Advice to forward-looking medtech manufacturers (and their competitors)

trainWill Rogers said, “Even if you are on the right track, you’ll get run over if you just sit there.” The current challenge for medtech manufacturers is that, as a result of a wide range of forces, trends and developments, the train that threatens to run them over has gotten a whole lot faster. Below is a short list of perspectives that is needed by medtech manufacturers and their competitors in order to stay ahead of the train.

  • Focus on your competitors’ solutions, not their products. Stent manufacturers (and this is just an example) are not competing only against stent manufacturers; they are also competing against drug-eluting balloon angioplasty, atherectomy, percutaneous myocardial revascularization, atherosclerotic plaque-reducing drugs, myocardial stem cell therapy and other device, drug, biotech and other options.  The focus is on the disease and all the alternative ways to treat it (even preventing it). And it bears reminding that a duty of your market intelligence is to keep a watchful eye on the broadest possible definition of potential competitors — gene therapy, holistic medicine, eastern medicines.
  • Be careful where you draw the line on your product’s features. There are many choices to be made in designing and engineering a medical product. The more you build into the product (being resorbable, being intelligent, having biocompatibility coating, having embedded drug(s), etc.), the more benefits you can potentially claim, but the more arduous the engineering, testing and regulatory approval will be.  The traditional advantage medical devices have over drugs has been that devices are “inert”, accomplishing their therapeutic endpoint without the large scale side effects possible with systemically active drugs.  The more devices are imbued with drugs, made of resorbable material or have any kind of interactive capability with the tissue around them, the more likely will be occurrence of adverse effects.
  • Directly or indirectly, your product must be viewed as lowering healthcare cost. In real terms, a product that demonstrably lowers costs compared to alternatives has a decided advantage. However, your product has only to give the appearance of saving money, or at least clearly suggests that it will not raise healthcare costs. Directly, if you can point to units per patient and average selling price and you can point to explicit cost saving compared to currently used products, you’ve gained an advantage. Short of that, you can gain advantage if you can make a defensible cast that your product leads to indirect cost savings such as in less trauma, less collateral damage, faster healing times and similar.
  • “Zero invasiveness” is the target. Expect increasing numbers of percutaneous and “natural orifice” procedures at the expense of not only open surgical procedures but also laparoscopic procedures. Too many surgical and interventional formats, and support systems for them, have been developed that signal the end of the need for invasive procedures.  And whether the procedure is done laparoscopically, endoscopically, percutaneously, or even radiosurgically, the need to cut, resect/excise or otherwise physically alter anatomy or morphology to address pathology will be obviated by, and be less attractive than, effective non-surgical/non-interventional approaches.
  • “Personalized medicine” may be largely theoretical, or at least largely unrealized, BUT the potential to be able to predetermine when therapies will or will not work is too significant in its implications to ignore. (Looking at this another way, I recently spoke with a pharmaceutical colleague who noted that blood markers in patients with a particular condition could help them screen out 97% of the diagnosed patients for whom their therapy would be ineffective.  Their conclusion was not that the drug was 97% ineffective but that, for 3% of the diagnosed population, the drug would be highly effective and therefore highly profitable.)
  • The pace of change is accelerating. Developments in material sciences, the growth in applied understanding of basic life sciences, the emergence of “paradigm-shifting” industries like stem cell and tissue regeneration, the rewards being reaped by genome sequencing, the integration of advanced information technologies in drug discovery, simulated device prototype testing and other advances are dramatically shortening the gap between idea and market introduction, reducing product life cycles (accelerating obsolescence) and increasing the intensity of competition for all manufacturers.

The advice for any medtech manufacturer — or, for that matter, any manufacturer of a product competing against a “medtech” product — is that they must continually address the view of their competitive landscape to recognize and be prepared to respond to real and perceived competition, trends, forces and opportunities.