A Close-up View of the Medical Device Industry

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A Close-Up View of the Medical Device Industry

By Andrew Celentano

The March 2017 meeting held by the WITI Boston network featured an interesting panel discussion about the medical device market.

The five panelists started the discussion by sharing with us some detail on what their companies do.

Panelist Poliana Yee discussed Corindus Vascular Robotics, which produces a second-generation robotic assisted solution for PCI (percutaneous coronary intervention). This is the procedure in which a surgeon places a balloon catheter and/or stent into the major arteries of the heart. It is done with x-rays in real time, and Corindus's solution enables the surgeon to do the procedure from a lead-shielded, protected cockpit some distance from the patient (but in the same operating room). Studies have shown that physicians experience a 95% reduction in radiation and patients also see a 17% reduction (because the procedure takes less time).

Erin Johnson, from Johnson & Johnson, described how the company has come a long way since 1880 when they produced first-aid kits. It now comprises 250 operating companies operating in 60 countries with 128,000 employees. Almost half of their revenue today comes from the pharmaceutical area, about a sixth is from consumer goods, and the rest (over a third) comes from medical devices. Erin is part of the company's DePuy Synthes family, which encompasses joint reconstruction, trauma, spine, sports medicine, power tools, and veterinarian equipment. She specifically works in the area focused on spines, with solutions for degenerative disc disease, deformity correction, aging spines, and minimally invasive surgery.

MedAcuity, as described by Susan Jones, provides high-end critical software for 8 of the top 10 global healthcare companies. Some of their projects include products such as infusion pumps, cardiac defibrillators, surgical imaging systems, implantable heart pumps, wireless mobile medical diagnostic devices, intra-aortic balloon pumps, medication-dosing analytic systems, robotic surgery systems, in vitro diagnostics devices, and cybersecurity.

North Shore InnoVentures, represented by Martha Farmer, is based in Beverly, Massachusetts, and is an incubator for young biotech and cleantech companies. To date, they have supported 41 companies, creating 270 jobs and securing $177M in investments and grants. One of their clients, ArticSand, just got acquired for $68 million.

Elizabeth Reczek described SeqLL (which stands for Sequence the Lower Limit), which provides True Single Molecule Sequencing (tSMS™) of DNA. Dr. Reczek discussed the benefits of SeqLL's procedure in comparison to typical PCR technology in which copies of DNA are made to grow a big enough sample to process. The PCR technology technique can introduce significant errors into the results, while SeqLL's tSMS™ technology literally sequences millions of individual molecules at once with a very clever technique that Liz presented in our meeting.

The evening's compelling panel discussion covered a number of topics including personal career paths, the business environment today in the medical device space, the challenges of being a woman in the business world, and what the future holds for us in medicine.

The panelists brought interesting career paths to their current positions. Two of the five started out wanting to be architects; one started in the military; and another started in biology, studying air-breathing fish in the Amazon.

We discussed the business climate today and the fact that the undefined future of healthcare does create uncertainty in the marketplace. In particular, the way in which procedures are reimbursed by insurers can have great influence on the viability of new innovations. Clearly there is pressure to reduce costs and to be more conscious of the real value to the patient, so new technology by itself is not necessarily a predictor of success. In addition, EU requirements are becoming more stringent and a lot of time is being spent retroactively to ensure proper documentation is in place on current solutions. Although this may appear to be unproductive, it does create a mindset for a more disciplined approach going forward. And as one panelist stated: "If it isn't in the documentation, it didn't happen."

One question that came up was about a frequently faced situation in which a woman's idea is not "heard" in a meeting but is later credited to a man who has essentially repeated the idea in the same meeting. One of the panelists' clever suggestions included using humor to reassert your original ownership. Panelists agreed that, at the end of the day, if the idea is good for the company you have made a successful contribution, and over time people will realize you are a positive asset to the company.

We ended by talking about where the medical industry is going. Clearly there is a drive for personalized medicine in which more precise solutions are customized to individual patients. We are already seeing this with joint replacements custom-designed for specific patients. The industry also expects to see pharmaceutical solutions that work more precisely with the individual chemistry, metabolism, and genetic makeup of patients. Homing in on advanced genetic procedures, we can now eradicate some cancers by training blood cells through reverse DNA to attack specific bio-markers. And, we are starting to see genes present in people who live to ripe old ages that may be the key to extending the population's life expectancy. These are exciting times indeed.

Andrew Celentano is a Senior Innovation Manager at Sagentia, a UK-based company that helps clients accelerate their product development and penetrate new markets. Andrew's role is to help identify projects with promising new technologies and map Sagentia's resources to make them viable and reliable. His focus is in the medical space with diagnostics and surgical devices specifically. Sagentia is leading the charge with innovations in robotics, DNA-based diagnostics, haptics, intra-operative augmented reality, and tissue detection.

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