Bench to Bedside — Leading Medical Devices to Market

The medical devices sector is a rapidly growing industry, but getting new and often novel medical technology innovations from the idea to moneymaking stage is a long, complex process.

Duke’s Fuqua School of Business and the Pratt School of Engineering are offering a first-of-its-kind graduate course in medical device marketing and device business strategies to increase the chances of success for would-be inventers and industry leaders.

“The premise for the course is taking a product from the bench to the bedside through a highly regulated environment,” said Gopal Chopra, who has a M.D. in neurosurgery. Fuqua offered the course for the first time in the fall of 2003, and will offer it again in the fall of 2004. The website for the course can be found under Chopra’s
faculty page. Chopra is an adjunct assistant professor with Fuqua, and works for Boston Scientific in their Ventures Group, New Business Development.

Leading Medical Device Innovation to Market (HLTHMGMT 491) is part of Fuqua’s Health Sector Management MBA program, and is strongly encouraged as an elective for engineering graduate students, particularly BME and EE. In addition to Chopra, it is co-taught by Dr. Robert Anderson, a Pratt graduate and former chairman of surgery at Duke.

“Our goal is to produce leaders for tomorrow’s biomedical tools industry,” said Mort Friedman, professor of biomedical engineering professor at Pratt. “This course will prepare students for the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead.”

“The Fuqua Health Sector Management Program is now the largest business school program devoted to the health industry,” said Dr. Kevin Schulman, director of the program. “This collaboration to fully develop management tools for the medical technology sector complements our efforts in the program on pharmaceuticals and biologics.”

The initial course attracted students with diverse academic backgrounds, from engineers to clinical medical researchers to marketing and business students, and Chopra envisions that will continue. “It takes a unique mix of people with different backgrounds to pull off a successful product,” he explains.

Chopra divides that intellectual diversity into teams, and then assigns each a medical device to “take to market.” Each team builds a marketing model for their technology and learns how to forecast how quickly the technology might be adopted into mainstream medical practice with an in depth analysis of the promoters and hurdles in the process.

For many students, the complexity of getting new technology approved for use is an eye opener. The clinical trials and federal approvals take time and money, and learning to judge the degree of need for the technology within the medical community is also challenging.

At the end of the course, teams pitch their ideas and market plans to actual venture capital companies and industry professionals to get real-world reactions, suggestions and critiques. The course has been designed by Chopra to be an immersion into the real life issues candidates will face after the initial “I’ve got the perfect solution for” epiphany.

The initial class was so successful with students that Chopra developed executive courses, designed for professionals already in the medical industry. “There is an immense need to bring new management perspectives and strategic options to those already participating in medical device businesses, from assessing the unmet need through to pricing and clinical trials” said Chopra.

“We are now providing the executive course not only to entrepreneurs, but also to large publicly held device companies,” Chopra said. “We’re creating a buzz in the industry, and it is making a big impact on differentiating our school and our students.”

“Gopal is a great strength and resource. He brings tremendous energy and enthusiasm to the classroom. This course was incredibly well received last year, and we have even higher hopes this year,” said Schulman.