A Special Glimpse into Medtronic's Recent Developments in Spine & Biologics Technology

November 17, 2021

GMDP-header-Carlton-Weatherby (1)

Do you want to alleviate pain, restore health, and extend patients’ lifespan? Accelerate the transformation of the spine industry by making outcomes and technologies standardized and reproducible. 

In this episode of the Global Medical Device Podcast, Jon Speer talks to Carlton Weatherby, Vice President and General Manager of Spine and Biologics at Medtronic.

Carlton discusses recent developments in spine and biologics technology at Medtronic, a global healthcare technology leader that tackles the most challenging health problems facing humanity with innovations that transform lives.



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Some highlights of this episode include:

  • The spine business is an untapped opportunity that can impact patients across the globe with technology solutions being developed by Medtronic.

  • Would you rather live with back pain or have surgery? Basic spine surgery has advanced and improved, but there’s still a wide variability in the outcomes based on where patients live, training of the surgeons, and technologies used.

  • Surgeons have more confidence and patients have more confidence in the surgeons as they identify a path to improve the patient’s condition, alleviate their pain, and perform a procedure to achieve greater outcomes.

  • The golden age of medical devices due to innovation has made the regulatory environment more willing to collaborate. Regulators and the medical device industry try to help patients, but agree that there’s still room for improvement.

  • Through partnership, acquisition, and organic development, Medtronic already has the assets and pieces to determine if surgery makes sense for patients.

  • Medtronic has brought new products to the market to replace invasive spine surgery. An open procedure versus a minimally invasive surgery (MIS) takes more time and has more complications.

  • Medtronic is bigger than most, and 80% of medical device companies have 50 or fewer employees. Startups dream about an acquisition. Carlton advises them to start with a clinical value proposition connected to a clinical need for customers.



Carlton Weatherby on LinkedIn


Medtronic Spine Surgery

Medtronic Minimally Invasive Spine Surgery (MIS+)

Greenlight Guru Academy

The Greenlight Guru True Quality Virtual Summit

MedTech True Quality Stories Podcast

Greenlight Guru YouTube Channel

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Memorable quotes from Carlton Weatherby: 

“Spine is very much an untapped opportunity in terms of the impact it can have on patients across the globe with technology solutions like the ones we’re developing.”

“It’s still more of an art than a science and that’s where the opportunity lies.” 

“Areas of technology advancements that we’re making allow us to support our surgeons to instill the confidence that they have going into it and especially their patients.” 

“When you integrate new technologies, it’s not easy, especially if those technologies don’t talk together. That’s where an ecosystem truly becomes valuable.”



Announcer: Welcome to the Global Medical Device Podcast, where today's brightest minds in the medical device industry go to get their most useful and actionable insider knowledge direct from some of the world's leading medical device experts and companies.

Jon Speer: I just had the opportunity to speak with Carlton Weatherby, the Vice President and General Manager of Spine & Biologics at Medtronic. And he shared some of the recent developments that Medtronic spine and biologic division has been making in that space and the advancements are really cool. Think about blending biologics with mechanical device and data science and all these sorts of things that's really, really cool to kind of blend all these different techs together. But what I enjoyed most about talking with Carlton was it became evident to me, his real love and passion and joy for what they are doing at Medtronic and you can tell he is really passionate about their product line and patient outcomes is at the top of the pyramid for them and for him anyway. So, and I believe just that passion was evident and contagious. So I hope you enjoy this conversation that I have with Carlton Weatherby. Hello, and welcome to another exciting episode of the Global Medical Device Podcast. This is your host and founder at Greenlight Guru, Jon Speer. And today I'm really excited about this. I'm a med device nerd. Many of you know I've been in the industry for well over 23 years now started as a product development engineer. I always like to learn and hear more about some advancements. So today we've got a special guest Carlton Weatherby. He's the Vice President and General Manager of Spine & Biologics division of Medtronic. And we're going to talk about recent developments in Medtronic's spine and biologics technology. So Carlton, welcome.

Carlton Weatherby: Jon, thank you for having me and great to be with a fellow nerd. I consider myself very much a science geek so happy to be partnered in that as well.

Jon Speer: Absolutely. So first place that I'd like to start today is tell folks a little bit about who you are and I guess with that share a little bit more about what Medtronic's Spine & Biologics business unit is all about.

