How a software engineer tried to save his sister and invented a breakthrough medical device

How a software engineer tried to save his sister and invented a breakthrough medical device

Summary: I meet a lot of Silicon Valley companies but rarely do I come across a story as inspiring as this one. Robert Goldman is the founder of Vascular Designs, a company that just won FDA approval to sell a breakthrough medical device that could save the lives of countless terminally ill cancer patients.

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Robert Goldman CEO Vascular Designs

Robert Goldman CEO Vascular Designs

I meet a lot of Silicon Valley companies but rarely do I come across a story as inspiring as this one. Robert Goldman is the founder of Vascular Designs, a company that just won FDA approval to sell a breakthrough medical device that could save the lives of countless terminally ill cancer patients.

It's a story of Mr Goldman's efforts to try and save his sister, diagnosed with terminal cancer. It's a story of his stubbornness to try and succeed in an area he knew absolutely nothing about, and with experts that told him it couldn't be done.

It's also a story of discovering a calling, to help others.

It all began in the late 1990s after Mr Goldman had sold key intellectual property to Intellectual Ventures, the IP licensing company founded by Nathan Myhrvold, the former Microsoft CTO. He had enough money that he didn't need to work anymore.

But he was unable to enjoy his early retirement for long because his sister was diagnosed with terminal cancer.

Here are some notes from our conversation:

- I wanted to help my sister as much as I could. I went to Medline, where there are hundreds of thousands of documents describing clinical studies, to see what I could find.

- There are billions of dollars spent every year on clinical studies. I was surprised to discover that there were sometimes clinical studies of treatments for which there were no clinical applications. The trials would show successful results but no clinical applications.

- I found a 1987 Italian funded set of clinical studies that showed successful treatment of tumors by the application of chemotherapy directly into the tumors. But I could find nothing since then.

- Tumors develop a feeder vessel that provides them with blood. I came up with an idea that if you could make a catheter small enough, you could thread it through a patient's blood vessels and directly into the tumor's feeder. You would then be able to direct chemotherapy straight into the tumor.

- I decided to design and make the device. I founded Vascular Designs in 2001.

- Medical device startup companies generally take a lot of money, around $25 million is a fairly typical first round capital requirement.

- I had absolutely no idea what I was doing, or what it would take. But I wanted to make sure I wasn't completely delusional. I thought I would start at Stanford and met with Dr. Michael Dake, professor of cardiothoracic surgery at Stanford University School of Medicine. He told that me if I could produce the device it might very well work.

- But there were many people who told me it couldn't be done, or that the materials wouldn't work, or that I would never get it through the FDA process. I would ask them if this is because they had done the research? They said no, they hadn't, but it wouldn't work anyway.

- I ignored their advice. I was determined to go ahead with it because I wanted to help my sister as much as possible, even though I had absolutely no idea what I was doing.

- I managed to outsource a lot of the work. I found a company in Santa Cruz, through the Internet, that could help me with the design.

- The first catheter we produced we were told it was too big. There was no easy way to scale it down. We had to start again.

- It took us two years to do the engineering. And it has taken the FDA seven years and two months to approve the product for sale. We were able to shorten the FDA process a little by saying that it was similar to other devices that had already been approved.

-Because the FDA is so strict it will be very easy to get approval in other countries.

- We are now just 2 months away from using it in cancer treatments.

- It cost just $1.8 million to develop. I did raise some funding only because some good people I knew wanted to be a part of this and this was how they could participate. They will make a lot of money from this, which is good because they can put it towards the development of other life saving products.

- I'm hoping that if people read about this device they will bring it to the attention of their doctors despite some medical practitioners not believing that it can be done. When you have terminal cancer and you have exhausted all other treatments why wouldn't you want to try this?

- There was no prior intellectual property around this device, we own the IP. The market for this runs into the billions of dollars.

- I'm not interested in the money, I already have enough money. I just want to help people. We want to make sure that this is available to people who can't afford the treatment. Why should this be only for the rich?

- It's too late for my sister. She died and suffered terribly. I can't wait to meet the first person and their family that will benefit from this. I've found my agenda in life and it's about helping people.

