“You sit between the walls at a big company and admire the energy of these startups,” she says. “I caught the bug.”
Toward the end of her 15-year tenure at Johnson & Johnson, Debra Bass found herself eyeing the startup world with envy. It wasn’t that she felt dissatisfied with her job or employer — Bass held pivotal roles in J&J’s global baby and feminine hygiene franchises, among other units — so much as she liked the idea of building a marketing function from the ground up.
As she went about “rebooting [her] network,” an investor in the then-fledgling Nuvo Group suggested she meet with CEO and founder Oren Oz. Bass’ background in baby care and women’s health made her an ideal fit for the company, which hopes to establish itself as a pioneer in maternal and fetal connected health.
If that aim seems lofty, it’s by design. The standard of care for maternal and fetal monitoring has not changed in decades, Bass notes. “For years, the womb has been the black box,” she explains. “Nobody really knew what was happening with a mother-to-be and her baby on a day-to-day basis.”
There’s no reason [pregnant women] shouldn’t demand a 21st-century solution or be more engaged in pregnancy managementDebra Bass, global CMO and president, Nuvo Group America
Enter Nuvo and its sensor-based belt for pregnant women, currently in the FDA regulatory pathway as a de novo class II submission — de novo because there is no predicate device, class II owing to its low-risk nature. The belt transmits health data from the mother and fetus to the cloud, allowing it to be accessed by HCPs on a more regular basis.
Of course, with any new approach comes the challenge of overcoming systemic inertia.
“OB-GYNs don’t want to change because they have learned to live with the limitations of the way things have been done for years,” Bass says. “There’s no reason [pregnant women] shouldn’t demand a 21st-century solution or be more engaged in pregnancy management and be empowered to own it.”
Bass’ experience makes her an ideal fit as Nuvo’s lead marketer. She spent seven years at Procter & Gamble before entering the healthcare realm at Bristol-Myers Squibb, where she led a virology team. That role, as much as her mother and baby-specific ones at J&J, helped shape her thinking about the mission at Nuvo.
“For HIV in the 1990s and early 2000s, the movement to treat it as a significant disease was patient-led,” she notes. “I saw how a consumer-patient movement can change the standard of care. What we need to do here is ignite that kind of movement.”
In her first few months at Nuvo, Bass has embraced everything that comes with building a brand from scratch.
“Everybody believed they knew the brand, so it was a matter of balancing all the input,” she says. “Here, we have this new domain of maternal and fetal connected health. We want to play up the magnitude of innovation, but also don’t want to overwhelm people with science.”
Nuvo plans to formally submit its device and software combo to the FDA by the end of this year and anticipates approval in 2019. Conversations with payers have already commenced.
Bass expects the company’s “foot in the door” will come via partnerships with hospital systems and OB-GYNs on the continuous monitoring of high-risk pregnancies. “That’s the lowest barrier,” she adds. Other pathways could come via employers and their maternal health offerings or concierge medicine (for mothers-to-be who want additional reassurance).
“What we’re doing blurs the line,” Bass says. “We’re med tech in that we have a wearable device, and we’re IT in that we need to process data through interfaces and connections into EMRs. We’ll be engaging patients because we think this will be a consumer-led revolution.”
Global CMO and president, Nuvo Group America
Commercial leadership and marketing functional leadership, Johnson & Johnson
Global franchise organization consumer: baby franchise, global marketing services, J&J