From The Editor | March 15, 2016

From Biotech To Medtech: A Chat With New AdvaMed CEO Scott Whitaker

By Doug Roe, Chief Editor


In the last year, Med Device Online has expanded its focus to include deeper looks into the opportunities of drug delivery devices and combination products. We’ve coined the phrase, “the industry convergence of drug and device.” 

Now we are witnessing another convergence, this one at the largest trade and advocacy organization in medtech. The Advanced Medical Technology Association’s (AdvaMed) next president and CEO, Scott Whitaker, will take over in April. Whitaker brings to AdvaMed the experience and perspective gained in his current role — as chief operating officer (COO) of the largest trade and advocacy association in biotech, Biotechnology Innovation Organization (BIO). Whitaker also is president of the organization’s annual BIO International Convention and its affiliated conferences.

I recently had a chance to get to know Scott a little better. We discussed his early legislative background with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), how he thinks his 11 years of experience at BIO will apply to his new position, his thoughts on the future of drug delivery devices, and his plans for the transition to AdvaMed CEO.

Med Device Online: How did your experience at HHS prepare you to work at BIO, and soon, to lead AdvaMed?

Scott Whitaker: The first two years, I was assistant secretary for legislation (ASL). In that job, I not only directly oversaw our department’s legislative activities, but also the legislative activities of all our agencies. It ran the gamut, from a bio and a med device standpoint, all the way through the regulatory side and reimbursement, to the perspective of the agencies on the payer or approval side. Those would include FDA, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS).

It was a great opportunity to learn how those agencies work, as well as how they interact with each other and with the industries they regulate. I was very involved with, and led the fight for, the Medical Device User Fee and Modernization Act of 2002 (MDUFMA). Additionally, I spent time on the Medicare Prescription Drug, Improvement, and Modernization Act (MMA) in 2003, and a lot of smaller issues.

From my ASL position, I moved into the chief of staff role at HHS, under Secretary Tommy G. Thompson. I was essentially his COO, managing all of the department’s day-to-day activities from the secretary’s office. In that capacity, I also served as a liaison to the White House on policy, management, and political matters.

MDO: Was it always your goal to have a career as a legislator or lobbyist?

Whitaker: Going to college in Florida, I had another grand plan: I was a basketball player. It wasn’t until I realized that I was not good enough to make any money as a pro that I decided I should probably do something different.

I was always interested in politics and policy; I was in political science and history at the time, and I was given a great opportunity to come to Washington, D.C. and work as a college student. I was intrigued by what I saw, got a job, and I have been here ever since.

MDO: What prompted your transition from HHS to BIO?

Whitaker: I was interested in learning about and becoming more involved in that area, and a door opened for me when U.S. Rep. Jim Greenwood (R-PA) left the U.S. House of Representatives to become the new CEO of BIO. I had worked with Jim during my time at HHS; He was on the House Energy and Commerce Committee and he was very involved with the MDUFMA bill.

[Greenwood] asked if I was interested in joining him at BIO. I was intrigued by the opportunity, because I found the industry fascinating, and Jim was a good friend. He wanted to be a CEO that focused on large, strategic vision issues, and to do some of the lobbying activity personally. To achieve those objectives, he needed somebody with operating credentials that could effectively manage and run the organization.

MDO: How has your time as COO of BIO prepared you for your new role with AdvaMed?

Whitaker: I have done a bit of everything [with BIO]. I oversee the advocacy and policy areas, the business development area, and all the day-to-day functions and processes that we do outside of typical advocacy work.

I have learned a lot about a trade association and how it works, how such associations interact with policy makers in Washington, D.C. Also, I have seen the importance of creating quality interactions, using clarity and transparency as you tell the story of an industry and the patients it serves.

Biotech is, in many ways, similar to the medtech community. Both have ground-breaking companies, working on science-based innovation, and develop revolutionary products. One of my drivers to join BIO was that it was not just a trade association — it was a trade association that impacted people’s lives. As I thought about the AdvaMed opportunity, I thought, “That is exactly the same.” These are not just incredible technology companies, they are incredible technology companies that are saving and extending lives. The companies inspire me, but my motivation is the patients we have a chance to serve.

MDO: You recently took over as president of the BIO International Convention and its affiliated conferences. What precipitated the move, and what have been the significant changes?

Whitaker: We hit some challenges right after the economic downturn, so we began to reassess how we do business in that space. I began to engage with that team more and, a few years ago, I took over the entire business of conferences and conventions.

To change the way we did things, we started by identifying and understanding what value event attendees were looking for. Then it became a matter of demonstrating that value through appropriate marketing and pricing, and delivering it at the event. We have grown by providing an improved product and service to our members, but it remains an event that allows us to tell the narrative of who we are as an industry.

The convention is a not-for-profit component of BIO, so its revenues all help to support our core mission of advocacy. The connection between those activities and what we do, from an advocacy standpoint, is really important. More than just an event to gather and discuss industry issues, the BIO International Convention has become more of a business development event, where attendees come to conduct business, create partnerships, and develop products.

It strikes me that there are potentially many parallels between what we did at BIO and what could be done at AdvaMed.

For more of Doug Roe's interview with Scott Whitaker, read New AdvaMed CEO Scott Whitaker Discusses His Vision For Medtech.