- - -

Mr Goldman showed me the catheter, a long very thin teal colored tube that is attached to three plungers. When Inserted into a blood vessel (a clear plastic tube for the demo) the plungers inflate two balloons that produce a tight fit. This cuts blocks blood flow to the tumor. A separate plunger can then deliver chemotherapy directly into the tumor. The device can be used to treat any solid tumor, breast cancer, brain cancer, pancreatic, etc.

Here is a video of how it works:

Here is today's announcement of FDA approval:

Potential Breakthrough Cancer Treatment Now Available from Vascular Designs - The Company Announces FDA 510(k) Marketing Clearance for IsoFlow™ Infusion Catheter, Making Possible the Direct Delivery of Chemotherapy to Cancerous Tumors

Topics: Software, Government, Government US

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34 comments
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  • A CREDIT TO ENTREPENEURS

    This is the stuff of history; Thomas Edison, Alexander Fleming, John Logie Baird.

    I lost my sister to cancer at age 36yrs so he has my heartfelt sympathy and utmost admiration

    Robert Goldman is the kind of person who should be nominated for a Nobel Prize in Medicine.

    Steve__Jobs
  • RE: How a software engineer tried to save his sister and invented a breakthrough medical device

    Good job Mr. Goldman
    al881
  • RE: How a software engineer tried to save his sister and invented a breakthrough medical device

    A simple yet amazingly clever device which will have applications to a raft of nasty cancer tumours. As some who has been helping an animal fight a cancer tumour in her liver..read
    http://www.lepetithotel.co.nz/2009/06/maggie-update/
    this device would have immediate applications to bombing her liver tumour with chemo to shrink its physical size.
    I can understand the engineer's drive to try and save his sister....he gets all my accolades..
    Bruce Whitfield
    Christchurch, NZ
    pcsnz
  • Thank You and My Condolences go out to you

    I am very sorry about your sister. I really wished that she had the chance to be the first patient saved.

    I also appreciate your stance on money. When you have enough to live your life then anymore than that I give to Medical Research Charities. I lost my wife of 32 years, I too would like to see that no one else has to die the way she did and as early as she did.

    Respectfully,
    Fred Dunn
    dunn@...
    • Thank You and My Condolences go out to you

      Mr Dunn,
      My sympathies for your tragic loss. Your wife was only just starting out in real adult life.
      My admiration for your altruistic attitude to others in the same position. That puts you on the same level as Mr Goldman.
      Rgds,
      John
      Steve__Jobs
  • For-Profit Medicine

    "- It cost just $1.8 million to develop. I did raise some funding only because some good people I knew wanted to be a part of this and this was how they could participate. They will make a lot of money from this, which is good because they can put it towards the development of other life saving products."

    I can't believe these people are going to make money off of other peoples illnesses. I hope the government forces these greedy sleaze-bags to offer their device at a heavily reduced price. No one should profit from other peoples illnesses. Obama, our dear leader, told me so.


    On a more serious note, it is amazing the length individuals will go to for other peoples well being. This is truly a great story and I want to thank Tom Foremski for bringing this to our attention.
    mikefarinha
    • Really???

      "I hope the government forces..."

      Um...yeah...you still wanna live in America? Or Amerika??? Whenever you have the words "government" and "forces" juxtaposed, that is a serious problem!!!
      Techboy_z
      • he's being sarcastic

        His comments are nothing but thinly veiled contempt for a president who is actually trying to provide a modicum of health care for most people. His comments aren't very far from yours actually. If government were such a bad idea, then why have them at all, let's all have anarchy, that's even better, just let the people do what they want to do, be it freely to ravage our environment, invade our neighbors' rights, exploit anyone less fortunate than you, yeah, we'll have freedom then!
        nothingness
        • Except that

          Obama & Congresses plans will not help very many
          people and will simultaneously destroy health care
          for (CBO estimate) 80 million. That is almost half
          of the over 200 million who have Insurance
          coverage, and the 100% of everyone here (insurance
          or not, legal resident or not) who have access.
          The payments only FOLLOW the care.
          Please stop confusing CARE with INSURANCE.
          michaelstn@...
      • Then others will use it

        Even if some folks think the American government is the problem, don't worry. China will use it to help their people, just like they did with the stem cell technology forbidden by Bush and the anti-science Republikans.

