Interview with CEO Biomodex Ziad Rouag: Anatomical Models for Medical Training

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Ziad Rouag brings more than two decades of experience working in the medical device industry as an executive and leader of clinical operations and regulatory affairs for emerging startups and high-growth businesses. He currently serves as President and CEO of Biomodex, a transformative digital healthcare company offering bio-realistic haptic simulators for patient-specific rehearsal and physician training.  Prior to Biomodex, Ziad served as Vice President of Regulatory and Clinical Affairs at Juul Labs, which was acquired by Altria in 2018. Previously, he served as Vice President of Regulatory and Clinical Affairs for PQ Bypass, a pioneering Fogarty Innovation startup that was recently acquired by Endologix for more than $300 million. In 2013, Ziad served as Vice President of Regulatory, Clinical and Quality Affairs for Altura Medical before the endovascular repair device maker was acquired by Lombard Medical for $50.5 million. His diverse work experiences include senior positions at Bay Area Biotech, Auxogyn, and Avinger, Codman, Evalve, and Guidant. Ziad received both a BS and BA from McGill University and a J.D. from Rutgers University. Ziad will be speaking at our upcoming event focusing on Medical Simulation for 3D printing.

Jenny: When was the first encounter you had with 3D printing?

Ziad: My first encounter with 3D printing was about 15 years ago at a company called Altura Medical, which made a medical device for the treatment of aortic aneurysms (AAA). These aneurysms were very complex, so we would 3D print a replica of the patient anatomies based on CT scans using silicone tubing. The replicas were used to create a reverse mold to test aortic stent grafts and determine if it would fit in or had any leaks. It was very cutting-edge at the time. 

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Photo Credit: Biomodex

Jenny: What inspired you to start your journey in 3D printing?

Ziad: Throughout my career, I’ve worked at companies that developed and manufactured great medical devices, but training physicians how to use these devices has always been a challenge. In some cases, training simply wasn’t a focus. Many times, however, the issue was a lack of appropriate or effective tools. There are a lot of training products on the market, but many fail to provide bio-realistic feedback or the ability to image under ultrasound, which makes training more difficult (if not impossible).  When I first saw Biomodex’s technology, I remember having one of those ‘aha’ moments where I said to myself, “Wow, this can make a tremendous impact on training.” That’s what drove me to join the company: I recognized the potential Biomodex had to solve a long standing problem in the medical field by delivering an innovative, more sophisticated training tool that enables the physicians to rehearse in a cath lab setting and gain the experience and confidence they need before heading into the complex procedures or using new devices.

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Photo Credit: Biomodex

Jenny: Who inspired you the most along this journey in 3D printing?

Ziad: There are a lot of people who have inspired me, but they are primarily on the clinical or application side.  The first that comes to mind is world-renowned cardiologist and innovator, Dr. James Joye, who I worked with at PQ Bypass. He’s known for conceiving and developing cryoplasty. He taught me early on in my career the critical role proper training plays in innovation and quality improvement.  Ferolyn Powell is another. She was CEO during my time at Evalve and was deeply committed to physician training. I would also mention legendary cardiologist Dr. John Simpson, creator of the first over-the-wire balloon catheter. I worked with him at a company called Avinger, and always admired his dedication to quality and clinical excellence.

Jenny: What motivates you the most for your work? 

Ziad: The impact Biomodex technology has on patients and physicians is what drives me. Knowing that by helping physicians do their jobs well, and alleviating some of their stress, we are ultimately getting better results for patients, and improving outcomes is incredibly rewarding. That’s all the motivation I need.

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Photo Credit: Biomodex

Jenny: What is/are the biggest obstacle(s) in your line of work? If you have conquered them, what were your solutions? 

Ziad: When it comes to innovative technology, the biggest obstacle remains adoption. Some of the physicians we talk to still say they are fine with the traditional approach and medical simulators that have been used for years. To me that’s like picking a Ford Model T over a Tesla without ever taking a test drive.  To help overcome the status quo, we use the “try before you buy” approach. Biomodex will provide physicians or hospitals with a 3D printed model and work together with them to integrate a rehearsal or training into at least one patient case or study. Seeing and experiencing the impact our technology has on quality and outcomes helps overcome skepticism, and ultimately changes mindsets by demonstrating value through real-world data and results.

Jenny: What do you think is (are) the biggest challenge(s) in 3D Printing? What do you think the potential solution(s) is (are)?

Ziad: I see the need to develop 3D printing machines, polymers, and biomaterials that are specifically dedicated to applications in healthcare. Right now we take the MacGyver approach in healthcare and bring together a hodgepodge of tools that already existed. But the reality is, a lot of the equipment comes from other sectors, such as automotive, aeronautical, etc. It isn’t tailored to our industry, and because of that, there are still a lot of limitations to what we can do or accomplish. To address, and unleash the full potential of 3D printing in healthcare,  we need to invest in developing tools that are designed specifically for healthcare applications. 

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Photo Credit: Biomodex

Jenny: If you are granted three wishes by a higher being, what would they be? 

Ziad: That’s a tough question! I feel very fulfilled in my life. I enjoy what I do; I’m running this great international company.  It’s hard to think of what more I could wish for. I guess I’d love to be able to dunk a basketball (I’m only 5’5”). I also scuba dive and have always dreamt of being able to salvage a sunken ship off the coast of Spain or Africa. That would be really cool. 

Jenny: What advice would you give to a smart driven college student in the “real world”? What bad advices you heard should they ignore? 

Ziad: Don’t be afraid to take risks, even if it means you might fail. None of us are able to achieve success without taking chances. The mistakes and missteps you will make along the way are necessary learning opportunities. And when someone tells you that you can’t do something… ignore them.  You owe it to yourself to at least try. It’s important to embrace that. 

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