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Alfred E. Mann Honored by His Peers

Entrepreneur Alfred E. Mann, left, and Shu Chien, president of the Biomedical Engineering Society

Photo/Kevin G. Roznowski

USC trustee Alfred E. Mann, a member of the USC Viterbi School board of councilors, was honored with the Distinguished Lecturer Award and delivered the plenary lecture titled “Creating a Successful Medical Device Enterprise” at the Biomedical Engineering Society’s annual fall meeting held recently in Los Angeles.

“I have devoted my life to addressing a variety of unmet or underserved medical needs,” Mann said. “To address these needs, I have founded and led some 15 companies. Of these, I have sold seven, taken two public and all the others are still evolving.”

Mann, whose companies have created and marketed biomedical devices such as pacemakers, neurostimulators, insulin pumps, cochlear implants and retinal implants, noted that he had no business background and no entrepreneurial expectations when he began working as a young electro-optical physics scientist 51 years ago.

The U.S. Army helped him start his first company, Spectrolab, so he could help them with an antitank missile guidance control system.

Mann covered a list of key requirements for success in business that included capital, leadership, management, people, marketing, manufacturing and “the product itself.”

“What usually happens is that a researcher discovers a new technology and decides to use that discovery to create a product or business,” Mann said. “By contrast, the path I have generally pursued is in reverse. I have usually first identified an unmet need and then I try to come up with the most promising technologies to address that market need.”

Diabetes is a case in point. Mann identified a need and then aggressively developed and marketed the technologies to meet the need. He made insulin pumps to help patients better manage their blood sugar levels.

“The epidemic of diabetes today is frightening and, if we do not find a solution, these diseases, especially type two, will not only devastate humanity but will likely bankrupt the world,” he said.

Positive feedback from patients about Mann’s insulin pumps, sold by MiniMed, led him to form another company, MannKind Corp., to work on more advanced diabetes therapies. The company has created an inhaler that allows patients to deeply breathe in a proprietary insulin formulation delivering insulin much more rapidly to the bloodstream than is possible with injections. The system is in phase III trials in the United States, Europe and Latin America.

“I have been fortunate in creating a number of successful medical product enterprises,” Mann concluded. “What I try to do is to identify an underserved market, to perform robust due diligence to assure a likelihood of success and only then to create a diverse development and support team with adequate resources.”

The USC Viterbi School of Engineering was a sponsor of the Biomedical Engineering Society meeting and several faculty in the Department of Biomedical Engineering played key roles. Professor Kirk Shung served as conference chair and Michael Khoo, professor and chair of biomedical engineering, was a technical program chair. Professor David D’Argenio was industrial liaison chair and assistant professor Jesse Yen was student activities coordinator.

Alfred E. Mann Honored by His Peers

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