By Sonia K. González, DrPH, MPH
Melissa Fensterstock is a seasoned Biotech, Medtech & Consumer product executive with extensive experience in translating novel technologies into valuable products and brands.
My background has been at the intersection of healthcare and business. I hold a BA in Neuroscience from Johns Hopkins, a MPhil in Bioscience Enterprise from the University of Cambridge, and an MBA from Harvard Business School (HBS). Early on, I thought I might want to be a physician but quickly realized that I was more interested in the business of science rather than in the clinical practice of medicine. I held roles in medtech at Stryker and in biotech running Corporate Development at a publicly-traded biotech company.
Through general networking, I pinged my HBS network and was connected to Bob Langer at MIT and Jeff Karp at Harvard. Soon thereafter, I was hired to run Landsdowne Labs. As a new mom, I felt compelled to help solve some of the problems that we were seeking to address.
Our most advanced product is a new button battery. It is still in development but we hope to launch soon. Every year there are thousands of button battery ingestions, mostly by children. Often these ingestions go unwitnessed and they can be fatal. There is one child, Emmett, who has undergone over 65 surgeries to repair his esophagus from a button battery ingestion. Injuries take place when the battery becomes lodged in the esophagus and allows an electrical current to flow. This current leads to the production of OH ions that leads to a rise in pH, causing a burn. We have invented a technology that would deactivate the battery after it is ingested so this electrical current would not flow.
The work originated in Bob Langer’s Lab at MIT and Jeff Karp’s Lab at Harvard about a decade ago. The company was formed a few years ago and active company research began about 2 years ago when our company received its first round of investment. We expect that our technology, the first of its kind, will be integrated into all coin cells and hope that a standard will be put into motion to adopt the technology.
The fundamentals are there. NYC has great talent and great technology and access to capital. It is only a matter of time before NYC takes the lead. I think the culture is starting to change here as leaders from other hot spots decide to start their healthcare businesses and venture funds in NYC.
Challenges – In the NYC community in general, I think one of the greatest challenges for new companies is finding early stage, lead investors. I’m glad to see the government initiatives but there needs to be more in order to support a thriving ecosystem. Otherwise companies will continue to move to hot spots like Boston and SF. I also think there is a challenge with funding technology that is early stage that is “too risky” for the private sector. We need more seed funding and government support in this “valley of death.”
Opportunities- The greatest opportunities for health tech are to redefine the world we live in. One by one, chronic illnesses are seeing better therapies and even cures. There is such an opportunity at our fingertips to help people live longer and healthier lives.
Technology can help by accelerating discoveries from lab to commercialization, reducing healthcare costs and burdens on our system overall.
Absolutely health technology can help marginalized communities both domestically and abroad. That being said, access certainly is a problem. There are many wonderful organizations and non-profits such as the Gates Foundation and others who make it their mission to help disseminate these health advances.
When you say public health, I’m going to assume you academia, local government and non-profits. The answer is absolutely yes. I do think we need to understand and study disadvantaged communities in depth (I’m sure epidemiologists can help here!), to best determine how we can serve them. Communities differ, needs differ, deployment of solutions differs. I think it really comes down to priorities and deployment of resources.
As an entrepreneur, it’s so important to just keep going and to stay positive. There will be many more people who say something is impossible than those who believe it is possible.