She is an innovation chaser, an idea generator, and an impact amplifier who is helping small startups bring transformative medical technologies to market. 

What were your early career influences? 

I come from a family of innovators, including my grandfather, who started a chemical company after World War II. My father is an engineer, and my mom is a nurse. I’ve always been interested in the intersection of health care and innovation, and I wanted to make an impact – not just one patient at a time, but on a larger scale. 

Tell us about the company you started based on your biophysics PhD. 

The company is Catalyst Biosciences, and I co-founded it with my thesis advisor, Charles Craik, and two colleagues. My role was scientific – designing proteases, the enzymes that break down proteins. Proteases are like those little craft scissors with different teeth patterns, and we changed those patterns to target different diseases. We started with a protease involved in clotting blood – factor VII – and engineered it to make it faster and better than the natural version. 

Why did you move on? 

I found the work hard because biotech development timelines are so long. I left Catalyst nine years ago, and the lead product is still in clinical testing. At this point, I’ve switched from biotech to medtech, focusing on marketing strategy, clinical strategy, and business planning. I’m often the only marketing or commercial person on a team of mostly medical engineers. 

What do you love about your work? 

The best part of my day is when I get together with other really bright clinicians and engineers, and we just start brainstorming on thorny problems. That to me is a ton of fun. 

Sandra Waugh Ruggles is a faculty fellows mentor at the Stanford Byers Center for Biodesign. She graduated with a PhD in Biophysics from UCSF in 2002. Her hobbies include skiing, running, and spending time with family. 

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