Houston innovators podcast episode 149

Why this Houston innovator dropped everything to move the needle on lung cancer diagnostics

Joanna Nathan joins the Houston Innovators Podcast and explains why she's taken on leading a medical device startup. Photo courtesy of Joanna Nathan

After years of leading Johnson and Johnson's Center for Device Innovation, Joanna Nathan has hopped into the founder's seat in order to tackle early-stage lung cancer diagnostics.

"Unlike breast, prostate, and other types of cancers, we historically have not actively screened for lung cancer," Nathan says on this week's Houston Innovation Podcast. "Screening has only just begun in this world, and because of that, physicians still need the right tools to take early screening information and turn it into early intervention."

That's where Prana Thoracic comes in. Last week, Nathan, who serves as CEO of the company, and Prana announced that Nucore Medical Inc., its wholly owned subsidiary, has been awarded a $3 million grant from CPRIT.

Nathan says on the podcast that the technology behind the company has been incubating within CDI for years, but over the past several months Nathan decided to take on the role of leading the company as it grows its team and heads to commercialization with first in-human trials, which the funding from CPRIT and investors will support.

Lung cancer remains among the most deadly cancers, with most patients dying within a year of diagnosis. In addition to these stats, Nathan says her recent personal experiences have motivated her in this career path. She shares on the show how, within the span of a year, she lost her young son, Lionel, to an unknown medical condition and witnessed her dad's suffering of a near fatal heart attack.

"I was already in medical innovation, but I spent five days in the hospital with Lionel. I remember saying goodbye to him and walking away and thinking, 'I cannot imagine finding meaning or a reason to go back to work if I was doing anything else,'" Nathan says. "If I can work my whole life and prevent just one patient or one family from going through the pain that I did, I would consider my career a success."

Nathan says her ability to do that meant getting into a role where she had a more hands-on responsibility and interaction with medical device technology. Now, with the fresh funding and a growing startup, she's laser focused on finding like-minded individuals to build out Prana's team.

"I hope that what we can build not only something that attracts really talented engineers, executives, and entrepreneurs, but also people who want to do mission-driven work," Nathan says. "That mindset of driving this toward a patient — and ultimately that patient impact be what pushes us forward."

Nathan shares more of her story on the podcast. Listen to the interview below — or wherever you stream your podcasts — and subscribe for weekly episodes.

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