Introducing our new Chief Medical Officer: Bela Koves

With this blog, we’d like to welcome Béla Köves MD, Ph.D. to the UroSystem Team as Chief Medical Officer. In this short interview, we’d like to present the amazing work he’s done in urology and beyond, as well as give you an idea of what kind of path led him to UroSystem.

Tamas: Can you give us a short introduction about yourself, Béla?

Bela: Yes. Thank you Tamás for this. I'm Béla Köves. And well, as a first profession, I'm a medical doctor and I am a urologist for more than 15 years now, working in Budapest, Hungary. I’ve been a colleague of Sándor Lovász for many, many years. We worked in the same hospital, and that's where we became friends and research partners. I’ve always had a very strong interest in research, but while Sándor zoomed in on interstitial cystitis, my main area of scientific research became infectiology and urinary tract infections, urinary microbiology, evolutionary microbiology – so how evolutionary processes have shaped the microbiome in our bodies that we live with to this day. But my starting point was urinary tract infection and, in that area, I have a Ph.D. and I lead different international working groups.

I am also a member of the guideline panel of the European Association of Urology (EAU) for urinary tract infections. I've worked with the IDSA, the Infectious Disease Society of America –where I participated in writing guidelines – and I'm currently co-chairing the EAU’sSection of Infections in Urology. So,I do lots of scientific work on the international level and I lead some scientific working groups where we try to develop, execute and manage different scientific projects which have real-life consequences and implications regarding infections. So that's one of my areas of insight. And of course, on top of that, perform surgeries in the urinary field with laparoscopy and open procedures at Jahn Ferenc South Pest Hospital and Clinic– I'm still working there part-time.

I was always interested in different things. I participated in many innovative or startup ideas and now I'm finishing my thesis on patient satisfaction in private healthcare settings at the University of Szeged, Faculty of Economics. So, I also somehow developed a strong economic interest and started some businesses – private practices – that I manage in Hungary. There, we try to build up patient-centered and customer-centered private healthcare. We also had some health technology companies with differing successes, which all provided experience in how to manage and make scientific and medical ideas work. So, I’ve always found myself doing very different things simultaneously, keeping me passionate.

Now what I try to do when I manage scientific ideas or scientific projects is to cluster them, shrink them down to small steps and check if it's realistic to perform because a scientific idea is one thing, but it needs several further steps to test it, to implement it, to sell it. It’s because of this thatSándor and myself are always a good match, because he has brilliant and life-changing ideas and I have strong knowledge and experience on how to manage a scientific idea in order to get it done; I think this is whatUroSystem needs. Plus, it's not just another antihypertensive drug we want to put on the market, but products and solutions that don’t exist yet, which can bring patients significant benefits and new ways of treatment. So, this is why we agreed that I take a part-time position as Chief Medical Officer.

T: That's great. I wanted to ask what inspired you to become a doctor and a urologist specifically?

B: I wanted to become a doctor when I was 18 because I loved biology, I loved science and I wanted to do something “responsible” and being a doctor seemed like an interesting and challenging profession. And at that time, there was the series ER(emergency room), so you know, when you are 18 you have a picture of what it is like to be a doctor. I wanted to become a doctor, but then I went to med school and it was quite different. And once I finished university, I knew I wanted to choose something which reflected my diverse interests, but most faculties or specializations are linear – for instance, if you're a surgeon, you just operate. If you're a radiologist, you just diagnose but you don't do anything else. If you are an internist or a general practitioner, then you just think and diagnose but you don't operate. So, things can become a bit repetitive.

In the smaller faculties or specializations, on the other hand, your activities are based on an organ system and you perform everything on that specific organ system. For example, if you're a urologist, you do the conservative treatment, the diagnostic, the ultrasound, the operation; everything a doctor can do on the urinary tract system. When you are an ear-nose-throat doctor, you do everything from the ears to the throat. I wanted to choose such a specialty, where you have the chance to operate, where you have the chance to follow your patient for maybe 10-15 years with conservative treatments, to perform ultrasound scans. You can play around; there are many, many different activities, especially in urology. The surgical part is really, really advanced: there is robotic surgery, 3D laparoscopy, and laser kidney stone removals with flexible, fiberoscopic instruments. It's really high-tech gadgets, and advanced surgery, and there are many different skills and methods to use. Overall, this is why I chose urology.

