There are five fundamental forces driving change in virtually every medical technology market. (There are many other forces, of course, that impact these markets, such as regulation, reimbursement, etc., but here I speak of forces driven by technology and the innovators employing them.) They represent challenges and opportunities — depending merely upon how companies perceive and respond to them.
Devices are no longer devices (only).
An inert medical or plastic device is likely to present little competitive threat. The device that succeeds stretches the boundaries of what a device is. Devices can be:
- Shape-shifting (e.g., nitinol)
- Hybridized with drugs, cells, other biologics
- Integrated with RFIDs and sensors
- Combinations of the above
Competition comes from all directions. And so does opportunity.
Competition in medical technology has long since been defined by the device, having been replaced by the definition of the specific problem solved. And that problem is the disease state and the costs of managing and/or eliminating it. (An angioplasty catheter’s competition is not just angioplasty catheters, but also drug-eluting and/or bioresorbable coronary stents, drug-coated balloons, atherectomy, minimally invasive coronary artery bypass graft, atherosclerotic plaque-reducing drugs, etc.) Successful innovators consider all possible alternatives to solving the disease state need and define themselves by the solution, not the product. The only limitation a manufacturer has is its willingness to pursue all avenues to solving the problem.
Any technology that is not focused on the ideal of zero collateral damage, zero complications, and zero adverse side-effects will be threatened by those that do. The advances in materials technologies, medical/surgical techniques and understanding of pathology, among other advances, are sufficient to challenge manufacturers to pursue the goal of zero invasiveness. Just as open surgery has evolved to incisionless surgery, medical technologies increasingly take on the potential to be more like drugs, or better — treating the disease on a one-time basis with no complications whatsoever.
Decentralized, point-of-care technology.
Capital equipment is expensive, big and lethargic. A handheld imaging — ultrasound, even MRI — performed at the patient’s bedside or doctor’s office, offers enormous potential to reduce cost and increase clinical utility. But decentralization is not limited to diagnosis, since treatment is the ultimate goal and its incentives are the same. Of course, the trend moving diagnostics and therapeutics from the centralized to the point-of-care is not a new idea, but the reality is that a whole range of therapeutic devices (e.g., numerous ablation modalities) have been developed that no longer require OR suites, general anesthesia and their associated costs, and imaging systems have been shrinking to the point that words like “handheld” and “MRI” can be used in the same sentence (see Butterfly Network).
Research and development tools eliminate excuses.
R&D is inevitably challenged to evaluate ideas thoroughly, considering difficult to anticipate obstacles and rapidly evaluating ideas to reveal the best prospects and bring them to manufacturing, let alone market. But multiple technologies have been developed and put into use that can accelerate the iterative cycles of development and yield prime product candidates to bring to market — biotech, pharma, biopharm, device, drug/device and others. Computer modeling of hemodynamic blood flow, computer simulation of drug candidates (hybridized with devices or not), 3D printing (prototypes, custom implants) and many other advances rapidly accelerate and improve the efficiency of product development of products that more perfectly fit the need and eliminate excuses for unforeseen costs and patient complications. R&D is also far more well informed — integrating more complete understanding of systems biology and the consequent downstream benefits and costs of intervening in any particular way. What is left is the ability to more rapidly evaluate and test (more) ideas and bring them to market.