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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Building Houston


Calling all Houston innovators — now's your time to shine. Graphic by Naomi Galvez

Update: The deadline for nominations have been extended to midnight on Sunday, October 2.

InnovationMap is back to honor local startups and innovators — and this time, we've upped the ante.

Houston Exponential and InnovationMap have teamed up to combine their annual awards and event efforts to premiere a brand new program. The Houston Innovation Awards Gala on Wednesday, November 9, at The Ion will be a comprehensive event honoring Houston founders, innovators, investors, and more. InnovationMap and HX, which was acquired earlier this year, are in the same network of ownership.

Nominations are open online until midnight October 2, and nominees will have until October 11 to complete an additional application that will be emailed to nominees directly. A group of industry experts and Houston innovation leaders will review those submissions and determine finalists and winners across 11 categories. The categories for this year's awards are:

  • BIPOC-Owned Business honoring an innovative company founded or co-founded by BIPOC representation
  • Female-Owned Business honoring an innovative company founded or co-founded by a woman
  • Hardtech Business honoring an innovative company developing and commercializing a physical technology across life science, energy, space, and beyond
  • B2B Software Business honoring an innovative company developing and programming a digital solution to impact the business sector
  • Green Impact Business honoring an innovative company providing a solution within renewables, climatetech, clean energy, alternative materials, and beyond
  • Smart City Business honoring an innovative company providing a tech solution within transportation, infrastructure, data, and beyond
  • New to Hou honoring an innovative company, accelerator, or investor that has relocated its primary operations to Houston within the past three years
  • DEI Champion honoring an individual who is leading impactful diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives and progress within Houston and their organization
  • Investor of the Year honoring an individual who is leading venture capital or angel investing
  • Mentor of the Year honoring an individual who dedicates their time and expertise to guide and support to budding entrepreneurs
  • People's Choice: Startup of the Year selected via an interactive voting portal during of the event
Nominees can be submitted to multiple categories.

Additionally, the awards gala will honor an innovator who's made a lasting impact on the Houston innovation community. While you may nominate an individual for the Trailblazer Award via the online form, the judging committee will not require applications or nominations for this category and will be considering potential honorees from the ecosystem at large. If you are interested in sponsorship opportunities, please reach out to cbuckner@houstonexponential.org.

Last year, InnovationMap introduced its awards program and named 28 finalists and honored the nine winners on September 8. Click here to see more from last year's event.

Tickets for the November 9 event are available online. Early bird tickets will be $60 per person and startup founders will be able to attend for $25.

Click here to submit a nomination or see form below.

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