Visiting the Fogarty Institute for Innovation, you'd be forgiven for feeling a bit like James Bond taking a tour of Q Branch.
Descending from the street level lobby to the ground floor of the old El Camino Hospital building in a clunky old elevator, a few turns down a nondescript hallway brings you to the front office.
These days, what was once the hospital's kitchen is now the "Fog Shop" -- a maze of work benches, industrial machinery and old walk-in freezers, which have been converted into closets and meeting rooms.
And then there's Q himself, Dr. Thomas Fogarty. A surgeon, vintner and inventor with 150 patents to his name, Fogarty founded the medical technology incubator in 2007 with the aim of cultivating and guiding the best and brightest health care innovators in the world.
Fogarty, who is turning 80 on Feb. 25, is planning to celebrate his birthday at the Tech Museum in San Jose on Feb. 27. He recently showed the Voice around the institute, looked back on his legacy, and talked about the future of health care and medical technology.
Since opening its offices at the Melchor Pavilion building on the El Camino Hospital campus, the Fogarty Institute has grown steadily and helped three companies bring their products to the marketplace.
Beginning with 5,000 square feet of office space in 2007, the institute more than doubled its size in the summer of 2013 -- acquiring the 14,000 feet of workshop and office space in the old El Camino Hospital building and bringing on five new companies, several of which are focused on maternal and infant health. The institute currently has 10 companies in residence.
"I'm excited about all of them," Fogarty said.
Mark Juravic is the CEO of one of those companies -- Materna, which makes a device to help prepare women for child birth and reduce the risk of vaginal tearing and pelvic damage.
Juravic came to the Fogarty Institute in June of 2013 after working from his garage. "It's pretty great," he said. Not only is his office heated in the winter months, Juravic now has access to discarded medical supplies and can bounce his ideas off the many doctors who frequently stop by the Fog Shop in between shifts at the hospital.
"We work with physicians every day," said Ann Fyfe, CEO and president of the Fogarty Institute. "The interaction with the hospital has been invaluable."
Juravic said he has come to appreciate the advice and mentorship Fogarty provides. "He's here all the time," he said. "He likes to see what's going on."
He also isn't afraid to dispense blunt advice. Juravic recalled a time when Fogarty told him he ought to scrap one of his early prototypes. "I think he said something like, 'Why did you ever think this was going to work?'" Juravic remembers with a chuckle. He said didn't take offense at Fogarty's remark. "He was right."
A portrait of the inventor
To get an understanding of the roots of Fogarty's straightforward style, one needs only to take a look at his past.
Born in Cincinnati in 1934, he was raised mostly by his mother. His father, a railroad engineer, died when Fogarty was just 8 years old.
Fogarty took an interest in medicine as a teenager. He began working at Good Samaritan Hospital in Cincinnati when he was in high school -- starting out as an orderly, cleaning stomach pumps and hypodermic needles, and earning 18 cents an hour.
During college and medical school, Fogarty worked part time as a scrub tech -- handing surgical tools to surgeons in the operating room.
As a scrub technician, then a resident and even early in his career as a doctor, Fogarty saw many patients die in operating rooms during long procedures to remove blood clots. "There were three steps," Fogarty said, recalling a standard operation on a blocked artery: "The first was to try to get it out, the second was to try again and the third was to amputate."
All that changed when Fogarty -- who had always been handy -- used a fly-fishing knot to tie the pinky finger of a surgical glove to the end of a uretheral catheter to create the world's first embolectomy balloon catheter. The simple device would forever change pulmonary medicine, and proved to be only the first in a long line of Fogarty's medical inventions.
Looking back, Fogarty said he is proud of what he has accomplished. "In retrospect, it feels really good," he said, considering the invention of the balloon catheter. At the time, though, there was a great deal of criticism of the device.
A lot has changed since the young doctor from Cincinnati used his blue-collar know-how to create a standard procedure of modern medicine -- some of it for the better and some of it for the worse, according to Fogarty.
As the doctor rounds the corner into his eighth decade he said he is optimistic about the amount of innovation in the medical field -- which is precisely why he founded his institute. "There's more good technology to be used in the medical field than ever," he said.
Fogarty's main concern these days is bureaucracy and over-regulation. "I'm a young school guy," he said -- riffing on the term "old school," and remembering just how much simpler things used to be when he began his career as a medical inventor.
According to Fogarty it took him just three weeks to move from the invention of his embolectomy balloon catheter before he was using it in surgeries. Today, the legal and regulatory hurdles that the companies in his incubator face are massive and wasteful, he said.
"It's unsustainable," he declared. "That is why medicine is so expensive." Fogarty said he is continuing to work directly with the FDA and others in the field to help streamline the process of getting life-saving technologies from the laboratory into the hands of patients.
If anything has remained constant over the course of Fogarty's long career, it is the doctor's insatiable desire to create and help others who are creating.
When asked if he ever plans to retire, his answer is simple:
"No," he said. "I have too much fun. Maybe I'll retire when I die."