Tech 101: A Guide to MedTech
Updated: Dec 21, 2020
Anushree Gupta presents a brief overview on Medical Technology (MedTech), exploring definitions, key players in the industry, recent news and future developments.
At a glance
Introduction to the industry
Medical technology, or "Medtech", goes way beyond robotic surgeons. It includes a wide range of healthcare related products, services, and solutions that can be classified under three main categories:
Medical devices (MDs) are products, services or solutions that prevent, diagnose, monitor, treat and care for human beings by physical means.
In vitro diagnostics (IVDs) are non-invasive tests used on biological samples (for example blood, urine or tissues) to determine the status of one’s health.
Digital health and care refers to tools and services that use information and communication technologies (ICTs) to improve prevention, diagnosis, treatment, monitoring and management of health and lifestyle.
Recent advances and start-ups have also focused on cost reduction throughout the manufacturing and delivery processes of all five areas.
Alternatively, the term ‘Medtech’ may be used to include relevant technology-based innovations in medical devices, information technology, biotech, pharmaceuticals, and other healthcare services using tools of AI, robotics, and big data.
While Health Technology is used interchangeably with Healthcare Technology, the term Medical Technology only shares a part of Health or Healthcare Technology, as it goes on to include food based startups with different levels of health-based foci like nutrition, allergies, and fitness trends, and even Wellness Tech that includes meditation and mindful living based innovations.
If you plan on specialising in this industry, it might be worth familiarising yourself with the nuanced difference among these distinct industries with useful articles on how the traditional Pharma industry is different from Medtech and BioTech here, from Medical Devices here, and from Biotech here. Another up-and-coming industries adjacent to MedTech are food tech and wellness tech.
An additional distinction between health technology, medical devices, and medical equipment when using these terms in official grants or research documents can be further explored in the official WHO definitions here.
In-depth explanation of how the industry ‘works’
MedTech records the highest number of patent applications in technical fields right behind digital communications. It is significantly ahead of both pharmaceuticals and biotech.
The involvement of different Angel funds and VCs depend on the maturity of the company and less so with the precise sector. It is still helpful to look at the investor’s specialisation as many funds have begun specialising in biotech or medtech, as opposed to simply investing in the broader field of life sciences which is what the market used to look at.
It is often advised for MedTech startups to look into incubators, university spin-out funds, or angels when searching for funding at the nascent stages. Specialist VCs should be approached once first proof of concept has been established. Growingly, startups also look at crowdfunding as these specialist angel investors and VCs are often not very accessible. However, MedTech requires a long process of commercialisation, going through regulatory approvals, academic publications and commercial sales in major markets before large companies express interest in acquisition. This long-term return on investment often fails to match the expectations of crowdfunding participants.
Still, it is also true that the high levels of testing and regulation required in the commercialisation process lead to the investment value perception of MedTechas low risk. Additionally, innovation in this field tends to be incremental rather than disruptive:it's a great addition to a specialist’s portfolio given their experts who can analyse the viability of the product even at the starting stages.
For the creator and entrepreneur wanting to delve into MedTech, it is important to keep in mind that this industry has a different investment and exit timetable compared to the other life and biological sciences. Acquisitions are commonplace not only with industry giants like Medtronics and Johnson & Johnson but also with Google and Novartis especially when it comes to IVDs, the largest sub sector of medtech. You can read some experts’ statements on the workings of the MedTech industry here.
Who are the key players?
There are over 30,000 MedTech companies in Europe as of 2020. The highest number of them are based in Germany, followed by Italy, the UK, France and Switzerland. Small and medium-sized companies (SMEs) make up around 95% of the medical technology industry, the majority of which employ less than 50 people that are small and micro-sized companies.
The biggest names in MedTech, specifically in the area of medical devices come from companies that already have a background in electronic products, consumer products, or pharmaceuticals like GE, Philips, Johnson & Johnson (DePuy Synthes), Siemens, and Abbott. See here.
Some notable European start-ups include Babylon Health and Elvie in the UK, Amra and Kry in Sweden, and Ada Health in Germany. For more, see here.
A major driver of the sector's growth involves the consumerization of medtech. Due to the widespread availability and use of smartphones and digital devices, MedTech providers can access a large audience at low costs leading to trends like wearable technologies, most famously seen with pedometers like Fitbit and the Apple Watch.
More recently, the astronomical demand for testing equipment, PPE (Personal Protective Equipment), remote monitoring, and ventilators related to Covid-19 have brought about many innovations and new players into the industry. But experts fear that this is not an entirely positive development. They suggest precautions to prepare for predicted post-Covid trends and differentiated medical demands of a surge in elective medical procedures and perhaps even home based/distant solutions. Read more here.
The impacts of MedTech involve social and ethical issues, which promote physicians to seek objective information from technology rather than read subjective patient reports. For example, there have been constant outcries from the Black community, supported by concrete data, of racial bias in pain assessment and treatment recommendations. Most horrifyingly, this bias extends to anaesthesia or pain medicine being withheld from Black and Latinx women giving birth.
For more information, read the original study based on a 2016 survey here or this terrific article on innovations built through testing on African-American slaves.
What to look out for?
Covid-19 has been the biggest factor impacting MedTech in 2020. This has significantly increased the demand and innovation rates for diagnostic tests, personal protective equipment (PPE), ventilators, and other critical medical supplies.
The increased demands has also caused a significant increase in partnerships beyond the traditional players in the MedTech industry to include governments, and the NHS in the UK.
This helps supplement both creativity and capacity. This is widespread and varied, from engineers working on building cheaper ventilators with open-source equipment design to tech giants like Apple and Google using GPS and Bluetooth technologies to track and diagnose the coronavirus spread.
Additionally, the crisis has also seen innovation and expansion in MedTech-adjacent products like online pharma sales and virtual fitness experiences through start-ups like Capsule and Mirror. Both are on Forbes’ next billion dollar startups list of 2020.
Are there any ‘threats’ to the industry?
The biggest threat pointed out by experts is the current drop and expected post-Covid rise in elective medical diagnostics and procedures. This means that while Covid-19 has brought elective medical activities to a virtual halt, they are expected to see a massive boom once the coronavirus wave subsides. This would also occur at the same time as the increase in demand for delayed essential medical procedures that have been put on hold right now.
While the entire MedTech and HealthTech sector caters its resources, financial and otherwise to fighting the pandemic, some preparation for the aftermath is essential. This would involve researching and testing post-pandemic scenarios and strategies. This preparedness could either accelerate the industry’s growth further or put a substantial strain on companies’ financial resilience and business models. A detailed quarter by quarter analysis of this can be found here and an example of a suggested post-Covid strategy can be found here.
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