Carlton Weatherby: Yeah, so happy to. My story starts in Seattle Washington. I grew up in a city of Tacoma and I like to tell people I was born into medicine. My father's a family practice physician. My mother's a nurse practitioner. I planned on going off to medical school, like my father and running his practice by now but I ended up turning to the dark side of business when I got a little bit of inkling into what the commercialization of science and technologies looks like in a sales job out of college and never turned away. And so I went off to business school instead of clinical medicine or medical school and have been at Medtronic the last almost 11 years now in some form of business development, strategy sales, and now general management. Most of that focus in and around the spine business, which I've always been attracted to. Spine is very much an untapped opportunity in terms of the impact it can have on patients across the globe. With technology solutions, like the ones we're developing and I always say it's still more of an art than a science, and that's where the opportunity lies. And so, really excited about the advancements we've been making within Medtronic in the spine industry, leading for decades now, but now trying to find ways to accelerate the transformation of this industry by making technologies more reproducible or the outcomes more reproducible with our technologies.

Jon Speer: Absolutely, and you know, I remember, gosh, it was probably a good 20 years ago, maybe it was 25 years ago. It was a family friend who was having chronic back pain and, you know, at the time I think he had a couple options- one was live with it and the other was you can go get some sort of spine intervention or surgery or something like that. And back in those days most people would say, I'd rather live with the pain than have the surgery, right. So can you maybe tell us about some of the advancements that you've experienced or that your company is developing an invasive spine surgery?

Carlton Weatherby: You're right. And what you're speaking to is to some degree still exists today, although we've made a number of improvements over the last few decades, and that is wide variability in the outcomes, whether based on where you live based on the training of the surgeon and based on the technologies that are used. And what I can say is where we've made advancements is to allow surgeons to have more of confidence and patients to have more confidence in the surgeons as they identify what path they'll go down to improve the patient's condition, alleviate their pain by doing a procedure and procedure with Medtronic technologies and why Medtronic technologies integrated across multiple different I'll call it categories of technology allow for a greater outcome. And, and as we look at our portfolio, we have implants and biologics, which are well known, but we've also expanded our capabilities into what we call enabling technologies like imaging and navigation and now robotics as a frontier. But now, more recently also adding in what we call data science to support clinical decision support. And so these areas of technology and advancements that we're making allow us to support our surgeons to instill the confidence that they have going into it, but especially their patients. So the friend you mentioned earlier, today we still have that challenge of democratizing spine surgery, but I think we've made a lot of headway and we're making investments to take that even further.

Jon Speer: And as you talked about that, I mean, I'll have to confess, I haven't honestly been keeping up with the latest, greatest advancements in invasive spine surgery. My information is dated. So just that little bit that you've shared helped catch me up. But what I heard is classic, I'll say mechanical orthopedic spine type products, purely mechanical, but then you've also incorporated biologics. And then it sounds like there might be some AI machine learning or certainly some sort of software product that's at play and it all becomes like this ecosystem. I mean, it's really cool. And you know, an earlier version of myself could not have imagined that.

Carlton Weatherby: Jon we'd say the same thing. When I came into Medtronic over a decade ago it was heavily indexed almost exclusively on the implant. And at the time we had a portfolio of imaging and navigation, but we were somewhat separate silos or businesses running and sometimes supporting each other. What we've done within Medtronic under the new leadership of our CEO is integrate these businesses as one what we call operating unit. And so that our roadmaps of technology and how we go to market as one business serving the same customer for the same problem. So now as we launch new implants like our latest expandable titanium cage, it is integrated with our navigation system so that surgeons realize the value of visualization real time with our industry leading stealth station navigation system with the new implants that we know and are confident will improve what you called out, the kind of the mechanical, clinical challenges of a case that they can realize when they use our latest and greatest implants and biologics. And now, as we get into robotics, you add this element of automation and precision with trajectory guidance of screw placement, cage placement, and more to come, and then finally data science. How do we use data and track outcomes to improve future outcomes? And that all coming together as an ecosystem that you described is something we truly think is not just differentiated at Medtronic, but allows us to take this space much further, faster in terms of improving the outcome for our patient, but also the experience for the customer. Because when you integrate new technologies, it's not easy. Especially if those technologies don't talk together and that's where an ecosystem truly becomes valuable. You have the pieces or components that actually are not just integrated, but they one plus one equals more than two and that's where we truly are excited about what we're building. And again, I don't want to jump ahead of ourselves because it takes time and some of this is organic as well as inorganic through acquisitions like Mazor Robotics or Medicrea on the data science side but the systems engineering is underway and we're excited about it as we put them all together to be symbiotic and synergistic.

Jon Speer: I think it's really exciting and I know there are segments of the industry, other product lines where companies have taken that sort of approach and I think it feels like we're entering into a new sort of golden age of med device. And you know, the innovation and I think the other thing that's, from my perspective, that's been, I think encouraging in recent years, the regulatory environment, it's not that it's friendlier per se, but there's more of a collaboration between the regulators and industry that are trying to help patients.

