Editor's note: The Innovators is a new, occasional series that features inventors who have significantly impacted the world of medical technology. Today, part two of the story of William Murphy Jr. (See MDD, April 8, 2009, for part one.)
When the founder of multi-billion-dollar Cordis (Miami Lakes, Florida) launched the medical technology company in his home garage in Miami 50 years ago, one of the first lessons this inventor learned as a new corporate leader was that products should be developed based on need, not just a great scientific idea.
"When I first started the company, we were trying to do research and development of instrumentation. I soon discovered that was a great way to lose money. We needed to find an instrument that was needed and then produce it," William Murphy Jr. told Medical Device Daily.
"Our first serious product was an angiography injector - a high pressure contrast media injector. We designed them both electrically and mechanically and that idea has been copied since the company no longer produces them," he said. "But at the time, it was clear we were selling the injectors to people who were making their own catheters, sometimes doing a good job and sometimes doing a bad job."
So Murphy's staff set out to build a better catheter, contacting another pioneer inventor, Melvin Judkins, MD, who developed a pre-shaped catheter now known as Judkins catheters, which remain relatively unchanged today. Those catheters were the springboard for the widely used Judkins percutaneous transfemoral technique for selective coronary angiography.
"That catheter system that we devised and put on the market persists today," Murphy said. "It's changed in small ways, but the basic technology persists. It was a pretty good design."
In 1966, Cordis launched that first full line of pre-shaped Judkins catheters, now an industry standard.
At that point, Murphy said he knew it was time to move the company into a bigger space. With two engineers and two technologists on staff, "We handmade things in my wooden house on the corner of Biscayne Boulevard. We finally decided to build a building with over 200,000 square feet."
The first physiological pacemaker
Also around that time period, a colleague showed up, asking for a piece of wire. "I asked. 'What for?'" Murphy said. "He said he wanted to connect the atrium and ventricle. We discussed it and I said a piece of wire would work. It was a time when pacemakers were available, but they were fixed-rate and didn't respond to physiological needs. So we set about changing that. We made the first physiological pacemakers and that turned out to be a good thing to do. The first one had 10 transistors. When I retired, it had 4,000 transistors."
In a new space, and with several successful products on the market, Murphy said, Cordis went on to "make quite a lot of other stuff like that."
Some of that "stuff" produced by Cordis included:
• The first sheath introducers with hemostasis valves, which were designed to minimize blood loss during an angioplasty procedure.
• A full line of percutaneous transluminal coronary angioplasty (PTCA) guiding catheters, including the first PTCA balloon that used nylon balloon material.
• And then there came a whole series of stents, which completely changed the cardiovascular care landscape. It was, perhaps, one of Cordis' biggest accomplishments, although it happened after Murphy had retired. By 2003, Cordis received FDA approval to market the Cypher sirolimus-eluting coronary stent, the very first drug/device combination for the treatment of restenosis. The American Heart Association (Dallas) named the Cypher as one of the top 10 medical advancements of 2003 More than 1.5 million patients have been treated with the Cypher today.
An investment in people
Through this growth, Cordis had a dramatic impact on treatments for vascular disease, churning out products for interventional medicine, minimally invasive computer-based imaging as well as electrophysiology.
But it all happened because Cordis was built on a solid foundation crafted by Murphy. In the early years, as the company grew, he stayed close to the new generation of innovators within his company.
"I spent a lot of time with our employees for two reasons: I wanted to influence them to do the kind of job needed, plus I wanted to know what was going on," he said. "I knew what was going on the floor, more so than the managers. People got so used to that they kept me well informed. While that sounds idealistic, it's easy to do if you care."
Murphy took that faith in his employees to a level typically unseen today. He invested a great deal to educate the staff.
"It takes a lot of people working together to make it happen and I enjoyed that enormously. We had some wonderful people," he said.
Many of those well-rounded employees eventually struck out on their own. "We spawned 33 companies," he said of the people who were strongly influenced and then launched their own firms.