T: So, you became a urologist, and then what? How did you end up specializing in lower urinary tract conditions, specifically UTIs and recurring UTIs?

B: They say your boss has a great impact on your life. So, my boss, Professor Péter Tenke, is the head of the Department of Urology at South Pest Hospital where I was working with Sándor. Professor Tenke is an internationally renowned scientist for urinary tract infections and he introduced me to this field. I wasn't sure if I was interested, but the opportunity seemed promising. So, I joined his team as a research fellow to participate in papers and research projects, and I realized that it's really, really fascinating. Most urologists focus on operations and think about infections as some secondary thing. But in reality, infections affect significantly more patients; just think about the pandemic. Infectiology has suddenly become extra important, and there are very, very many open questions we need to answer. I dove deeper into that area which is what lead me to microbiology – as I’ve said earlier – and the world of bacteria. Basically, there is a whole world on us and in us, which we are completely unaware of, but it affects everything we do. The deeper you go into this area, the more you realize how much there is to discover. I spent one year in Sweden in 2010, doing research on urinary microbiology, trying to put good bacteria into humans to see what genetic changes they made. It was a great experience and provided insights into basic microbiology, life sciences, and animal experiments. With time, of course, I gradually became a part of this international network of UTI and microbiology research.

T: What made you want to join the UroSystem?How did you end up working here?

B: Well, as I said, I am a long-time friend of Dr. Lovász. If you know Sándor, you know that he has this strong brilliance and innovativeness. I really respect his passion to invent in urology and I admire his really out-of-the-box ideas. He mainly deals with interstitial cystitis, which is a neglected area in urology, so his ideas should be taken seriously. One of the main reasons why I started the conversation with UroSystem is because I’ve been helping Sándorwith his research for more than 10 years and I was very happy to see that this company was formed around him. Someone with a financial interest and experience also found his ideas interesting; that was huge. I think what often happens with scientists who are truly innovative is that nobody understands them and their ideas just never come to life. It's very, very hard to get an idea out there successfully. Not to mention when you’re a startup, maybe 1 in 100 survive. So, sadly, what happens with these amazing ideas is that they often stay undiscovered.

I was very happy to see how UroSystem formed around Sándor and the UroDapter. Funnily enough, Sándor considers the adapter to be one of his minor inventions because he just wanted that to make instilling patients easier. But that turned out a success, got him off the ground, and now he has momentum for his ideas that are further down in the pipeline. This is what made me interested; to see those developments and inventions flourish. Sándor and I decided that since we’re already working together in an academic, scientific setting, why don't we add a professional setting as well. So, I joined the UroSystem team to try to give those inventions a better chance of being implemented.

T: I think this gives us a great picture of you so far - professionally. My last question is: what do you like to do when you're not treating patients or working?

B: Well, I like to involve myself in many different things: biological science, evolution, economics, or psychology – I’ve always been interested in a variety of things. The truth is, you can easily get lost trying to find one satisfying thing, with some real purpose. This has caused lots of frustration and thinking, you know? What is the endgame? How should I know what I want to do?

But now I have a son, Adam, who is four years old. And when Adam was born, that was my strongest instinct ever, that this is real. I mean, this connection with your family and your son (it’s an evolutionarily important instinct since your main purpose is to pass on your genes – so of course, that makes sense!). But when that instinct kicked in, it really made me feel that I have to use my time to be with my son as much as I can, because soon enough, he won't even answer the phone when I call him! I try to spend my work time on projects that are as interesting as possible and right now, I find UroSystemis the place for that. But when I'm done, I try to be present, focused, and open-minded for my son while we have time together – and if you have a four-year-old that's basically an endless amount of time! I enjoy it immensely.