Carlton Weatherby: I think that's it. It's together identifying that there's still a lot of room for improvement to increase the confidence level of our patients and to reduce the variability of those outcomes. So, it has been promising to see a partnership across the industry in order to solve these problems. And in order to increase again, the standardization or reproducibility of the outcomes when someone like your friend comes in and says," I have neck pain, back pain, arm pain" and a surgery is the best intervention for them to get to a better outcome.

Jon Speer: And the data science, I think that's the key thing. It should be a key thing and I think for a long time, the industry maybe got a little complacent and wasn't necessarily data driven and making decisions about products, performance and you know, patient outcomes. I think that's really encouraging to see how we're going in that direction. Any words of caution or advice on how much or too little when it comes to data science?

Carlton Weatherby: I think for me the words of caution is that it's just early, it's very early in this space. And spine, the variability is because the anatomy, the structure is so variable. There's so many different segments and there's a lot that goes into called the algorithm today that is somewhat intuitive for a surgeon to determine whether what they will do will produce the right outcome. That still applies to the data. There's so much that goes into it- the patient, radiologic or imaging factors as well as their physiology, as well as whether they smoke or BMI. And then there's psychological factors. My point is a lot of inputs go into this black box and it'll take time for us to build up evidence, to be able to prove that for this patient this outcome will deliver this result. But we're excited and confident that through partnership acquisition and organic development, we already have the assets and pieces and are even building up a library of cases to help inform that decision upstream where the patient and surgeon are trying to decide whether the surgery makes sense for them. Again, caution is it's early, there's a lot to figure out. It's hard to prioritize where to go first in terms of variables but the exciting thing is we're on that forefront of that. We're at the tip of the spear of where we truly think what will be a similar moment in this.

Jon Speer: Okay. Well, and as I was preparing for our conversation today, I learned that the Spine& Biologics Division has recently released or brought a few new products to the market in invasive spine surgery. Can you speak about some of those and maybe give us a little bit of depth and detail about some of those products?

Carlton Weatherby: Yeah. And the products are in the tagline of what we call MIS plus launch or campaign. MIS being minimally invasive surgery. The importance of that, Jon, is something that I'm happy to speak to without being redundant although it's somewhat common knowledge. An open procedure versus a minimally invasive procedure takes more time and has more complications and so if you are able to have the same procedure done with a smaller incision, you reduce the length of the procedure, you likely to length of the stay in the hospital, lower complications, less blood loss, et cetera. And so minimally invasive spine surgery has proven to be better. The question is how do we enable our surgeon to perform those procedures with confidence? And that's what we're doing and what we're launching by a number of products, one of which is an expandable case technology that we call Catalyft. And that's a really exciting launch for us. We launched it last quarter and we have a great adoption and traction and feedback in the market. And there's unique features for this technology that includes how it expands, to what angles, how actively it engages with the anatomy in ways that are meaningful to ensure that that surgeon will see the outcome. But what's different and special about the way we're launching this product is that it is integrated with our broader eco system that you touched on earlier. So it's navigation enabled. It also is integrated with what we call our accelerate DBF inject technology, where we insert bone graft, deliver it with more efficiency and a greater pack of that bone graft material that helps with diffusion. And so as we launch these products that are minimally invasive and technology enabled, they're also tied to the other products we're launching as well. Well, another one we recently launched is what we call Space- D. This is an access system, think of this as a pedicle screw- based distraction. And this allows the surgeon to all- in- one have access while they're doing minimally invasive procedures, specifically with our industry leading proof fixation system that we call SOLERA Voyager. Why this is important is, although we're increasing outcomes, it's important for these procedures to be more efficient in terms of time saving, but also easier less stress, whether it's physical, emotional, or mental for our surgeons as they perform these procedures. And that's the intention here, there's an element of increasing the clinical workflow efficiency that we're allowing with some of our tools and instrumentation as well, that we've recently launched.

Jon Speer: You're busy.

Carlton Weatherby: There's a lot going on, we're excited. And this is a really important piece of the equation for us. Although we're getting into enabling technologies and leading the way with robotics. Although we are getting into and leading the way with data science and from what we call clinicals decision support. At the end of the day, the implant, the biologic is what's left in the patient. And so continuing to innovate and lead the way there is always going to be important. And what we can say is we're pumping out more products than we have in decades when it comes to the organic implant and biologic innovation, which is really exciting and shouldn't be lost.

