"I'm very enthusiastic about Israel's R&D capacity"

Medtronic senior VP Stephen Oesterle: It's best for me to invest, let the start up grown and then acquire it.

"I recently visited a hospital in China with capacity for 6,000 people. The attention a patient there gets from the physician is 30 minutes a day. Then it hit me: we can not take care of the masses of people by building bigger hospitals; rather we need to develop remote technology for certain diseases like diabetes, hypertension, heart failure etc. " said Medtronic Inc. (NYSE: MDT) VP medicine and technology Steve Osterle MD, and the person in charge of the vision of the world's largest medical instrumentation company. Osterle, an avid fan of Israel who visited here more than 15 times in the past 5 years, arrived this time to speak at the ICI Invasive Cardiology Conference which will open tomorrow in Tel Aviv.

"Mine is a 20-year vision," he said. "It will not happen overnight because there are still issues that need to be resolved such as the reliability of the information systems, encoding and access. But it will happen. Today, only 1 billion out of 7 billion people in the world have access to advanced healthcare. Fortunately for the medical instrumentation companies, the infrastructure for information transfer is available almost all over the world and we only need to supply the content and the software."

Osterle believes the medicine of the future would be better: "Today's physicians make decisions based on clinical information, which is very partial. Medtronic has implanted and wearable sensors and the algorithms we developed are there to identify the information that triggers the alert. This is the secret of such a system: true alerts."

Tell us about the exciting products that Medtronic is developing today

"We joined forces with Ford in creating Onstar, a system which monitors the car at all time and transfers information about the driver's wellbeing and ability to drive, etc." Osterle also lists the "artificial pancreas" - a system that takes glucose reading to determine the exact dosage of insulin.

Another product addresses the reduction of severe hypertension which does not respond well to pharmaceutical treatment, by means of denervation, or intentional interruption of the nervous system that leads to the kidney. Medtronic acquired Ardian, the developer of the product, in exchange for USD 800 million and additional milestone payments that would bring the total amount to billions of dollars. This product is now awaiting the FDA clearance in the USA.

When you first came to Israel, you were beyond yourself with enthusiasm. Do you still feel this way?

"The environment in Israel is very healthy. However, the venture capital community is in a problem. In the healthcare area in particular, the capital allocated to risky companies shrank by 50%-60%. Now Medtronic is assuming part of the investment in young companies. The scope of the investment by medical instrumentation corporations in these stages has doubled over the past few years, accounting to 20% of the total investment today."

We love your ideas

"It is in Israel, of all places," he added, "that we still find early stage investments. There are good funds. Israel also offers the best engineers in the world and we love your ideas." Nonetheless, says Osterle, "It's important to remember that medical instrument innovation often starts at the patient's bedside. While Israel has more innovation per bed, India or China has many more beds."

Did you consider setting up an incubator in Israel or elsewhere?

"We did, but it is not something that we are considering right now."

You closed the valve company Ventor, and with it the plans to build a significant R&D center in Israel…

"The Ventor technology is still alive in Medtronic. The reason for relocating the center was purely logistic. I am still very enthusiastic about Israel’s R&D capacity. On the other hand, there is also the approach that says that you come up with innovations very well without external help, so why hold your engineers 'in captivity'? It's better for me to invest, let the start-up grow and acquire it later. These are strategic questions that each one of our business divisions needs to address."

Which technologies do you dream of?

"There is no good solution for Parkinson and Alzheimer diseases yet. There is also no instrument-based solution for cancer. NovoCure from Israel, in which we have an investment, is the only company in this area."

As the person in charge of the future of a medical instrumentation company that has implanted offering too, what do you think about the Singularity concept?

"Come on! Leave this question to the writers of The Matrix. Yes, we are working on man-machine interface. Every piece of medical equipment is a man-machine interface. Yes, we can modify people's thoughts with our instruments already today, and in the future we will be able to do so from a distance, but Singularity? I never heard this term at Medtronic."

Published by Globes [online], Israel business news - www.globes-online.com - on December 2, 2012

© Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd. 2012

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