The Challenges and Opportunities for Medical Technology Companies During a Pandemic
Most of the world’s medical community is focused on one emergency today: COVID-19. For medical technology companies not already focused on epidemiology, virology or immunology, COVID-19 has caused more than a few challenges. The coronavirus has upended most areas of life, from the health of individuals and communities to the health of the economy.
In addition to the coronavirus and its impact are the scores of existing unmet medical needs that require continued research, funding, trials and more. As medtech companies contend with the challenges and delays from COVID-19, it would be unwise to put the advancement of other medical innovation aside as we seek ways to contain the pandemic. Instead, we must continue our current work while simultaneously exploring new opportunities and innovations as the medical community learns more about COVID-19.
The biggest roadblock medical technology companies saw at the onset of the pandemic was the immediate halt in clinical trials. For any companies in the middle of conducting trials, it was no longer safe to bring patients into hospitals and clinics, nor to expose nurses and technicians to additional, non-emergency patients. While many operations within healthcare can go remote, conducting clinical trials with patients at home is unfortunately not usually a viable solution. This also meant that companies in the beginning stages of new clinical trials were often unable to move forward. Conducting a clinical trial would likely not have impacted treating COVID-19 patients, but the safety issue was just too great.
FAST BioMedical was fortunate to have just wrapped up a clinical trial in Germany. Our trial was not interrupted by COVID-19, but we have still been impacted. The doctors responsible for analyzing the results of the study have been working on treating COVID-19 patients these past several months, so their ability to focus on publishing the results from the trial has been delayed.
The only certainty in this pandemic is the uncertainty it introduced to every sector of the economy. This has led to a slowdown or freeze from some investors. Outside of COVID-19-related grants, some investors are wary of funding medtech that is not immediately tied to the COVID fight or may not be able to move forward with clinical trials for some time. Others are in “wait and see” mode as the new norms continue to unfold.
However, this leads us into a few silver linings:
Like other industries, medical technology companies have had to adjust and adapt. Even as some investment dollars have slowed, others continue to invest, even citing that the new emphasis on video conferencing is driving some efficiencies. Before the pandemic, it was rare that an investment deal be completed virtually, but video meetings between investors and entrepreneurs have resulted in funding during this pandemic.
Of course, it remains a challenge when everyone is working remotely that those spontaneous in-person productivity sessions are reduced. On a large scale, though, we’ve seen how organizations can work more efficiently from a distance.
For example, the FDA had already begun hastening the approval process for commercialized products. During the coronavirus, this process has been sped up even more rapidly. The FDA started working more closely with industry and academic players, as well as healthcare organizations like the NIH, to move testing and trial processes forward more quickly. The overall cooperation of the public-private partnership in healthcare has been taken to a new level during COVID-19, and that won’t change after a vaccine is developed for this virus.
Opportunity: Time and Understanding
The pandemic has also helped illuminate the value in the medical world of a timely, accurate diagnosis to guide therapy. For much of 2020, the focus has been on acute comorbidities with COVID-19, or what other illnesses are occurring with the coronavirus. As research continues, chronic and long-term morbidities stemming from COVID-19 are being discovered, such as the “long COVID” patients who are still battling symptoms months after their initial diagnosis. For example, cardiovascular association from COVID is coming to the surface. As time passes and we learn more about this disease, we also learn more about how other therapies can help treat patients.
Additional research creates an opportunity for all medical technology companies and investors. How new and emerging tech can help treat long-term COVID patients or those dealing with complications following the disease will be an investment focus all its own in the coming months and years.
All life science business owners should understand the unique role they play in the industry. With more than 2,100 companies working in the life sciences industry in Indiana alone, there are a myriad of opportunities to explore, whether that applies to existing unmet medical needs, short-term COVID-19 solutions, or addressing as-yet-undiscovered long-term challenges.