Jon Speer: Absolutely. Medtronic for me, I mean, obviously there are a few medical device companies that are larger than Medtronic. In fact, there may be none, but so it is like everyone in the industry sees Medtronic and sort of watches Medtronic. And I've always looked at Medtronic with admirable eye. It seems like the company, I don't know that much about the company to be quite honest other than what I've read on the website and the product and that sort of thing, but it always seem like anytime I've ever talked to somebody from Medtronic, they're fond of it, they enjoy it. It seems like the culture there is very vibrant and exciting, so that's really great to hear.

Carlton Weatherby: I think Jon, the challenge for us is to not just be the leaders and the first and the biggest, but continue to be the change makers, the innovators. And when you're the biggest, you also have the biggest target on your back. And we have this maniacal focused on the customer in ways we haven't in the past, but also paranoia about disruption. And if anything, we should be disrupting ourselves to keep the other players at bay and to continue to have kind of the biggest brand as the right partner for surgeons and administrators across the globe.

Jon Speer: Absolutely. So Carlton, wrapping up our conversation today, obviously, there are very few companies of the size and magnitude of Medtronic in this industry. In fact, I think some statistics that I'm aware of has suggested that 80% of medical device companies have 50 or fewer employees, right. So that's kind of the other extreme from where Medtronic is. But with that in mind, a lot of these startups and smaller companies, one of the things that they dream about is an acquisition. Maybe an acquisition from a Medtronic or a J& J or Boston Scientific. What words of wisdom or advice or suggestions do you have for companies that may be seeking that as a possible destination?

Carlton Weatherby: Yeah, it's a great question, Jon and you're right. We're much bigger than most. In a prior life, when I came into Medtronic, I was in the corporate business development strategy organization focused on where we go next and executing on that strategy through inorganic means, acquisitions, investments. And I think it starts with the clinical value proposition where there's a connection to a clinical need for a customer. Cause there's a lot of ways that have exciting technologies that are cool, but ultimately don't add value. And more and more, especially in spine, there needs to be a tangible value proposition that turns into either an improved outcome, clinically or economically, or I'll call it workflow efficiency for that surgeon that makes that procedure faster and/ or easier. And sometimes we get lost, especially as we get into new forays, like robotics, data, AI, and others, you can miss that piece. I always start there with that value proposition and then obviously there needs to be a business model because, if anything, there's pressure on cost in the system. We need to make sure that business models follow their value proposition, make it amenable to surgeon, customers and administration to be able to acquire, adopt and integrate these technologies into their workflow. But it starts with having value clinically that surgeons at scale can speak to.

Jon Speer: I think that's great advice. Carlton, anything else before we call today a wrap?

Carlton Weatherby: Jon, first of all, thank you for the time and attention. It's an honor to be here and speak on behalf of Medtronic and two, just to reinforce that we couldn't be more excited about where we are in this space as a leader, but also an innovator and the technologies we're launching, the strategy we have to integrate multiple technologies into solutions that are meaningful to our surgeon customers truly we believe is differentiated and so excited for where we're going and appreciate the opportunity to speak to where we are today.

Jon Speer: Absolutely. Folks, Carlton Weatherby is the VP and General Manager of Spine & Biologics at Medtronic. So thank you so much for your time today too. Again, I want to remind folks Greenlight Guru, we are the only medical device success platform design specifically and only for the medical device industry in the market. We have workflows to help you with design controls, risk management, document and record management, CAPAs, complaints, and much, much more. It's all integrated into a single platform, a single source of truth. So, if you would like to learn more about how Greenlight Guru can help you, it's very simple. Go to www.greenlight.guru. You can learn about our products, our services, and the platform. And if you'd like to talk to somebody, just click the button, fill out the form, have a conversation with you, understand your needs and your requirements, and see if we might have some products and solutions that can help. And lastly, to wrap up today, thank you so much for being listeners of the Global Medical Device Podcast, the number one podcast in the medical device industry and that's because of you. So keep spreading the word and sharing this with your friends and colleagues. And until next time, this is your host and founder of Greenlight Guru, Jon Speer.



The Global Medical Device Podcast powered by Greenlight Guru is where today's brightest minds in the medical device industry go to get their most useful and actionable insider knowledge, direct from some of the world's leading medical device experts and companies.

Like this episode? Subscribe today on iTunes or Spotify.

Nick Tippmann is an experienced marketing professional lauded by colleagues, peers, and medical device professionals alike for his strategic contributions to Greenlight Guru from the time of the company’s inception. Previous to Greenlight Guru, he co-founded and led a media and event production company that was later...

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