We love engineers here at DeviceTalks.
It’s obvious why. Engineers are the straw that stirs medtech’s drink (apologies to Reggie Jackson). Nothing happens — financing, manufacturing, approval, help for patients — without a well-conceived product.
And engineers often transcend their typical design roles. They grow into business leaders, technology evangelists, startup CEOs, and yes, some stay to lead ground-breaking research and development groups.
So I’m thrilled to be bringing engineers of all types into the agenda of DeviceTalks Boston. We’ll have engineers from Abbott, ZimVie, Philips, Boston Scientific, Stryker and many other companies on hand to talk about being an engineer.
But we’ll also hear from engineers who have followed their careers into other parts of the medical device industry.
In this column, we’ll walk you through some of their career highlights as told in interviews on our DeviceTalks Weekly podcast. We’ll explain their roles at the upcoming DeviceTalks Boston conference happening May 10-11 at the Boston Convention & Exhibition Center.
Early-bird rates are expiring. Register before March 9 to save $300.
The business leader
Megan Scanlon, the president of urology at Boston Scientific, calls herself a “recovering mechanical engineer” after leading medical device businesses for years.
Scanlon will lead a discussion at DeviceTalks Boston about Boston Scientific’s LithoVue Elite Single-Use Digital Flexible Ureteroscope System, which employs a sensor capable of monitoring intrarenal pressure (IRP) in real-time during ureteroscopy procedures to manage kidney stones.
Scanlon started her engineering career at Gillette Co. designing razors, “which was a pretty remarkable job.” But she left the company to secure a master’s degree in engineering and her master of business administration.
“That was really the springboard for me to change industries,” she said. She joined Johnson & Johnson in marketing, operations and finance roles before moving to Boston Scientific. Now she leads a $1.7 billion business.
What role does her engineering training play in running a medical device business? “I will never, ever completely put my engineering skills behind me,” Scanlon says. “The nice thing about medical devices is it’s very technical, both the biomechanics of the procedures that we’re doing, as well as the biomechanics of how the devices work. So my learning curve to kind of understand the technical aspects of these procedures, of these devices and of what surgeons are trying to accomplish was quite quick.”
You can hear Scanlon’s entire interview on this episode of the DeviceTalks Weekly Podcast.
The technology evangelist
Robert Cohen, president of digital, robotics and enabling technologies at Stryker, caught the biomedical engineering bug early on while attending the New Jersey Institute of Technology. An engineering professor of his was assisting a surgeon in developing a total knee prosthesis.
The professor and surgeon would later advise him on his master’s degree thesis. Fueled by that early interest, Cohen co-founded and sold two medical device companies and helped spark the surgical robotics revolution at Mako Surgical.
Today, Cohen leads Stryker’s campaign to connect robotics, digital tools, AI and data science into a seamless therapeutic system. He’ll be part of a May 11 keynote panel featuring other surgical robotics executives and leaders who discuss “Where Robotics, Data, and Digital Can Take the OR.”
How did Cohen position himself for the broader responsibilities of leading Stryker’s charge into the digital OR? Cohen points to his early days at orthopedic startups where “you were jack of all trades.” In his first startup, Cohen worked with product development, research and development, clinical research, manufacturing, marketing and regulatory.
“Back then,” he recalled. “We were not allowed to design a product if we couldn’t sell the product. So we had to be able to speak and articulate the merits, features and benefits of the products to surgeons.”
Cohen says forcing engineers to think as marketing professionals — or as surgeons — might is critical to designing the best product.
“When you have the surgeon in front of you, it becomes very obvious that what may be important to me may not be important to the surgeon,” Cohen said. “Or the way I may say. It may not be the way a surgeon really needs to hear it. This allows you to become a more effective communicator. That experience in talking to customers and sales reps and marketing people, I am hugely appreciative of because it really honed me into the person I am today.”
You can hear Cohen’s entire StrykerTalks Interview here.
The startup executive
Moon Surgical CEO Anne Osdoit will join Cohen in the DeviceTalks Boston Day 2 keynote panel, helping attendees understand where the combination of surgical robotics, data and other technologies will take us.
Osdoit holds master’s degrees in engineering from École Polytechnique and Johns Hopkins University, but her early career interest was actually medicine.
“I always wanted to be a medical doctor,” she said. But after her parents pointed to the years of study required to obtain a medical degree in France, she shifted her interests to biomedical engineering so she could work in hospitals and interact with physicians. Ultimately, she moved into the marketing and clinical affairs at medtech companies and began working with venture capitalists.
Osdoit is leading Moon Surgical’s effort to develop the Maestro robotic system, which could help create surgical replacements that could offset the growing shortage of surgeons. The startup recently secured FDA clearance for Maestro, which can hold surgical tools in place during procedures, freeing up residents and other assistants to help in other areas.
You can hear her interview here.
The R&D leader
Kevin Bourque is an engineer’s engineer. Bourque targeted the medical device industry right out of college, applying to companies in the Boston area.
“I was focused on medtech and once I got in I got the bug,” Bourque said. “A lot of engineers who are working in medical devices have to admit to themselves that they’re stuck [in the industry] for life because it’s so rewarding.”
Bourque started at an MRI manufacturer, but has spent most of his career developing ventricular pump technology. Following a series of acquisitions he now leads research and development of Abbott’s Heartmate LVAD.
“One of the nice parts of hanging around in one spot for so long is you get to see the evolution” of a technology, Bourque says.
To hear his interview, go here.
In the LVAD’s early days, engineers wondered if they could actually pump blood. Now that Bourque and other engineers have helped answer that question, he’s joining a panel that will ask deep questions about healthcare equity. He’ll sit on a panel featuring Abbott executives and a former Heartmate user who has transitioned off the device thanks to a heart donation.
Abbott’s “Innovative Options to Treat Heart Failure Should Leave No Patient Behind” panel takes place at 2 p.m. on May 10.
DeviceTalks Boston is the place where engineers can not only improve their craft — think digital twins, high-powered sensors and other cool tech — but also understand how their work fits into the bigger healthcare picture. (And beyond, as DeviceTalks attendees can attend sessions at our Healthcare Robotics Engineering Forum and Robotics Summit & Expo.)
Finally, we’ll also host conversations about how engineers and other critical medtech makers can build their own success.
We love engineers at DeviceTalks. We hope it shows.
Previously: They said it at DeviceTalks Boston 2022