There is a need for increased funding and prioritization of researching disease states that still have little-to-no treatment options. Neurology is a particular challenge, especially with the growing aging population. For instance, according to Alzheimer’s Disease International, someone develops dementia every three seconds and the current annual cost of dementia is estimated at US $1 trillion, a figure set to double by 2030.
As a part of my interview series with leaders in healthcare, I had the pleasure to interview Maurice R. Ferré, MD. Maurice is the CEO and Chairman of the Board of Directors at INSIGHTEC, the innovator of incisionless surgery using focused ultrasound. Dr. Ferré brings over 20 years of experience as a serial entrepreneur in the medical technology industry. He was the recipient of the prestigious Ernest & Young 2007 Entrepreneur of the Year Award and was awarded BioFlorida’s Lifetime Achievement Award in 2018.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
Iwas raised in a family of ambitious people who were committed to helping their communities. My father was a six-term mayor in Miami and the first Hispanic mayor of any large city in the United States. My great aunt was a nun who was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom. My father, aunt and others in my family inspired me to pursue a career in medicine.
However, instead of pursuing a residency, I decided to enroll in an entrepreneurial fellowship at Boston University. This decision ultimately guided me down a path to the fascinating intersection of medicine and technology. I remain focused on medical technology that is transformative.
Today, the company I lead, INSIGHTEC, is transforming how neurosurgery is performed using sound waves instead of a scalpel. Our incisionless surgery platform is currently being used to treat people living with essential tremor and tremor-dominant Parkinson’s disease at 60 medical centers around the world.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
That story is happening today with the expansion of our US headquarters in Miami. INSIGHTEC was founded on Israeli innovation and today we are realizing tremendous commercial momentum. We recently met with the Governor of Florida about our future plans for growth. This is rewarding for me, both on a personal and professional level. Miami is my home and a hub for healthcare and technology companies, offering INSIGHTEC access to markets in Latin America, opportunities for attracting top talent, and the chance be a part of the inspiring growth of Miami’s medical technology industry.
What makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
INSIGHTEC is truly changing lives. For a person living with essential tremor, everyday activities that we take for granted are a struggle — buttoning a shirt, writing a text message, drinking a glass of water. This condition may start out mild, but as it progresses, uncontrollable shaking steals away a person’s independence. INSIGHTEC’s focused ultrasound treatment can provide immediate relief for certain patients with no incisions. This means that they can usually go home the same day.
There is not just one story, but thousands. There’s Karen who went to the beach the day after treatment, Gregg who was able to get back to work, Alex who is still amazed by her steady hand, Gary who wrote a hand-written letter to his sister, Beverly who is back engaged with her career and her photography and Bob who has been sharing his experience on Facebook. Stories of people who have been able to get back to living their lives.
Can you tell our readers about the innovations that you are bringing to and/or see in the healthcare industry? How do you envision that this might disrupt the status quo? Which “pain point” is this trying to address?
Surgeons have been cutting away disease for hundreds of years. INSIGHTEC’s innovation uses sound waves to treat deep in the brain with no incisions — and the results are immediate. Imagine one day brain surgery. While people living with essential tremor are first prescribed medications, in up to 50% of patients, medication doesn’t provide satisfactory tremor relief. That means that many people are simply at home, living with a diminished quality of life. Incisionless surgery gives these people a treatment option with little to no risk of infection and a rapid recovery time.
While our Incisionless Neurosurgery Platform is currently FDA approved to treat essential tremor and tremor-dominant Parkinson’s disease, focused ultrasound is being evaluated in early stage clinical trials to treat society’s most burdensome diseases including Alzheimer’s disease, ALS, Parkinson’s dementia and glioblastoma.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)
1. Take risks. Don’t be afraid to explore and find something you find fulfilling and challenging, even if it wasn’t part of the original plan. As a medical student, deciding to forgo residency and pursue an entrepreneurial fellowship was certainly a risky decision and one that some of my mentors questioned. However, that decision ended up forming the foundation for my entire career.