        Seems like the pot calling the kettle black.
        minstrelmike@...
        • Bush STARTED Stem cell research!!

          I hate it when people blame BUSH for *not* allowing stem cell research. Get your facts straight please!! Clinton DENIED funding for stem cell research 8 times!!

          Bush was the FIRST to fund it!! His only caveat? No money for EMBRIONIC research (which has never had anything good come out of it anyway!). Almost ALL other forms (about 10)DID get money and continue to!!

          But of course the 'anti-Bushies' try to make it sound like Bush was AGAINST SCR... Nope, nada, incorrect...

          Oh, and the research money going to all those OTHER forms (besides embrionic)?? Has had HUGE benifits in Cord Blood SC's, Adult SC's, Juvenile SC's, and the list goes on!

          I guess we should all start saying that OBAMA IS AGAINST HEALTH CARE! Because he IS against giving free healthcare to pets!! After all, pets are part of our family, so Obama must be against health care for the entire family!! hence he's AGAINST HEALTHCARE!!
          djalan
    • For-Profit

      Somebody has to pay. The nurses must be paid. The doctors must be paid. The hospitals and clinics must be paid or they will all go away. Besides, insurance companies cover the bulk cost of these services, in most circumstances. And then when insurance is not an option there are options available through charities, etc. Everybody must be compensated for their efforts, but what they do with their profits defines them as a person. Unforturnately, nobody rides for free.

      After losing my mother to cancer, I understand these processes. She was 53.
      kc117mx
  • For-Profit Medicine is OK

    I understand that the above comments are tongue in cheek, but they are also unneeded.

    Mr Goldman reveals an important fact. Medicine often has the same opinion about studies as some other companies have about other tools. The not invented here attitude produces waste in vast amounts. Too many people have the attitude that if it has not been already done then it can't be done.

    Goldman's idea will potentially save people money as well as lives. Assuming the device works as stated, targeting these cancers will allow a patient do get better with fewer treatments and use less drugs in the process.

    Something that saves lives and likely money deserves to be rewarded. This is not like one of those "new" drugs which is just a slight chemical variant of an existing drug which exists for the sole purpose of getting a new patent monopoly.
    richard233
  • How can we get access to this?

    This story is amazing and provides hope on so many levels! - Hope for cancer patients and their families. Hope for entrepenuers who are passionate about their work & the companys who fund them. Hope for treatment centers who see too many patients and friends die needlesly from 'side effects' of chemo. I am contacting the company and the treatment/research center where my husband is being treated for Stage IV colon cancer to find out how to get access/be considered for treatment with this amazing technology. Thank you Mr. Goldman - your sister is smiling for all the lives and suffering you will save.
    karyndaven
  • Thanks all.....

    I appreciate the kind comments. If you or a friend / family member could benefit from the catheter, please do not hesitate to contact us on our website at www.vasculardesigns.com

    No one will be turned away if they can not afford the catheter.

    Robert Goldman

    rgoldman99
  • Congrats

    Very cleaver idea, congratulations to the guys. Never give up!
    Gradius2
  • RE: How a software engineer tried to save his sister and invented a breakthrough medical device

    Very inspiring. This device reminds me of some of my early biomedical research when I was a student at MIT. I'll definitely have to blog about this innovative device.

    Joseph Kim, MD, MPH
    http://www.medicineandtechnology.com
    Twitter @DrJosephKim
    DrJosephKim
  • Had a chance to talk with Mr Goldman in July!

    Really inspiring. Had a chance to talk with Mr Goldman on another subject last July on the phone. He used to be a former game show contestant winner. But when I read more and more about this. He really did find his destiny. In helping out others like his sister. And that I also had a brother that overcame cancer too. He really has indeed been onto something. And hopefully this will spread and spread. Bravo Robert! Keep up the good work that you and your company are doing! This is only the beginning of the fight against cancer!
    JPPT1974
  • RE: How a software engineer tried to save his sister and invented a breakthrough medical device

    Wow, that is truly amazing. What a great man!

    RT
    www.anonymous-web.be.tc
    dunkydomo
  • Great Idea/product - Thanks for the report

    I sent a link to this article to my sister who works in the reserach department of a local cancer center.
    Azathoth