Common threads in new medical technology development

In a prior post, I highlighted the technologies that are the focus of startups we have identified since early 2008.   Within the boundaries of what we focus on in our search for startup companies — device companies and those that are either complementary to or competitive with device companies — there is a pretty significant variation.  Nonetheless, there are some common themes, which we have seen previously (see our white paper), on the types of technologies that represent growth opportunities for specific reasons.


Here are some of the common threads:

  • Cardiovascular.  The cardiovascular arena has long been a source of much medical technology development, since many of the problems can be treated (if not solved) by devices — angioplasty, stenting, valves, vena caval filters, anti-arhythmia devices.  There are also well-established, FDA-approved technologies on the market, which enable sometimes only relatively modest technology advances to represent new business opportunities.
  • Minimal invasiveness.  If a patient can be treated with less trauma, even if only nominally, it is well received in the marketplace for the presumption of improved quality of life, better clinical end-point, etc.
  • Neurology/Neurosurgery.  The brain and nervous system have of late been rapidly giving up secrets of their normal function as well as pathology.  This has given support to aggressive efforts to develop treatments where, in some cases, none have existed previously. The neurology area represents a true new frontier for much new medical technology.
  • Pain management.  As a result of physicians historically addressing pain as an unfortunate side-effect of trauma and disease, rather than a more direct problem to be dealt with, pain has not represented a significant area of attention for either medical school curricula or medtech development — until recently.  Many medical schools now provide programs focused on the problems of pain management as unique medical issues to be addressed specifically. (Interestingly, a common area of "pain management" technologies is focosed on back pain — whether from spine surgery or trauma — and pain, rather than the trauma or disease, is communicated by the companies as being the a priori target of development.)
  • Cell and tissue engineering.  Options to address disease and trauma with a variety of cell and tissue solutions are becoming commonplace in areas long the focus of medical device and drug technologies.  Even without the advent of stem cell technologies (and its commensurate tendency for hyperbole), cell biology has advanced to the level of very effective clinical science.  As device makers consider their competition (or potential partners), it is unwise to ignore cell/tissue therapies.
  • Materials technologies.  Devices are no longer simply inert plastic or metal (indeed, it has become clear that they never were truly inert).  The variety of materials under development, on their own or in conjunction with coatings or other configurations, reflect a growing recognition of the need for materials to perform far more than structurally, as dynamic products that even evolve (or dissolve) during their product life to improve clinical performance.
  • Nanotechnologies. Not to be entirely disassociated from the above discussion of materials technologies, nanoetechnologies (and their larger counterpart, microelectrical machine systems or MEMS) are a promise-filled set of innovations (with actually little in common other than size) that have begun performing extraordinary clinical activities. Science continues to evolve, so as much as these technologies may have already (over)promised their potential, the bar will continue to be raised as phenomenal developments are made and commercialized.

I have not touched on all of the common themes, but these are ones I see again and again, particularly for their ability to drive the imaginations of entrepreneurs.

See our Reports, which address many of these threads.

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