Hope everyone is doing well and is safe and healthy. You could be wondering about the title for this week’s blog. Those of you that know me know that I have been a big Looney Tunes fan since I was a child. For those of you that are young, these were some of the best cartoons ever to be on television. I even learned about classical music through them. My favorite character was Bugs Bunny. I have always enjoyed his wit, his sense of fairness and his ability to see the humor in things. His catchphrase when he was meeting someone new or if someone was giving him some grief was to always say, “What’s up, Doc?” Mel Blanc was the voice actor that portrayed the character. Why this phrase was selected for him I will never know (not sure if anyone will). That catch phrase actually saved Mel Blanc’s life in 1961. Blanc was involved in a serious car crash and went into a coma for two weeks. The brain surgeon tried to get him to respond to determine the extent of the brain injury but Blanc did not respond. The surgeon decided to try a different tactic and see if a different part of his brain would respond. The surgeon said, “Bugs, can you hear me?” to which Blanc responded, “Yeah, what’s up doc?” in full character voice. While I enjoy telling you this information, it is not really the reason for this week’s blog.
The single panel cartoon image of Bugs Bunny as a doctor dealing with his patient the Tasmanian Devil is more about what I would like to talk about this week. Even though this is a cartoon, it shows the two most important parts of
developing a new medical device: the doctor and patient. If either of these groups disapprove of the device you are making, there is no chance of success. Ultimately, it is about improving the quality of life for a patient. As in this cartoon where the Tasmanian Devil is trusting Bugs the doctor to treat him (even though that bottle of nitroglycerin is pretty big), patients rely on their doctors to provide them the best options to help them. I strongly believe that the doctors (and for most of the devices we are developing, these would be surgeons) take this responsibility seriously. For us making a medical device, we also take this seriously since we have to take both groups into consideration. If the surgeon does not like how the device feels, handles and performs, they will look at other options if they are available since they want the best for their patients. Patients will let the surgeons know, in no uncertain terms, how their selected device is performing.
When we start to develop a device such as the fistula plug or the vascular graft, the first order of business is to meet with as many surgeons as possible to listen to what problems they are facing with their patients, how many patients this problem effects, what they like and dislike about the current processes and what would they like to see if they could make a device. We cannot get enough opinions because every surgeon’s experience is different depending on locations within the country, their level of skill and level of experience. After hearing different opinions, we then begin to develop a prototype device, run different tests and then circle back to these same surgeons to let them provide their thoughts on the prototype. This iterative process continues until we have the best device possible. It doesn’t end here though. We continue to work with surgeons as we think about how to evaluate these devices in a clinical trial or to have them provide their opinion to a potential strategic partner or investor to help acquire funding that will allow advancing the device.
This week alone I conversed, either through email or via phone, with several colon and rectal surgeons, a transplant surgeon and an orthopedic surgeon. These are three different programs that we are developing, some at concept stage and some much further along. I cannot express enough how much I enjoy these discussions. These respective surgeons are so passionate about helping their patients. They are also disappointed about how often they have no great options for helping their patients. The problem, as I explain it to them, is that devices that we are evaluating for their patients are not multi-billion-dollar markets. This significantly limits interest from investors. It is hard for surgeons to understand this since all they can see is that they have patients who need help. For me, it is frustrating because I hear what these surgeons are saying and all I can say is we are doing all we can to get interest because without funding, we are so limited in what we can do. As you know, I am an optimist and stubborn. I will keep trying until I exhaust every avenue. Every patient is worth that effort. Maybe we will find a partner or investor that is interested in devices that even though they won’t hit a “home run” in terms of a return, they will still hit a “double” in that they will make money and help patients.
Please continue to stay vigilant and keep social distancing, wear a mask where social distancing is not possible to protect yourself and those around you and frequently wash your hands. Doing the simple things gets us back to some sense of normal. The scientific evidence is overwhelming that masks and social distancing have a positive effect on controlling the virus. Please keep supporting your local businesses as they continue to work through these challenging times. Many other businesses are nowhere near out of the woods yet and won’t be for a long time. As we head to winter in Massachusetts and the cases go up, more businesses are going to rely on curbside take-out. If you can, grab some take-out or visit their outdoor seating for restaurants (while the weather is still decent and the heaters still work) or get an online membership for a local gym. Please also consider donating to your local food pantry or to other nonprofit groups that are helping people who need it. Every little bit helps! Americans are a tough, innovative bunch and we will get through this together!