"I thought that was great, although costly to the company because you have to rehire and retrain people," he said.
Even in the later years, the company remained focused on keeping staff well-educated. Cordis had a sales force that finally grew to 100 people. "We educated them so well, other companies wanted to pick them off. I thought it was nifty. We improved the whole system," he said.
Some might think that Murphy's over-the-top investment in people who later left the company was a blunder.
"I really didn't think very much about how big we were, I thought about trying to serve a need," he said. "We had some good experience, and I saw things that very much needed to be done."
There's that focus on "need" again.
Lessons in building a company
Growing Cordis wasn't a linear path to success. "There were always hurdles," Murphy said. "That's the trick. At one point we thought we could get some new products going without having to develop them because the development process is very expensive. We found a company making ECG machines, and they were a little better than what we were making in the U.S. They had some nifty new ideas. But we weren't properly trained to sell that kind of product and didn't do very well at all. We had to discard the entire inventory because we couldn't sell them," he said. "That was an unattractive thing to do."
Another challenge faced by this inventor and his growing company was that of funding.
"It's hard to grow without bringing in more money," he said. "A few people have been smart enough to do that, but I wasn't. So, we had to become a public company. That was actually fun. But the strange thing was that the stock market is not predictable. Each time we'd do something dramatic that implied future success, our stock didn't respond accordingly."
Then the major collaborations started brewing.
"We made a deal to set up 50/50 alliance with Dow (Midland, Michigan). We made this deal and I thought we were in clover. But our stock went down. That was very surprising to me and awkward because we had been telling our investors it was such a good deal and here the market says it's otherwise."
Later, of course, the markets looked rosier for Cordis. Another large company took notice.
Enter Johnson & Johnson (J&J; New Brunswick, New Jersey) for another alliance. Johnson & Johnson Interventional Systems was established with Cordis in the late 1980s to continue the development of less-invasive medical devices for use in treating atherosclerotic disease, intraluminal obstructions and other disorders.
Murphy retired before the eventual full-fledged merger with Johnson & Johnson in 1996.
"When you associate with a big company, things change," he said. "If I'd stayed, or even with some sort of association, I'd have been unhappy or a nuisance. I had very high regard for J&J, but they have a different orientation. Mine was to always to do something new and different. Theirs, because they must be focused on finances, is to do what makes money. Those two aren't always compatible."
Murphy said the he believes Johnson & Johnson has done a good job with Cordis. "There's no other company in the world that I would have running Cordis," he said.
And despite the complexities that can emerge with larger companies, Cordis went on to grow, continuing to churn out product after product. All of them offspring of one innovator's dreams and visions to develop medical products that are "needed."
"I have a lot of pleasure in the fact that all the technologies we developed ... none have been abandoned," he said. "They've all been copied and improved by others. So I'm very comfortable that we made a serious contributions."
Murphy hasn't abandoned his innovative spirit either, keeping up with the latest technologies. He cited the miniaturization of medical technology, via micro-electro-mechanical systems (MEMS) for starters as being "amazing and productive."
But he's worried that the spirit of innovation in the U.S. is being lost to a focus on survival.
"There's this whole attitude that we don't want creativity any more, we want assurances that we will survive," he said. "There's a great movement to socialize things and that doesn't encourage individual risk taking. If you take opportunity away, there ceases to be an interest in taking risks.
"I would have never built a snowblower if it wasn't advantageous for me (one of his first inventions, highlighted in part one of this article, MDD, April 7, 2009)," said the son of a Nobel Laureate. "I don't mean financially. I built it because that's what people did in those days. Financial security is a big deal these days."
Cordis celebrates its 50th anniversary this year, and the story of how one innovator evolved his dream from a small garage to a $3.1 billion mainstay of the medical technology sector. n
(Do you know of a unique inventor who should be featured in The Innovator series? If so, drop us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org to nominate another notable innovator to be featured in a future issue of Medical Device Daily.)