While the headquarters of the world’s largest medical device and diagnostics corporations have historically been located, well, elsewhere, California has long occupied a role of central importance for the advancement of medical technologies.

In fact, it would be hard to imagine what today’s medtech sector might be like without the influence of California’s early medtech entrepreneurs. The R&D processes created by those product developers— sometimes without significant corporate funding or the resources of government or university labs—have given the medical device industry a number of distinctive characteristics when compared to other life sciences sectors.

Today, California’s entrepreneurial culture continues to be an important foundation of medtech innovation. But the growth and increasing sophistication of the sector over the past four decades have elevated the need for many other resources.

Connected Academia

California’s academic resources have proven up to the challenge, with 11 of the top 100 universities on the Shanghai index located in the state. Top players include the University of California campuses at Berkeley, Davis, Irvine, Los Angeles, San Diego, San Francisco, Santa Barbara, and Santa Cruz, plus the well-known private powerhouses at the California Institute of Technology, Stanford University, and the University of Southern California. Several of these universities have programs focused directly on medical technology innovation and entrepreneurship.

For instance, UC Irvine’s Samueli School of Engineering houses the Edwards Lifesciences Center for Advanced Cardiovascular Technology, an academic-based research and training center aimed at fostering an interdisciplinary approach toward the understanding of cardiovascular disease.

At Stanford, the schools of medicine and engineering came together to create the Stanford Biodesign program, whose mission is to train students, fellows, and faculty in the Biodesign process, a systematic approach to needs-finding and the invention and implementation of new biomedical technologies. Key components of the program include classes in medtech innovation, mentoring of students and faculty in the technology transfer process, and career services for students interested in medtech careers.

USC boasts the Alfred E. Mann Institute for Biomedical Engineering, a nonprofit organization intended to bridge the gap between biomedical invention and the creation of commercially successful medical products that improve and save lives. The institute was established by wellknown serial medtech entrepreneur Al Mann, who selected USC because of its rich pool of biomedical talent.

Table 1 – Top California organizations receiving NIH funding for FY 2015 (through September 28, 2015). Source: National Institutes of Health.
Equally important, life sciences activities in California’s universities are relatively well funded. In fiscal year 2015, according to the 2016 report of the California Life Sciences Association (CLSA), San Diego, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) awarded California scientists more than 7,300 research grants totaling $3.26 billion—the most of any state in the nation. In addition to the usual university suspects, top NIH grant recipients in California during FY 2015 included the Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, a nonprofit research institution whose philosophy emphasizes the creation of basic knowledge in the biosciences for its application in medicine. (See Table 1)

“California is blessed with a rare combination of very favorable factors that help drive innovation,” says Josh Makower, MD, MBA, a consulting professor of medicine at Stanford University Medical School and cofounder of the university’s Biodesign program. “There’s an amazing pool of senior, experienced entrepreneurs, inventors, and innovators who are capable of mentoring others; a constant flow of talent from nearby companies and universities; and a culture of innovation stemming from years of successful local companies such as Fairchild, Intel, Apple, Oracle, Guidant, Devices for Vascular Intervention, Perclose, Facebook, Twitter, Ardian, Acclarent, and so on.”

Table 2 – A selection of medtech accelerators and incubators in California.
Makower is his own best example. A serial entrepreneur in his own right, he is founder and CEO of ExploraMed Development LLC, Mountain View, one of many West Coast medtech incubators. (See Table 2) In addition, he is a venture partner with New Enterprise Associates, Menlo Park, where he supports the firm’s investing activity in the medical device arena. And he is coauthor of a compendium created to support teaching efforts in Stanford’s Biodesign program.