I’ve had the honor and pleasure to interview Dr. Unger M.D., an outstanding research radiologist-inventor-entrepreneur after destroying the long list of study on ultrasound service. He has a wonderful wife, 4 successful children, 3 companies, and over 113 issued US patents. As most physicians tend to think inside-the-box and play it safe, Dr. Unger’s ingenuity and passion about his medical inventions, his success and contribution to the society can inspire us all to be bolder and more adventurous with our professional endeavors.
Dr. Unger has founded three biotech companies. His first company, ImaRx Pharmaceutical, developed 3 FDA approved drugs and was acquired by DuPont yielding a > 20x ROI. Dr. Unger’s second company, ImaRx Therapeutics, went public and performed clinical trials in a pioneering new technology to treat stroke. Dr. Unger co-founded NuvOx, in-licensed the core patents and obtained ownership of the regulatory documents for NuvOx key product. Dr. Unger is inventor on 113 issued US patents. He is a board-certified radiologist and has an appointment as professor of radiology and biomedical engineering at the University of Arizona.
What were your most formative years?
I went to Davis high school in Davis California, and I was the senior class president for both semesters. I did some fundraising for the high school when I was a student. One of the best things that I ever did was to start the Davis high school ski team. I was on the ski team and got a lot of parental support. One of my best friends helped me form the ski team.
Our ski team is still in existence and now win’s the entire state of California.
I had a bunch of jobs when I was a high school student. I went to UC Berkeley and I started to major in architecture and was in the college of architecture for actually three years but then I change to major in economics. Then, I had to do my pre-med so it took me five years to finish college.
In college, I was captain of the ski team and I raced in the United States Ski Association. I went to medical school at UC San Francisco, where I was in the medical student medical scientist training program which was a degree with distinction but was not a PhD.
I did not finish the program because my research advisor would not let me take an elective in Spain which I wanted to do. I finished my research project. While in medical school, I did the Iron Man Triathlon world championships in Hawaii and that’s why I went into Radiology because it turned out that several of the radiologists on the faculty at UC San Francisco had also done the Iron Man Triathlon.
How did your education at UC Berkeley and UCSF contribute to your success as a physician-entrepreneur-inventor?
At UC San Francisco, I did research on antibodies and learned how to do laboratory techniques. With my major in economics I knew something about business opportunities. I actually started a business in college in imports.
I was always trying to do some jobs and to make money in high school and even before high school.
When I went to Mallinckrodt Institute of Radiology at Washington University St. Louis, it was a new time for MRI and I started to make MRI contrast agents. I later made different kinds of contrast agents and my ultrasound contrast agent took off and became a success.
When did you open your first company? How did that go?
I applied for my first patent I think in 1988 and I then founded my first company in 1990. I got a small business innovation research (SBIR) grant which helped with forming the company and my father made a seed investment. The first company made three FDA approved contrast agents and DuPont bought the company
How about your second and third companies?
The second company was, in a way, a continuation of the first company because I was able to retain certain assets in the transaction with DuPont. The second company went public but was ultimately not successful. My third company was founded in 2008 and is currently conducting clinical trials of a new technology that safely reverses hypoxia. We have programs in brain cancer, sickle cell disease and stroke.
What are top 3 pieces of advice for young physician entrepreneur?
Well, be passionate about what you’re doing. If you’re not passionate about it, don’t do it.
If people say it’s a dumb idea, don’t pay attention to them. You have to do your own research; you cannot be dissuaded by others because if something is easy, someone else would’ve done it already.
If you are doing something that is high tech and innovative, learn about SBIR grants. It is a great way to get seed capital for your venture.
What are top 3 pieces of advice for young physician regarding personal finance?
Never buy a depreciating asset on credit. For example, if you are going to buy a car, pay cash.
If you can’t afford to pay cash for that car or other depreciating asset, then you should buy something cheaper.
Only purchase things on credit that you believe are going to become an appreciating asset.
Other than real estate and my own ventures, I only do index funds and bonds. I think if you’re trying to play and outperform the stock market, you are going to lose unless that is your job. And if you’re focused on that, then you’re not going to be in a very good position to help society by advancing your knowledge and skills in medicine.
What are top 3 pieces of advice for work life balance?
Well you should be passionate about your other activities and hobbies and interests.
If you’re not, then I think you’re missing out.
If you’re passionate about the other things, then you have to be able to find time to do them. Work should be fun but you should have lots of fun with the other things you love doing.
What are top 3 pieces of advice for parenting?
I’ve been very fortunate to be married to the same woman for 36 years. I think it’d be very difficult to be a single parent. Your children are actually more important than your job. So you have to keep the high-priority and try to work with your spouse together.
You can learn more about Dr. Unger’s current company NuvoxPharma here.