Interview with Dr. Simon Stertzer, chairman at Biocardia Inc & the Doctor who performed first coronary balloon angioplasty in the United States

Dr. Simon Stertzer was the first to perform coronary angioplasty in the United States on March 1, 1978 at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York. Currently, he is the chairman at Biocardia Inc, the company which has developed one of the easiest, safest, and most effective device to implant cells, hormones or other biologically active substances into the heart muscle without resorting to open chest operations. We recently Interviewed Dr. Simon Stertzer to know more about his journey as a medical practitioner & an entrepreneur.

Thanks for taking the time to talk to us today. The world knows of you primarily due to your academic and medical achievements and particularly the fact that you performed the first coronary balloon angioplasty in the United States. But you’ve also been an entrepreneur who’s founded or helped grow multiple biotech companies over the years. Can you talk about your experience as a medical practitioner & an entrepreneur? 

I started out in the 1960s clearly to become an expert in the newly developing area of cardiac diagnosis and treatment. At that time, it was unprecedented for a physician to become involved in the entrepreneurial side of medicine. By the early 1980s, a cultural shift had occurred, allowing practitioners to develop their ideas into business, and not being limited to practice activities. The motivation for all of my entrepreneurial activity has been the advancement of the practice of medicine, not the profit incentive. But if one is successful in achieving a significant breakthrough, it often results in entreprenuerial success.

What are some of the biggest mistakes doctors make when starting a biotech business? 

1) Building a company around a product that offers only marginal differentiation, meaning that the advance is only minimal… it is not a breakthrough technology. 2) Poor patent position. 3) Giving away too much of the company early, thus losing control, or conversely, trying to hold on to too much equity, thus not building a strong, invested team.

What are some of the biotech startups that you are most excited about?

There are many, but most recently Corindus Vascular is a company that uses robotics to perform procedures remotely. This will allow cardiovascular intervention to be brought to small communities, which heretofore have depended on patient transports to larger cities for tertiary medical care. This technology will save critical time, and money while improving the quality of care available in small communities.

There are a number of companies that have developed and sold artificial valves which can be placed in patients without open heart surgery.

 Do you consider yourself a doctor first or an entrepreneur first? Why?

I consider myself a physician-scientist who has never had a particular interest in business. Even now, business opportunities are consequence of my interest in medical research and are not at all my self-image.

You are currently serving as the Chairman of the board of Biocardia. It’s really hard to understand exactly what Biocardia does based on the information presented online. Can you give us the elevator pitch for the company? 

BioCardia is a biotech company which has developed the easiest, safest, and most effective device to implant cells, hormones or other biologically active substances into the heart muscle without resorting to open chest operations. The stem cells, hormones and other agents are under intense investigation, to ascertain if their use will eventually improve or reverse serious heart dysfunction. Many more clinical trials are still needed to define the role of this approach, but it is the wave of the future.

Biocardia is now in a Phase 3 trial.  As far as we know, it is fairly uncommon for a drug to go to a third trial. Is this good or bad for Biocardia? And what does it mean?

Phase 3 trials are performed after safety and other preliminary aspects of a new drug or treatment have been assessed by the developer, and the Food and Drug Administration. Phase three is designed to determine if the proposed therapy or drug is superior to existing treatment. It is a good thing for BioCardia to be involved in a Phase 3 Trial because it is closer to clinical availability. Regrettably, extensive trials like these are required, but test the ability of small companies to survive, if they have no other significant product sales.

You are now at a stage of your carreer where you are near retired and Emeritus at the University. Yet you are still the Board Chair of a publicly traded company. What is the relationship between age and success in entrepreneurship? 

Naturally, people who are in their sixties and seventies have more experience and can profit from their mistakes. They also have more access to capital, especially if they have been successful in earlier carreers. Nonetheless, the Facebook, Google and Amazon pioneers were hardly old people. They prove that a better idea, device or technology can revolutionize your success and can be independent of your age. This encourages everyone interested in this type of undertaking to look to the quality and originality of their product, and not to their age or lack of experience.

Are any of your children interested in following in your footsteps? 

No, not at all. They are pursuing their own, independent career interests. 

Our readers are young entrepreneurs all over the world interested in starting a new business or learning how to grow their startups. What advice do you have for young entrepreneurs all over the world? 

Before starting a business, you need to become an expert in your area of interest. Although there are success stories of people who dropped out of school and became financial successes, they still learned enough, and undoubtedly educated themselves outside of the traditional academic environment.

Let’s end thinking about the future. In your opinion, what are the top three most exciting trends that will redefine how medical care is delivered to patients, say, by 2030? 

1) stem cells 2) the ability to affect the composition and behavior of DNA 3) The use of Artificial Intelligence in the diagnosis and treatment of many medical conditions.


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