MassDevice Q&A: Amar Sawhney

June 19, 2009 by Brian Johnson

The founder of six companies, including Waltham's I-Therapeutix, on market conditions and the future of medical devices.

Amar Sawhney has a knack for turning gel into gold.

Over the years, the serial entrepreneur managed to leverage his work in hydrogel technology at the University of Texas into the basis for six companies, including one snapped up by Genzyme early in the decade and another that Covidien predecessor Tyco Healthcare acquired in 2006.

Now the 42-year-old is looking to take a new venture, I-Therapeutix, to the next level. It's also using hydrogels — water-based biodegradable liquids that morph into solids in the body — to develop the I-Zip ocular bandage for healing incisions in the eye after surgery. The bandage is applied as a liquid, but changes into a soft, protective barrier which then breaks down into tears when the therapy is complete.

MassDevice caught up with Sawhney this week to discuss his background, how he made the transition from inventor to CEO and his take on the regulatory and economic landscapes for the medical device industry.

MassDevice: What was your first job?

Amar Sawhney: It was a startup called Focal Inc. I started based on my graduate work in 1992 at the University of Texas. I never really had a job, so I had to build my own. I was the technology founder, not the CEO. Focal went public in 1997 and was sold to Genzyme [in 2001], but I had left by then. I was involved in the IPO but not in the sale; by then I had gone on to start Confluent Surgical.

MassDevice: So your first job was a company you started? How'd you know how to run a company?

{IMAGELEFT:}AS: I started out as a technical guy and of necessity I have become a chief executive. You have to know the business side to start a company. Luckily, I have my friend Fred Khosavri, who is a serial entrepreneur on the West Coast who has served as a mentor for me. We collaborate on all our ventures now.



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