“5 Questions With…” is a weekly BioBuzz series where we reach out to interesting people in the BioHealth Capital Region to share a little about themselves, their work, and maybe something completely unrelated. This week we welcome Bill Niland, CEO, ReGelTec, Inc.
Bill Niland is a serial healthcare entrepreneur who has founded and successfully exited four different companies in the healthcare space. Most recently, Mr. Niland co-founded Harpoon Medical, Inc. Harpoon was sold to Edwards Lifesciences for $250M ($100M upfront with $150M in potential milestones) in less than 5 years with only $6.5M of dilutive funding, generating an IRR >100% for investors.
Prior to Harpoon, Mr. Niland founded Vapotherm to commercialize respiratory therapy technology he invented. Vapotherm has treated over 1.5M patients, went public in 2018 (NYSE:VAPO), and was recently trading with a market cap >$1B due to the technology’s important role in keeping COVID-19 patients off a ventilator. Mr. Niland also started a sleep diagnostic company in the early ’90s and grew the largest sleep testing company in the US before selling it to Vital Signs. He holds 22 patents, is an angel investor, and sits on multiple medical device company boards.
1. Please introduce yourself to our audience with a look back at your education, training, and career.
I have a BA in Law/Justice from Rowan University in NJ. My original goal was to get into Federal Law enforcement with the FBI, CIA, etc. When I graduated jobs were tough to find, and the Federal Government was not hiring many people into these agencies. A friend introduced me to a guy who was a regional manager for Becton Dickinson Respiratory Systems who was hiring I interviewed he hired me, and its been medical devices ever since.
I started in sales and worked my way to sales management and executive positions before starting my first company National Sleep Technologies in 1994. Since NST, I have started, Vapotherm, Harpoon Medical, and now ReGelTec and NeoProgen. I sit on the boards of 2 medical device companies in Baltimore Sonavex (licensed out of Hopkins) and Coaptech (licensed out of UMB) and along with ReGelTec, and NeoProgen.
2. Tell our readers about the founding of ReGelTec and what the company is working on.
I met the founder of ReGelTec, Tony Lowman, in 2015 while visiting Rowan University. Tony was the Dean of the Engineering School and a Polymer Engineer. He told me then about an injectable gel he was working on for Low Back Pain caused by Degenerative Disc Disease. I was interested as I have had 3 back surgeries on my discs. With Harpoon going strong, we kept in touch, and when we sold Harpoon Medical in 2017, Tony approached me about starting ReGelTec and commercializing his technology.
I researched and discussed with my Harpoon Executive team that did not go with the sale, and everyone agreed that ReGelTec had lots of potential. The standard of care in the DDD space is Spinal Fusion which is not that successful at 50%. It has a long recovery period (6+months), and you lose flexibility. Our Hydrafil product is an injectable gel that leaves no more than a needle prick in your back. You are awake but slightly sedated and given a local anesthetic, so you have very little pain. Our patients are up and walking within an hour of the procedure, which lasts around 30-45 minutes and experience little post-procedure pain. The pain reduction is 80% across our first 20 patients within weeks of the procedure.
3. As a serial entrepreneur known in this area with companies like Harpoon, CoapTech, and Sonavex, how have you seen the BioHealth Capital Region grow and change?
There is definitely more activity in the medical device start-up community locally than I have ever seen before. I see many new start-up companies in the Maryland /DC area with younger CEOs and founders, which is great. I get many requests to meet up and talk/mentor and be on Boards of these companies. I am not sure we can ever compete with the big medical device areas like Boston, Minneapolis, and the Bay Area of California, but we are making a dent.
4. What are the biggest gaps you see in our industry and region? How would you fix them?
Seed to A round capital in our region is difficult to find locally; even with past successes, it’s still tough. We have some excellent resources with the Maryland Venture Fund and, in Baltimore, the Abell Foundation that will go early and invest in new technology. I believe we are finally starting to attract more out-of-town VCs to the area to help fill the local funding void. We need more of a local presence from VCs with Boston and Silicon Valley offices and just flying in and out of Maryland.
5. If You Could Learn Any One Skill In The World Without Trying, Which Would You Pick and Why?
Learn Spanish; we do a lot of early clinical work in Colombia right now and knowing Spanish would help me with this work. We work with a CRO Bio Access in Colombia that all of the people are bilingual and speak English which is great, but I still lose out on many conversations. The doctors usually speak English as many medical journals are only in English, and most research is in English, and large medical conferences are too. Despite that, I miss certain words that the doctors and nurses say in their native language in the procedure room.
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