MedCane Profile: Benjamin R. Wang, M.D. ’11
Benjamin R. Wang, M.D., Class of 2011, chose a different path than many of his classmates after graduating from medical school. Instead of residency, he took the entrepreneurial route. He’s now running a San Jose, California-based medical start-up company focused on developing and commercializing infection control respiratory devices that he says are both safer and more comfortable for mechanically ventilated patients.
What are you doing now?
I am the founder and chief medical officer of NeVap Inc., a medical device start-up company that has developed a game-changing device to prevent deadly hospital-acquired pneumonia.
Please tell us a little bit about NeVap Inc.
Founded in 2014, NeVap is an acronym for Never Ventilator-Associated Pneumonia. NeVap, Inc. is dedicated to bringing innovative infection-control devices that improve patient outcomes and reduce costs to hospitals.
What is your current project?
Our first product is a cost-effective breathing tube designed to combat ventilator-associated pneumonia (VAP), which remains the most endemic and costly ICU infection in modern medicine. Global rates for VAP are between 10 to 30 percent of all chronically ventilated patients, with average treatment costs of approximately $40,000 per case in the United States. VAP is also a central cause of mortality and the development of antibiotic resistance in the ICU setting.
How does VAP occur?
VAP occurs as a result of lifesaving mechanical ventilation. When a person can’t breathe for themselves, doctors place a tube from their mouth into their lungs to allow a machine to breathe for them. Unfortunately, the breathing tube creates a channel into the lungs that bypasses the body’s own defenses. The necessary anesthetics also reduce the body’s immune system and suspend the cough reflex. As a consequence, bacteria and fluids accumulate along the breathing tube and enter the patient’s lungs, causing pneumonia.
What’s the NeVap solution?
NeVap has developed a device called the NeVap Aspire Sub-glottic Suction Endotracheal Tube, or ASSET. Our breathing tube removes the fluids that carry bacteria and viruses before they have a chance to enter a patient’s lungs. Our multiport design allows our device to use high vacuum settings continuously without the risk of causing damage to the patient’s airway due to vacuum pressure. This design also allows our device to be used in additional settings, such as the operating room and emergency department. We believe our product has the potential to save hundreds of thousands of lives around the world and billions in direct hospital dollars. On top of those benefits, our product has no additional physician learning curve.
What inspired you to focus on the research and development of new medical devices and breathing tubes in particular?
I was on duty in the medical ICU during medical school, and we had a 19-year-old pregnant woman admitted into the unit. She was a cystic fibrosis patient who had given birth and was having trouble breathing. She ended up on a breathing machine. Unfortunately, she came down with an infection that we couldn’t treat effectively, and she passed away under the care of our team. For me, that case was a call to action.
How did this change your career path?
I was planning on becoming an anesthesiologist while training at UM. I rotated through trauma, critical care, and ICU care. Because we took care of a lot of trauma and burn cases, I saw a lot of pneumonia cases. As a fourth-year medical student on the team, I read a research report that pointed to the breathing tube we were using as the reason for infections. I realized that if I put 10 people on a mechanical ventilator and two to five of them end up getting pneumonia, I wasn’t doing my job very well. I thought something needed to be done.
What happened next?
I decided we were never going to change the tube we were using unless someone did something about it. And, I was never going to have the opportunity to do anything about it if I pursued a residency. I figured I was never going to be younger, more energetic, or more capable of failing and recovering than I was at that time. So, after graduation, I took classes on how to develop a medical device and read books on entrepreneurship, how to raise money, how to build a team of people, and how to get through the FDA approval process, patent process, manufacturing, and more. I grew my network and put aside my pride to learn from the mistakes of other people.
What advice would you give to young physicians who may want to follow this path?
If you want to do something, you’ve just got to do it. It’s very tough to be an entrepreneur because it takes a lot of courage to admit you don’t have all the answers. Most importantly, you need to stick around long enough for good things to happen.
Are you happy with the direction your career has taken?
I’m pretty happy about my career path; I enjoy being exposed to new ideas and technologies and interacting with people who are trying new things. Entrepreneurship allows for the ability to make an outsized impact on other people’s lives, which is the reason I went to medical school. Although I miss talking to patients and interacting with other doctors, I know my decision to improve patient care was the right one for me.
What do you do when you’re not working?
I often mentor other budding entrepreneurs and help them craft their strategies. I lecture and give talks about entrepreneurship and medical device development. I also take time out of my work week to always learn something new in a subject where I feel I don’t know enough.