Mann Institute director helps speed healthcare products to the marketplace

Author: William Meiners
John C. Hertig (BSME ’74) is the thirteenth John Hertig in a family tree dating back to Switzerland and the 1600s. All first-born sons, each John—in 13 of 13 cases—became either an architect or an engineer.

And while this particular Hertig would take his mechanical engineering degree and have several startup entrepreneurial successes in the medical device industry, a happy coincidence brought him back to his alma mater two years ago.

As the executive director of the Alfred Mann Institute for Biomedical Development at Purdue (AMIPurdue), Hertig is now helping to bring products from the labs to the forefront of the healthcare industry. “Our mission is to support the commercialization of life science technologies created at Purdue that help mankind,” he says. “We feel these technologies that are emerging from the discovery stage have the potential to make a significant contribution toward improving healthcare.”

The Alfred Mann Institute for Biomedical Development at Purdue was established in 2007 through a $100 million endowment from the California-based Alfred E. Mann Foundation for Biomedical Engineering. The institute works closely with Purdue’s Office of Technology Commercialization, part of the Purdue Research Foundation.

For Hertig, who started in engineering research and development at DuPont, and went on to build and sell companies such companies as Medsource Technologies and Enpath Medical, the opportunity at AMIPurdue allowed him to get back closer to the labs and the cutting-edge work he loves. “The best part is I don’t have to be raising money all the time,” he says.

The goal of AMIPurdue is to get products to the marketplace, and do it faster. “AMIPurdue funds faculty projects in the early stages of development,” Hertig says. “The purpose of this seed funding is to provide additional support to faculty working on high-potential projects in life sciences for which we believe we can provide enabling resources to facilitate rapid commercialization.”

Of particular interest to Hertig and the institute is the work of Eric Nauman, associate professor of mechanical engineering and biomedical engineering. Working closely with Darryl Dickerson, who recently earned his
biomedical engineering PhD, Nauman is creating tissue scaffold technology to improve damaged ligament and tendon reattachment to bone structures and provide a cartilage repair between bone interfaces for diseases such as osteoarthritis, which affects over 20 million Americans alone. The goal of the development effort is to improve the healing and long-term health of tissue interfaces while eliminating the secondary wound recovery from procedures, some of which require harvested tissue from the patient.

For an old research and development lab rat like Hertig, the close working relationship with talented researchers like Nauman and Dickerson is very special. “We work with incredibly smart people who appreciate our combining healthcare marketplace knowledge and business experience with their passion for technology innovation.”

While as many as 60 projects may be of interest each year, AMIPurdue typically supports between five and 10 technologies at a time. The Purdue-based Alfred Mann Institute is the third in the world created by the efforts of the Mann Foundation. The first institute became fully operational in 2000 at the University of Southern California. The second was established in October 2006 at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa, Israel.

The economy may be affecting all businesses, but Hertig notes “people still get sick,” so turning patents into marketplace realities becomes a very important part of the AMIPurdue process. And between his close proximity to the labs and the researchers and his dealings with the business world, Hertig is busy, but extremely happy with his Purdue homecoming.

Interestingly, his oldest son, another John Hertig, started in engineering at Purdue but ended up switching majors and getting his PharmD instead. Nevertheless, his youngest son, a “chip off the old block,” says his father, is pursuing his BSME.