2. Raise capital and don’t be afraid to network. To start my first company, VTI, an innovator of image-guided surgery for ENT, cranial and orthopedic procedures, I had a mentor who was able to connect me with the right people for the necessary financing. This was an important lesson I learned as young entrepreneur.
3. Be passionate and remain humble. Success in business brings many rewards, but do not let that change who you are. At my core, I am a family man and that is reflected in how I run my companies on a daily basis.
4. Surround yourself with people who are willing to tell you what you need to hear. What’s great about this country is that diversity brings various points of view and experiences. At all of my companies, I have brought together a team of people who not only contribute their expertise but also challenge me and my decisions.
5. Pay it forward. As I have progressed in my career, I’ve always found it rewarding to mentor and offer advice to those just starting out. I joined the Endeavor Miami board and find it inspiring to mentor young entrepreneurs.
Let’s jump to the main focus of our interview. According to this studycited by Newsweek, the US healthcare system is ranked as the worst among high income nations. This seems shocking. Can you share with us 3–5 reasons why you think the US is ranked so poorly?
While there are a number of challenges facing our healthcare system today, I do want to recognize the significant innovation we’ve achieved as an industry. Diseases that were once fatal have been eradicated through impressive research efforts and innovative approaches. With that in mind, the following are challenges we as an industry need to address in the years to come:
- There is a need for increased funding and prioritization of researching disease states that still have little-to-no treatment options. Neurology is a particular challenge, especially with the growing aging population. For instance, according to Alzheimer’s Disease International, someone develops dementia every three seconds and the current annual cost of dementia is estimated at US $1 trillion, a figure set to double by 2030.
- According to the CDC, more than 46 million Americans live in rural areas and often face health disparities from physician shortage, particularly in specialized fields, to limited resources and a lack of access to medical facilities in the area. As a result, many Americans are experiencing health inequities and are not obtaining the care they need.
- Navigating the healthcare system and finding the right treatment can be a daunting tasks for patients. However, with advances in technology, patients have been able to become more knowledgeable and strong personal advocates for their own health. Given this, providers and payers need to modernize to meet patient expectations and create partnerships with patients to ensure they are receiving the best possible course of treatment for them.
You are a “healthcare insider”. Can you share your thoughts on changes that need to be made to improve the overall US healthcare system? Please share a story or example for each.
To tackle some of the world’s most challenging diseases, we will need to take a multidisciplinary approach and further integrate technology and healthcare. Going back to neurology, we have spent years researching medicines and treatment methods for various diseases but have yet to be able to come close to a cure. Take glioblastoma, for example. This is a disease where the standard of care has not changed in decades and, in order to progress treatment for glioblastoma and neurological conditions overall, we’ll need to utilize both medical devices and pharmacology for more efficient and effective drug delivery.
Advancements in technology present the opportunity to address barriers and provide high quality care to all patients across the country. Continuing to expand access to innovative treatments outside of major metropolitan areas can allow for communities to obtain the care they need. For example, CHI Health in Nebraska City became one of 16 treatment centers offering focused ultrasound treatment for essential tremor in 2019. Since beginning treatments in 2019, CHI has been able to complete the most treatments of any facility in the United States. This is just one example of how bringing new technologies to smaller communities can have a major impact.
As mentioned, consumers have become highly educated regarding their healthcare and finding the treatment they wish to receive. Part of this wave of new patient demand includes a call for less invasive treatment methods and more procedures pursued on an outpatient basis that will allow patients to get back to their everyday lives faster. Provider and payers must be willing to pursue newer approaches and work toward making less invasive treatment the standard of care.
Thank you! It’s great to suggest changes, but what specific steps would need to be taken to implement your ideas? What can individuals, corporations, communities and leaders do to help?
By investing in clinical research and innovation, hospitals will experience an influx of patients seeking best-in-class treatments. Our growing partnerships with medical centers around the world have enabled focused ultrasound treatment to become more widely available to patients in need and have increased our opportunity for more studies evaluating the potential this technology can hold.
Work with your community to identify issues, partner with other passionate individuals and organizations to find solutions and you will be able to make a difference. You may need to fight naysayers along the way, but the end result of offering a solution that has the power to significantly improve one’s quality of life, is what makes everything worth it.
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