Creating a bridge between medical practice and digital engineering

International engineering and consulting firm Thornton Tomasetti has announced the appointment of Kristian Debus, Ph.D., as vice president and leader of Life Sciences.

Debus joins Thornton Tomasetti after more than seven years with Siemens Digital Industries Software, where he was director of life sciences, medical devices and consumer goods. He has an extensive background in engineering—ranging from consulting, research, and R&D management to product development, marketing, and sales.

Debus has worked at both biomedical startups and major software companies, partnered with the FDA on projects and served on the ASME Verification & Validation 40 committee for the standardization of computational modeling of medical devices. He brings a deep understanding of the power of digital software tools to deliver advanced capabilities to innovators throughout the healthcare industry. He also provides insight into the business-transformation opportunities that arise when those tools are harnessed to successfully commercialize new products and develop breakthrough medical treatments.

“We’re here to support the industry’s transition to the digital ecosystem, to cross over the chasm that exists between people’s needs for digital solutions that can improve their businesses and their abilities to master the complexities of those tools,” Debus says. “The industry simply has to become more comfortable with technologies like multiphysics simulation and in silico clinical trials. The problems are complex, and we can smooth the path forward with solutions that deliver safety, efficiency, and speed. These tools can boost productivity and regulatory compliance for major manufacturers and agile startups alike.”

Key to providing clients with such support is Thornton Tomasetti’s independent-consultancy status that enables it to employ digital resources from all the major design engineering software providers. “We maintain neutrality in our recommendations because we’re aiming to change the entire ecosystem of human-centric engineering with the right tool for every use case,” says Najib Abboud, managing principal and leader of Thornton Tomasetti’s Applied Science practice, of which Life Sciences is a division.

“We address the full spectrum of people involved, be they medical doctors, regulators, pharma, or device makers—as well as those in the emerging sector of fitness and wearable devices that interact with the human body by design,” says Abboud. “We reframe whatever the paradigm is within a digital world, and use the technology that works best for each unique application and process to deliver results quickly.”

The personal story behind the career

As is often the case with people who choose healthcare-related professions, Debus has a personal story: when he was only 18 years old, his father passed away from a heart attack. Debus already had an interest in math, physics and computer science. “I came across research on blood flow simulation and thought, maybe we can learn something from this,” he says.
While working on his masters’ thesis in wind tunnel research at BMW motorcycles, he looked for a better way to analyze fluid flow and discovered computational fluid dynamics (CFD). “That’s when I fell in love with engineering,” he says. “I focused on CFD for my Ph.D. and then did a post-doc on aortic flow.

“At that stage I began thinking, this is all very fascinating, but if nobody develops this knowledge into useful products that can change the world, what’s the point?” he continues. “These tools needed to be adapted for real-life use by industry. So I left academia and began working for companies focused on making a difference.”
After building his engineering skills at ICEM CFD, AGILENT and Bechtel, Debus founded his own medical CFD startup to develop diagnostic and treatment-planning software linked with a patient-data tracking system. He concurrently supported several other startups in related fields and joined Siemens in 2012. Along the way he connected with Ashley Peterson, Ph.D., who was with Medtronic and joined Thornton Tomasetti Life Sciences in 2019.

Leading a growing team

“I look forward to partnering with Ashley again,” says Debus. “He has developed medical devices with his own hands while I worked on such products coming from a more managerial discipline. We’ve joined forces with the team here at Thornton Tomasetti and are all pulling in the same direction to advance evidence-based healthcare. The digital ecosystem we’re working toward supports such developments as digital twins of patients and devices, software as a medical device (SaMD) and, eventually, in silico clinical trials.”

Since its launch in 2017, Thornton Tomasetti’s Life Sciences has grown its roster of clients to include the largest medical-device developers and leading wellness-product designers. It also collaborates with medical R&D clinicians at major teaching hospitals in the U.S. Areas of expertise include cardiovascular (heart-valve behavior, annuloplasty, etc.) simulation, stent design and performance optimization, skin penetration studies, blast effects, brain modeling, and medical virtual-reality solutions.

Regulatory agencies support the digital environment

Advanced modeling and simulation in the life sciences are now being accepted by the regulatory agencies as an expected portion of submissions, points out Abboud. “The FDA and other regulators are definitely on board with supporting the development of the digital ecosystem for medical-device and software-based products. Thornton Tomasetti Life Sciences is here to help the industry match the optimal device to the individual patient, so that outcomes are enhanced in the operating room, the hospital, and the clinic in the safest, most cost-effective manner possible.”

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