January 20, 2019

Alfred E. Mann, Jewish philanthropist, medical device-maker, 90

Alfred E. Mann, a pioneer in biotechnology and medical devices, died Feb. 25 in Las Vegas of natural causes. He was 90. 

A longtime Beverly Hills resident, Mann was the inventor of such things as the rechargeable pacemaker and the insulin pump. The entrepreneur was known as an innovator in several fields, including aerospace, biopharmaceuticals and medical device technology. He had been chairman of MannKind Corp. from 2001 until he stepped down on Feb. 17. 

Mann founded 17 companies in a career that spanned seven decades. Three companies became publicly traded, among them MannKind, which researches and develops products for patients with diabetes, cancer, autoimmune and inflammatory diseases. Other companies he founded create cochlear implants for the deaf and bionic eye technology to reverse blindness. He was also an active venture capitalist and investor, and founding chairman of the Southern California Biomedical Council, which works to spur biotechnology innovation in the L.A. area.

“He will be terribly missed by many, including the countless patients around the world with diabetes and other serious illnesses, whose lives he improved,” MannKind CEO Matthew Pfeffer said in a statement Feb. 26. “I am thankful to have had a close relationship with Al, and will reflect on his counsel and guidance in the years to come.”

In a video tribute posted in 2105 by the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, diabetes advocates and medical device manufacturers described Mann as hard-working, ambitious and compassionate.

“Al invented the pacemaker at age 40. Al invented the insulin pump at age 60. Al made inhaled insulin happen at age 75,” Kelly Close, a diabetes and obesity activist, said in the video.

Mann was born in Portland, Ore., to a Jewish immigrant family. His father was a grocer and his mother was a pianist and singer. A popular story about Mann is that he set up a lemonade stand when he was 5 years old and never stopped creating business opportunities.

Mann studied physics at UCLA and began his career in the early 1950s in electro-optical engineering and semiconductors. With the military’s backing, he founded Spectrolab in 1956 to develop solar-power systems for satellites. The company was later sold to Boeing. 

He also established biomedical research institutes that bear his name at the University of Southern California and the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa.

At his nonprofit research foundation’s annual gala in 2013, Mann was asked on the red carpet what it feels like to have helped so many people. He replied, “Why do I do it? It’s because of the satisfaction of being able to make a difference in people’s lives. That’s really what it’s all about.”

Mann is survived by his wife, Claude; children Brian Mann, Howard Mann, Richard Mann, Carla Mann Woods, Alfred Mann Jr., Kevin Mann and Cassandra Mann; a brother and sister; and 10 grandchildren.