Soon after Peter Madras became president of the Medical Development Group, he decided it should have a scientific advisory board. So almost two years ago, the retired physician and entrepreneur contacted 10 people he knew to gauge their interest in serving on such a board.
“I expected I’d get maybe 20 to 30 percent participation,” he said. “Within microseconds, all 10 agreed.”
The nonprofit networking group hits its 15th year this month, and its meeting held on Wednesday, which focused on new technologies related to brain functions, attracted some 250 people. Madras attributes its growth in the past few years in part to the high-profile members of the scientific committee, which counts as members John Brooks, former head of Joslin Diabetes Center in Boston; Richard Cohen, professor of biomedical engineering at MIT; and Bernard Gordon, an engineer and inventor whom Madras calls “the most interesting venture capitalist in Massachusetts.”
But Madras sees other factors that have caused the MDG total membership to grow to around 400 members today, around half of whom routinely attend the monthly meetings. Since the beginning, the group has attracted engineers interested in talking to others about the development of medical devices — a sector Madras says is often deemed “a little sister to pharma” in the Boston area. But with the increasing convergence of devices and drugs, Madras says the meetings now attract people from such far-flung fields as caregivers, scientists, investors and attorneys.
“People are coming to this because they love it. They bring their wives and families,” he said.
Here’s how it works: The meetings last several hours, and feature presentations by members that center around a theme. They generally follow the pattern of: What is the problem you’re trying to solve, and how are you trying to do it. Sales pitches for companies or products are not allowed. Madras’ instuctions to speakers are simple: “You’ve got a group of really smart people, so you can’t talk down to them.”
As the first physician to become president of the group, Madras says his connetions in the biomedical community helped bring in a lot of new faces. But another reason for the surge has been an effort to make the presentations more accessible to a medical community. “I found that by peppering every problem with clinical information, it became much more interesting,” he said.
This week, the meetings have a new home at Regis College in Weston, after years of being held in Waltham. But Madras says the group fulfills the same function as ever, of “redefining the equilibrium between devices and traditional pharma.”
“We’ve tapped into something that people want. The individual and corporate people, they want this recognition,” he said. “We’re doing the right things. Our presentations are interesting.”
MDG’s next forum will be held Wednesday, Oct. 5, and will be titled, “Medical Device Security in a Connected World.” For more information, see the organization’s website.