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You Can’t Turn an Elephant on a Dime

A Slice on Matthew Likens, President and CEO of GT Medical Technologies

Matthew Likens would not consider himself an entrepreneur in his early life. Likens received his degree from Kent State University, and went to work at Johnson & Johnson shortly after. After a few years of work there, he transitioned to the Baxter Healthcare Corporation out of Chicago, where he would stay for 23 years. Though he enjoyed his time there, he always knew in the back of his mind that at some point, he wanted to build something where “there was nothing previously”. Likens loved the concept of intrapreneurship which occurs when large companies foster development from within, in ways like innovation groups, working to build new businesses utilizing existing company talent.

This always appealed to Likens but he understood that “you can’t turn an elephant on a dime”.

With corporations as large as Baxter and Johnson & Johnson, becoming the giants they are, oftentimes Likens noted, they can get “overrun” by processes. “The term is nimble, it’s not part of the vocabulary, it’s not a committee, it’s 16 people around a conference table nodding their heads in unison before any decisions are made. It only took me 23 years at Baxter to get tired of that, which is about the time I got a phone call about a senior position at a well-funded (they had raised $180 million) startup called GMP Companies. It was about the time I felt like I needed something new.”

After his time with GMP, Likens needed a job. His children were in college, one starting and one just finishing. He was made aware of a role in Mesa, Arizona through an ex-Johnson & Johnson colleague. One thing led to another and Likens came on board as President and CEO of Ulthera, Inc. The ultrasound technology was marketed to plastic surgeons and dermatologists for firming, tightening and lifting the skin. Likens and his “tremendous team” guided the company for the next 5 years as it grew (post-FDA clearance) to almost $100 million in revenue and 230 employees. Ulthera’s confidential filing became public in January 2014, right as three larger companies became interested in acquiring them. They eventually sold for $600 million and Likens stayed on for two more years before retiring in July 2016.

Retirement was short-lived for Likens…stating he “never developed a lot of hobbies, apparently.” He purchased a custom set of golf clubs, but unfortunately, they did not help improve his golf game. Likens was only retired for 15 months before he was onto his next company. A friend of his who had been consulting for five brain tumor specialists all employed at Barrow Neurological Institute approached Likens. The team had put together an LLC for their development of a radiation implant.

GammaTile, as it was called, was developed as another option for patients with operable brain tumors. The current standard of care requires a treatment delay and up to 30 visits to a hospital or radiation center. “In standard therapy, the tumor is removed, and then the patient rests in the hospital to recover for a day or two. Then they go home to recover and wait for their surgical incisions to heal another 2-3 weeks. After that, the patient embarks on a course of external radiation therapy to address residual tumor cells, because it’s impossible for a neurosurgeon to get every last tumor cell out. If the surgeon is too aggressive, the surgery can effect eloquent, healthy tissue that remains and cause brain damage. Even after this arduous treatment regimen, over half of aggressive brain tumors recur, or come back, within a year.” The team from Barrow thought ‘well what if we come at it from the inside,’ taking the idea of brachytherapy and engineering the previous drawbacks of this type of therapy by embedding radiation sources in a bioresorbable carrier. By implanting the radiation you can start addressing the residual tumor cells immediately, while the carrier protects healthy tissue.

Likens, still frustrated with his golf game, knew he could bring the relevant experience in, sign a CDA, look at their clinical data and give them some advice regarding a licensing agreement they had received. Likens was “blown away by the quality of their data”, how much better the outcomes were with GammaTile Therapy versus conventional radiational therapy. Likens shared with the team he thought their best course of action would be to turn the LLC into a Delaware-based C Corp, raise funds and go to market. He signed on as CEO and that’s exactly what they did.

GammaTile has had two FDA clearances, the first for recurrent brain tumors in July 2018, and another for newly diagnosed malignant brain tumors in January 2020. The company has 31 employees and is in adopting hospitals. Likens is encouraged by what he sees in patients and says they are “doing absolutely superb.”

Founder Bio

Matthew Likens graduated from Kent State University and began his professional career with the Johnson & Johnson Corporation. He then spent more than twenty years in domestic and international sales, and marketing and general management roles at Baxter Healthcare Corporation. Following that, he was appointed as president and CEO of GT Medical Technologies, a company that develops and markets GammaTile(R) Therapy, with a purpose of improving the lives of patients with brain tumors. Connect with Likens on LinkedIn.

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