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Big Ideas that Transform Lives

Article by Jim Reilly, SU College of Arts and Sciences

Robert Goldman’s first big idea put digital music into the iPods, computers, and MP3 players of millions of people around the world, and made him a fortune. His current big idea may revolutionize the way doctors treat cancer and other critical diseases, and could tap into a medical products market worth billions. But this time, it has nothing to do with making money, says Goldman ’81, a successful inventor and entrepreneur who graduated with a B.S. in psychology. This time it’s about saving lives.

“I have enough money,” says Goldman, who lives with his wife and children in San Jose, California. “Everything I do now has a common theme of helping people. That’s really where my intention lies.”

It was the loss of his younger sister, Amy, at age 39 to metastatic cancer that led Goldman to imagine a way to treat patients whose doctors had said there was nothing more they could do. “I was going to take the MCATS, to see if I could still be a doctor,” he says. “I was sitting in this Kaplan review class relearning organic chemistry when I had this revelation about a catheter that could deliver chemotherapy drugs directly to a tumor. I pretty much designed the catheter right there, sitting in class that night.”

It took two years and about $2 million to turn that idea into the IsoFlow infusion catheter and seven years to get U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval for its use and sale. It also took a lot of sweat, experimentation, and grit in the face of naysayers who predicted Goldman and his tiny start-up, Vascular Designs, were doomed to fail. But it was worth it.

“Our first patient had a very large tumor on her back; she was in terrible pain and could hardly get out of bed,” Goldman says. “Within a month or two after treatment, the tumor was gone. Her quality of life improved and she lived another couple of years.” Goldman cautions that IsoFlow catheters do not cure cancer; however, the catheters do allow doctors to treat some tumors in a way, and in places, not previously possible. The highly targeted treatment the catheters facilitate can help extend and improve the quality of patients’ lives.

Goldman says what separates an inventor from a would be inventor is curiosity, commitment, and the passion to chase an idea wherever it leads. That’s how he developed the process for selling and downloading digital music files still used today by iTunes and other digital music services.

“Some people wake up in the middle of the night with an idea and 99 percent of them go back to sleep. Me, I start researching it right then,” Goldman says.

His new goal is to share that philosophy with enterprising students at Syracuse University. During a visit to campus, last spring, he met with students and challenged them to present an “elevator pitch” of their business plan. Goldman plans to return to campus in April to help judge the Student Sandbox company start-up pitches, and he recently joined the board of advisors for the Raymond von Dran IDEA Program.

Read more news from the College of Arts and Sciences.