In mid-May, Cameron Health Inc. struck media gold when the New York Times and the New England Journal of Medicine both gave prominent coverage to the company’s efforts to develop the medical device industry’s first subcantaneous implantable cardioverter defibrillator.
Not bad for a relatively unknown startup based in San Clemente, Calif.
However, just a week before that media bonanza, Cameron issued a press release that received scant notice, but contained news crucial to the company’s future. It had just hired a fellow by the name of Warren Watson to become its executive chairman.
Watson spent seven years as vice president of research and development for Medtronic Inc.’s (NYSE:MDT) core cardiac rhythm management business, which includes pacemakers and ICDs. He also chaired the Minneapolis-based company’s Corporate R&D Council.
According to Watson’s LinkedIn page, he led "over 1,800 professionals worldwide. Successfully released over 130 new products in 8 years while driving down product development cycle time over 30 percent, improving predictability by more than 200 percent and generating over $30 billion of new product revenue."
In his 30-plus-year career at Medtronic, Watson also served as general manager of several business units, including pacemaker leads, cardiac ablation and neurostimulation to treat sleep apnea. A graduate of University of Minnesota, Watson advises the school on new medical device companies as CEO-in-Residence for the university’s Venture Center.
He’s also the son-in-law of Medtronic’s founder Earl Bakken whose battery powered pacemaker gave birth to the medical device industry in Minnesota.
Ironically, it was under Watson’s leadership that Medtronic developed its infamous Spring Fidelis leads. In 2007, Medtronic stopped selling the leads after receiving reports that the wires broke apart inside the body. Cameron designed its system to fix that problem by implanting the device just under the skin in the subcutaneous tissue.
One has to wonder if the Sprint Fidelis debacle motivated Watson to join Cameron, where his responsibilities go beyond running board meetings. As an executive chairman, Watson is intimately involved with company operations.
Some in Minnesota’s medical device community downplayed or dismissed Cameron’s work.
“It’s bullshit,” one former top medical device executive told MedCity News. "I don’t know any [doctor] who would use it."
And a MedCity News reader wrote, “‘[T]the Minnesota’s medical device community’ is not just ‘skeptical about a technology developed by a Californian start-up,’ they simply know better.”
Another reader offered this thought: "I assure you that this technology has been evaluated by the big 3 and while a device of this design may find a niche in this market, it is certainly not an equivalent to much of what is already out there."
The last commenter implied that any technology not green-lighted by Medtronic, Boston Scientific Corp. (NYSE:BSX) and St. Jude Medical Inc. (NYSE:STJ) won’t amount to much.
In addition to Watson, Cameron’s management team is loaded with Minnesota individuals who used to work for St. Jude Medical and Guidant Corp.’s cardiac rhythm management business in Arden Hills, Minn. Boston Scientific, which now owns Guidant, is even an investor in Cameron.