From Aerospace to Health | Evidation Health CEO Deb Kilpatrick


What I really wanted to do is I really want to be a
medicine and I really wanted to be in healthcare. And I had no idea how to do that, because I knew I didn’t
want to be a doctor. And I knew I was really good at engineering, but what engineers do in medicine, and
make that sounds like a crazy thing now, because of course, we all know the engineers have a big role to
play medicine. But back then, this is now 1991. You know, it wasn’t it wasn’t so obvious. I’ve been really, really fortunate to observe some
incredible technologies and products up close, because I started my career as an r&d engineer in aerospace
before I went into r&d as an engineer in healthcare, and so I’m going to walk you through a few of those
product journeys, and talk about my role on those because everything that I know and believe about
creating value and an ecosystem, which by the way, is the most important thing that we have to think about
in the US healthcare system. today. I learned from these experiences, so let’s go way, way back to the
late 1980s. What was going on in the world? If you lived in the US, which I don’t think any of you were
probably born is there was the Cold War, like the first Cold War, right? So the union versus United
States. And if you were a student in engineering, at the major universities or big programs in the US, you
probably went to work at a defense contractor. Why? Because that’s where all the jobs work. You have to
imagine that there was no tech sector, right? Imagine that the automotive sector and the defense sector were
where we worked in so like many other students with my background, I had an undergraduate degree in
engineering science and mechanics, which is about as theoretical as you can get as an undergraduate
engineer. It’s sort of like majoring in continuum mechanics. And so I became an expert in solid behavior
and an expert in computational approaches to modeling solid behavior. And so I was recruited by Pratt
Whitney as a 21 year old, I was suddenly found myself building computational models to run on one of five
Cray supercomputers that were on the planet at the time. And if you’re familiar with the history of
supercomputing, you’ll recognize that that picture in the middle is a Cray supercomputer. They’re actually
now kind of kind of well known for being this amazing example of design versus function, because not really
clear if it had to be designed that way to be functional. But it shows how it looks cool. And so
it’s actually been a lot of architecture and design articles written about the Cray for those of you who
are fans of that sort of thing. And just to give you a sense of of what we were doing, so I was a structural
analyst, and my job was to make sure that the F 22 Raptor when it was built, that the engine would be
able to take that playing faster and higher than any other plane on the planet and be able to be a
deterrent to combat the cold war against the Soviet Union. My role specifically in that was to make sure
that these little parts didn’t blow up and cause an explosion of the airplane. Does anybody know what that
is? That’s a turbine blade. Fact is specifically it’s a high turbine blade, and the big difference between
turbine blades and fanboys and when you look into the, you’re looking if you’re like getting on a plane and
you’re sort of looking at the engine and light you’re looking at fan blades. And there’s really big even in
military test and pretty big turbine blades are the workhorse of a gas turbine engine. They’re deep within
the heart of the of the of the engine. And the high turbine, which is the workhorse of the turban is the
first blade in a row of turbines that gets the gets the turbo boost and gets the power and gets the thrust
to the engine. To give you sense of size, those things are about this big in a military aircraft. So you’re
getting a huge amount of power from very small amounts of of metal, but because the heat and the speed and
all of the dynamics associated with resonance and elasticity are going on in that particular part in
that particular part of the engine. If it breaks, the thing blows up, right. And so my job was to figure out
work in a team and figure out how to build what at the time were really state of the art computational models
of what those parts would experience in the Raptor at, at flight, different flight conditions. I was 21 years
old, I had no idea the scope of what I was actually working on. But I really, really liked it. I was
really good at computation. I was really good at analysis. And this would become really incredibly
important to how I viewed r&d and product development, you know, through my career. But what I really wanted
to do is I really wanted to be a medicine and I really wanted to be in healthcare. And I had no idea how to
do that because I knew I didn’t want to be a doctor. And I knew I was really good at engineering but what
engineers do and medicine and make that Sounds like a crazy thing now because of course, we all know the
engineers have a big role to play Madison. But back then, this is now 1991. You know, it wasn’t, it wasn’t
so obvious. And so what I did is I went back to grad school and was at one of the original five funded
major bioengineering programs in the country at Georgia Tech. So I just had to go back to Georgia
Tech, and did my PhD in mechanical engineering, with a focus in bioengineering. And what I did is I basically
took all the work that I had done in aerospace and figured out a way to translate that into soft tissue.
So multi phase materials, which follow the laws of physics and an airplane are the same kinds of you can
use the same kind of approaches in the body for soft tissue in multi-phase solid problems, use the same
kind of computational approaches, but nobody had done that yet. And so that was my PhD. When I got out, I
wanted to go into healthcare and I wanted to go into medical devices. And so I landed here. in Silicon
Valley, now we’re in about 1996, late 1996. And at the time, there was a very, very big push to understand
actual loads on devices as they were implanted in the body. And to understand how you could really push the
envelope by modeling those conditions more accurately, and being able to model implant behavior in the same
way on the computer as you would experience it historically in vivo. Sound familiar? Yeah. So I was
basically doing very similar thing in modeling implants and vascular stents, as I had been doing in
aerospace only now I’m operating at really, really tiny scale. So these devices were about three
millimeters in diameter. And at the time, there was a true huge push to use all the geography you could to
deliver drug and nobody had developed these quite yet, but we were certainly moving fast and furious. Ladies
in industry, between Johnson and Johnson guided and Boston Scientific are the three companies that were
sort of chasing that. The Division of guidance that I was involved with was here in Santa Clara. It’s now
Abbott vascular. I’ll get to that in a minute, down off the one on one, as you almost are going to San
Jose. And my job was to help figure out what you’re looking at in the middle is an angiogram, an X ray
angiogram of the coronary tree and a beating heart. And my job was to help figure out how you could design
not only metal implants, but designed bio absorbable material implants and have them not break. Again very
similar job to what I did in aerospace. And about that time, we were acquired for 36 billion sorry for 26
billion. At the time, it was the largest medical device acquisition in history. It’s still the top
three second only to Medtronic acquisition of Covidien A few years ago, and we were acquired by Boston
Scientific. And we were immediately my division was immediately sold to Abbott. Now, you might know avid
as a really large pharma company now known as advi. At the time, it was all one pharma company and they were
starting a device branch. And when we were acquired by them, one of the two or two of the most important
products that they they wanted as part of the acquisition was a product called Zions V, which is
there on the on the left in the box on the left on the right, which was a drug eluting coronary stent system
that eluded a product called everolimus. And the absorbed by absorbable vascular scaffold, which for
those of you who might be experts, or understand by materials by absorber materials, literally over time,
they’re resorbed into the tissue. So yes, kind of like a disappearing implant. And so, the the journey of how
we did all this as a company there are a lot of hardware Business Studies, a Harvard case reviews
written about it business cases written about it, because we had to go from an electro mechanical device
company to a drug delivery company. It’s it’s not, it’s not easy to do. And in fact, there’s a lot of
argument that the reason we were acquired is because we had such a hard time doing it that we really got.
We got beaten up in the market by Johnson and Johnson, who was both a pharmaceutical company and a device
company. And so they beat us to the market. We had a lot of problems with our stock price around that time,
and and we acquired.

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