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Strong networks and breakthrough technologies help MedTech startups thrive in Switzerland

Interview with Marina Izzo, CEO of EBAMed Marina Izzo, CEO of 2018 >>venture>> competition winner EBAMed, shares her advice for MedTech startups and vision for EBAMed, which is developing a non-invasive treatment of cardiac arrhythmias using radiation based on proton beam technology.

Tell us a little bit about yourself; how has your experience in the industry shaped you as a leader?

There are many types of leaders and no one size fits all. My style reflects what I have learned in my experience in different positions and different company cultures. Two important lessons in particular I want to leverage in my role at EBAMed:

First, business development is a science. Early in my career, I had the good fortune to gain hands-on market development experience in a high-powered environment. One project regarded the world’s first implantable cardiac monitor, and the other new technologies to improve management of heart failure and reduce hospitalization. These were both new technologies with all the challenges this brings. In developing the market for these innovations, I came to understand the importance of working structurally and to develop strategic roadmaps for business, clinical use, and product lines, based on solid analyses.

The key lesson relevant to my role as CEO is: Do things in a planned order and prioritize investment dynamically, based on the specific phase of business development.

Second, it is key to build a great team. In startup businesses, strong teams are fundamental to success, as there is nowhere to hide in a small organization. But team building is hard work and it takes time.

Through the years I have refined my approach down to two core rules. First, I strive to hire not only exceptionally talented people, but those with diverse backgrounds and experiences. And while it is important to ask “Is this person qualified?”, I also look at their character and interpersonal qualities, such as trustworthiness, dedication and integrity. New skills can be taught, but personality is hard to change and team members must fit well together.

My lesson here is: Surround yourself – and listen to! – the very best people you can find, but do not look at narrow expertise only. A successful team is greater than the sum of its parts.

What is your vision for EBAMed in the next few years?

I am joining the company at a very exciting time. Cardiac arrhythmias are life threatening and can lead to debilitating heart disease. Current ablation technologies have low long-term success rates and there are important associated complications. If a non-invasive treatment were available, it would meet an important unmet need.

At EBAMed we are convinced that non-invasive, charged particle beam technologies are the future. We are developing innovative solutions to the issues which have held back the application in cardiology for several years. The main challenge is that cardiac motion is very complex and it is critical to focus the beam very precisely on the target tissue while sparing the very sensitive tissues, structures and nearby sensitive organs. Our system will provide accurate and precise real-time monitoring and management of the heart’s position and motion during non-invasive ablation. We have recently applied for breakthrough technology status for our “CardioKit” platform. Pioneering work such as that by Prof. Pruvot in Lausanne has shown the feasibility of using radiation therapy for the treatment of VT.

For patients, noninvasive ablation promises to reduce hospitalisations and improve quality of life by minimising the need for implantable device therapies. Commercially, the potential market is large. We expect proton beam centers to be the first customers, but the system will be of interest also to physicians using photon technologies. In the business-to-business landscape, companies manufacturing radiation external beams will be interested in acquiring “Cardiac Modules,” to expand from oncology into cardiac indications. There is huge scope for synergies. But we have a lot of work to do.

How has EBAMed had to rethink their approach/make any changes from the impact of the pandemic?

The pandemic has had a huge impact on interventional cardiology, with the number of elective procedures dropping precipitously. At our current stage of development the main difficulty is to keep up the speed of our research, which depends on hospital teams and facilities that have often been re-dedicated to Covid patients. Hospitals in Switzerland have kept up well with demand but we are not out of the woods yet.

Covid arrived before I joined EBAMed and we are currently reviewing our wider strategy in the light of past experiences and future projections. But in the long term, the pandemic will pass and when it does, the pent-up demand for procedures will be released. We have a very promising product developed by a stellar team of engineers and researchers. The challenge is to keep up momentum in these difficult times and prepare to hit the ground running when the circumstances allow again.

What advice would you give a young up-and-coming medtech startup in Switzerland?

Medtech is an incredibly fast-moving field and startups must be prepared for a turbocharged ride with breathtaking ups and downs. The rewards can be fantastic, but failures are common, even for potentially groundbreaking innovations.

I would advise startups to analyze and focus on unmet needs and to stay away from incremental improvements to existing technologies. Such tinkering is what the big companies specialize in. Solutions must be innovative and uncomplicated. If they can not be implemented by users with moderate expertise it will be very difficult to bring them to market. Make sure your intellectual property is well protected. And remain 100% dedicated and focused until you have established a solid, rapidly growing business.

I would also emphasize the value of a strong network. Switzerland is one of Europe’s medtech hot spots and startups will find themselves in an ecosystem of top-class technology centers, research hospitals and venture capitalists, not to mention some of the world’s greatest business schools. A startup with an innovative solution to an unmet need and a strong business case will find fantastic support and resources nearby.

And finally, hope for the best, and plan for the worst. There will always be unknown unknowns – Covid is only the most widespread example. Be prepared to face whatever fate throws in your way. As managers, this is part of our job and our duty to employees, physicians, and patients.


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