Executing on Innovation: A Conversation With BD’s Beth McCombs

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Three years in as CTO of BD, Beth McCombs discusses her role in identifying new areas of innovation for the company, long known as a leader in hospital supply, and shaping a transformative approach to the “irreversible forces” driving BD’s innovation agenda.

For Beth McCombs, EVP and chief technology officer of medtech giant BD (Becton, Dickinson and Co.), her late October visit to Stanford’s Biodesign program, run by Josh Makower, MD, was a reunion of sorts. Three or so decades ago, between her undergrad and master’s degrees at MIT, McCombs interned at FreshTech, an incubator program Makower had established at drug giant Pfizer to explore novel paths to medical device Innovation. At FreshTech, Beth engaged in what she calls an immersion project in the orthopedic space in Japan where she worked on refining hip implant design for that market. Beth came to realize that the Japanese market for hip implants was different than the US market in that Japanese patients didn’t need as much stability and heft, but required implants with greater range of motion.

For more than a century and a quarter, NJ-based BD has been a key player in the US and now global medical device pantheon, with critical tools used throughout the hospital, particularly in diagnostics and on patient floors. Long a leader in the high-volume hospital supply industry, BD faced and met a critical challenger in the 1980s as AIDs emerged as a global health crisis; the company’s reinvention of its core needle and syringe technology as a safety syringe helped stressed healthcare providers and systems in the US and around the world deal more effectively with the threat AIDS posed to both patients and healthcare personnel. Today it’s nearly impossible to envision a scenario in which a patient in a hospital won’t encounter one or more of BD’s product offerings.

Just over a decade ago, furthering that effort, BD played a key role in the high-level consolidation that the medical device industry experiences, starting with its merger with Care Fusion, followed by its roll-up of CR Bard. In the following Q&A, the latest in Stanford’s Biodesign Innovator’s Workbench series, McCombs shares BD’s program of reinvention and its plan for the future as it continues to support its market leading positions in a wide range of product areas.


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