BY SEAN FENSKE | EDITOR-IN-CHIEF
Late last year, I wrote a blog that spoke to a trend with regard to innovation in the
medtech space and from where it was originating ( www.mdtmag.com/may1550). While
the traditional medical device OEMs are
still focused on improving technologies and
making healthcare devices more effective and
efficient, they seem to be mired in a world
of incremental innovation. Big steps and
advances are rarely seen. Now, there’s a good
reason for this and a number of factors play a
part. From regulatory concerns to reimbursement issues to hospital adoption rates of new
technologies, the medical device OEMs are
simply reacting to an environment that has
caused them to have this mentality when it
comes to making advances in technology.
Meanwhile, grabbing headlines and creating a buzz about their visions for technology
for healthcare in the future are those “
outsiders” I referred to in that blog. Companies like
Google, Apple, Microsoft, IBM, and others
not typically affiliated with medical technologies are putting forth ideas that would transform the way in which we address healthcare
and how it is managed. They are taking the
same type of approach to these ideas that
they would with their consumer products.
The biggest obstacle to this, however, is the
fact that they lack the experience of dealing
with products that are highly regulated and
need to be reviewed by the FDA.
Now, these “outsider” companies are not
oblivious to this fact and have actually been
plucking regulatory experts from companies
throughout the medtech landscape. Several
firms have also met with the FDA. Perhaps
they are inquiring about the approval process
for some of the grand ideas they have or
determining whether or not planned projects
will fall under the eye of the FDA or maybe
they are just filling in the gaps on where they
are lacking in terms of knowledge of the reg-
ulatory review process (and addressing those
gaps with said hires). Whatever the reason,
these companies are certainly aware of their
inexperience in dealing with the FDA and
are making the attempt to get up to speed as
quickly as possible.
That brings us to a new trend that has
popped up from time to time in the news
of late. That is, collaboration between a
traditional medtech OEM and an “outsider”
consumer-based company. The two leverage
the best that each brings to the table — the
medtech OEM offers clinical and regulatory
expertise while the “outsider” brings new
creativity and vision along with consumer
marketing experience (for the wave of home
healthcare devices that will come from many
of these pairings). The synergies realized
from these collaborative efforts could result
in some very sophisticated advances that
significantly impact the healthcare space.
In the news recently, there have been
several of these couplings announced.
• IBM has partnered with Apple, Johnson &
Johnson, and Medtronic to facilitate the development of its Health Cloud, which would
leverage the computing power of its cutting-edge Watson technology for the benefit of
providing substantial healthcare capabilities
for applications such as diagnostics.
• Through a licensing agreement, Google
and Novartis have embarked on an effort
to address vision issues and diabetes with
a “smart contact lens” technology. While
Google is behind the device tech, Novartis is probably better positioned to add the
clinical healthcare benefits.
• Google has teamed with another medical
device OEM in J&J. Together, the two
companies are looking to develop a robotic
surgical solution that will likely look to
Carlos Castillo, Biomedical Engineer &
Research Biomedical Engineering Advisor, Loma
Linda University Zhang Neuroscience Laboratory
Michael Drues, Founder & President,
Marc Dubreuil, Vice President of
Business Development, Farm Design
Stephen Holloway, Associate Director,
Medical Devices and Healthcare IT, IHS
Jinny Lee, Vice President of Strategic Marketing,
Advanced Technology, Edwards Lifesciences
Tom O’Dwyer, Director of Healthcare
Technology, Analog Devices
Michael Pereira, Senior Vice President of
Technology & Operations, Ximedica
Alan Schwartz, Executive Vice President,
mdi Consultants Inc.
Thomas M. Tsakeris, President, Devices and
Diagnostics Consulting Group
Jan Wittenber, Member of IEEE and Fellow at
the Center for Medical Interoperability
Derek Young, Founder & CEO, i360medical Ltd.
Might Consumer and
Win the Day?
take on the current technology leader, the
da Vinci Surgical System. Given Google’s
acquisition of several robotics firms and
J&J’s dedicated division to surgical technologies, the two stand to make quite a splash
with a robotic surgery innovation.
Unlike the concerns I mentioned in my
column last issue that highlighted the consolidation and collaboration that’s occurring
at the supply chain level ( www.mdtmag.
com/march1501), the coupling that’s happening at the OEM level is actually serving
to enhance innovation, not potentially
decrease it. In that column, I noted that the
partnerships being seen at different points
in the supply chain could actually hinder
technology advancement in the long term.
This situation is quite the opposite. Should
these partnerships bear the fruits of their
promises, they will go a long way to impacting the level of healthcare that the resulting
innovations would seem to offer.
So perhaps instead of fearing the impact
these “outsiders” to the medical device
industry could make on the marketplace
with their innovative ideas and grand designs
for better healthcare technology, traditional
medical device OEMs should ask themselves
what they might bring to the table to further
enhance these offerings and thereby, ensure a
continued place at that very table in the new
age of medical device technology.