to have deals with pharma companies, and in some cases that’s happened. I think it will be an opportunity to develop more novel drug-device combinations. It could bring more cooperation, and it could provide intellectual incentives for people to work together.
MD+DI: Medtech companies, particularly start-ups, are having a hard time getting the funding they need for R&D. What do you think about that?
Langer: To me, that’s purely political. You have to create laws, ways to give people some type of tax break for investment in lifesaving technologies. I think you have to have some type of legislation that provides incentives for people to do that.
MD+DI: Some in the medtech industry have argued that the United States is no longer a good place to launch products. What are your thoughts?
Langer: I think it’s complicated. I think the U.S. can still be a very good place to launch products. In some cases there has been a lot of [regulatory] slowness, and I guess that’s a concern, but it’s not perfect in other countries either.
MD+DI: What will it take to foster innovation in the medtech industry?
Langer: It’s important to train the next generation of engineers and scientists. I think creating more interdisciplinary scientists is important. If you can have people who have training not only in engineering but also in biology, they may be able to think of things that are new ideas.
MD+DI: Where do you get your inspiration?
Langer: All over. I don’t think there’s just one thing. It started by being an engineer and working in the surgery department in a hospital, where I was exposed to a lot of things. But it’s also talking to people, watching TV shows on things that could be unrelated, reading. There’s no single place.
What are biomedical engineering students like today?
Langer: I think today’s students are very entrepreneurial, more so than when I was getting out of college. Students are very interested in creating technology and companies, and the starting age is much younger than it used to be.
MD+DI: What advice do you have for aspiring biomedical engineers?
Langer: One is to dream. I think dreaming is a really good thing, dreaming big. It’s important to never give up. A lot of people tell you that whatever you’re working on is not going to work, that it’s impossible. But it’s important to realize that there’s really little that’s really impossible.
Jamie Hartford is the managing editor of MD+DI.