Winning in implantable medical devices market: Pharma’s next frontier

Millions of people prick their skin for injecting medicinal drugs. Imagine if it was possible to avoid the ‘pain barrier’ by implanting a device into a human body that would automatically release drugs depending on the body’s requirements. In case you are already imagining, the inquisitive fact is different – such devices are already here to minimize your pain. However, we are not discussing pain relief, but focusing on what’s possible and how the pharmaceutical industry could gain access to core clinical information by strategically developing and distributing the implantable medical devices.

Bioelectronics is not new but the evolving applications are – implantable medical device is one such application which makes use of smart chips, sensors, thanks to the miniaturization of monitoring devices and power sources. Categorized under the medical IoT, the implantable technology is making today’s medicinal drugs even more participatory, predictive, and personalized. These devices use IoT concepts to continuously monitor human health parameters and securely report any anomalies to physicians. The so-called wearable technology market has flourished recently. But the scientific and commercial value lies in the next generation implantable technology, which has immense potential.

Implantable medical devices rewarding pharma stakeholders

According to P&S market research, the global implantable medical devices market is expected to grow at a CAGR of 8% and reach USD 28,876.6 million by 2023. Products ranging from smart watches and activity trackers to implantable heart rate monitors, glucose monitors, electronic pills and several other next generation products will disrupt the existing traditional medical devices market. These devices will herald a new beginning in commensalism of computational devices within human beings.

Key drivers of implantable medical devices

A plethora of factors is driving the adoption of implantable medical devices. These devices are turning into an indispensable remedy for chronic degenerative patients, including those suffering from cardiovascular issues. These devices are also rapidly adopted by a majority of the population, who has busy lifestyles with negligible physical activities. Moreover, the congenital diseases and consciousness regarding the body’s appearance are also minuscule within the key drivers of the implantable medical technology. These devices provide people with an outlook for their body aesthetics. Thus, such devices are enabling the market to emerge with even efficient applications.

Implantable medical technology – Frontline of pharma

Connectivity has been the name of the game over the past decade. In fact, we are entering the next level of deep tech innovation with the invention of the implantable medical technology. The new era of implantable medical devices is in full swing, as pharma companies go beyond ‘just monitoring’ body movements. For instance, Intel is planning implantable medical devices that let human beings control computers or robots with their thoughts. By 2020, the company plans to launch implantable devices which would read human brain waves. Another Medtech startup of California has also developed a retinal implantable device that allows the blind to see.

Pharmaceutical firms have quickly realized the potential of the implantable medical technology. GlaxoSmithKline has partnered with Alphabet’s life sciences unit Verily to create a new company focused on implantable healthcare solutions. This company plans to jumpstart intelligent implantable devices to tackle chronic diseases and transmit diagnostic data to receivers. Significantly, the real-time data can help pharma companies corroborate patient data, thus increasing drug personalization and effectiveness of implantable devices.

Similarly, Proteus Digital Health has developed a tiny ingestible sensor which once ingested with the tablet, sends out signals that can be recorded on a mobile device and can be accessed by healthcare providers and caregivers. “By turning the high-frequency act of medication taking into a digital event, Proteus is directly integrating therapies with greater measurement, feedback and behavior cues,” says Proteus chief executive Andrew Thompson. The biotech firm also secured a round of funding valued at USD172 million, indicating investors’ optimism about the implantable technology.

Patient data – Privacy threats

Given all the hype surrounding this next-generation implantable technology, the market is still in its nascent stage. Most of the developments in the pharmaceutical and life sciences industry are at a prototype stage. The implantable wearable technology makes use of chromium and nickel, which are prone to corrosion that might result in cancer. Further, Polyethylene implantable devices might also trigger localized tissue ruptures. Such hazardous issues are obstructing the adoption of implantable devices. This coupled with the high costs of implantable medical devices are hindering the growth potential of the market.

The depleting power of the implantable devices is a major issue for the pharmaceutical industry. It has created a need for a constant change of power source and rendered implantation devices a tricky business. It is pertinent to mention that researchers from the University of California have developed a sensor that runs merely on 113 picowatts of power, which is significantly lower than most of the available devices.

The stringent regulations are also obstructing the commercialization of implantable devices. Since most of the implantable devices help regulate critical body outputs, these products would generally fall under class 3 of the FDA classification. These devices face stringent approval regulations, which would cause manufacturing delay in commercialization of products.

Securing the billion dollar future of implantable medical devices

Even if we assume that cybersecurity has recently reformed its efficiency parameters, several hurdles still stand in the way of the pharmaceutical industry. Security concerns over data exploitation are another worrying factor for the Medtech industry. Most implantable devices would contain critical patient data and can be accessed illicitly for misuse. In a worse case scenario, some devices could be susceptible to hacking or cyber-attacks, which can cause malfunctioning. The process-centric operations involving the IoT and M2M interactions will create a gargantuan amount of data that will need optimum security. These operations may render existing traditional IT infrastructures obsolete.

These roadblocks might not hurt the stellar performances of pharma companies. A serendipitous invention might change the company’s future, as is the case with an unforeseen failure. Despite such headwinds, a robust strategic road map and in-depth research capabilities will drive the phenomenal growth of pharma players.

Time for action – Future of Medtech and Pharma

The Medtech industry largely depends on the digital innovations; of course, creating a digital strategy is never an easy task for the pharmaceutical industry. So far, most pharma companies have not been able to develop a comprehensive strategy for successfully distributing implantable medical devices. Hence, the market is ripe for disruption, and companies that outline clear priorities and strategies will be able to penetrate through the noise of digital setbacks.

Innovative medical devices have created a dynamic shift from the traditional healthcare model to the patient-centric healthcare model. However, a few limitations still remain for the pharma sector in order to reap the benefits of the new technologies. Manufacturers need to focus on creating value for all stakeholders. The penetration of the latest technology is low in price sensitive emerging markets. Hence, it is time for manufacturers to focus on reduction of prices. This can be achieved through awareness among end users, tapping untouched markets, achieving economies of scale and streamlining distribution networks.

Further, streamlining the changes in laws pertaining to the patents and technology-use will help decrease costs and increase healthy competition among manufacturers. Moreover, with the rapid progress in technological innovation, the implantable technology might help resolve critical health issues and rare diseases. Pharma companies must explore such opportunities in the implantable technology. For instance, implantable medical devices could also be used to power Immuno Oncology therapies in the near future.

Untangling analytics capabilities

Pharmaceutical firms can use health data of patients to achieve better medical efficiency that counterbalances privacy and security issues. Pharmaceutical companies must prove that implantable medical devices are efficient enough to create more accurate and timely information to promptly respond to patients’ health issues. “The critical question governing implantables’ effectiveness is how the data is used within existing healthcare services. Even now with wearables, none of the information is going to GPs. The system is simply stopping it,” says Adrian Downing, the director of healthcare at the UK advisory firm ConcentraAnalytics.

It is important to understand that a more focused pharmaceutical business approach would enable other partners to deploy resources across areas where maximum value can be derived. Hence, it is crucial for pharma players to partner with core suppliers to design capabilities if they are to stroll down the productivity path.

The pharmaceutical history is replete with many failure stories. This is primarily because some businesses are reluctant to shun their tried and tested methods, while many other industries have moved on with times. However, the pharma industry can bank on advanced research and analytics capabilities to tide over various challenges in the implantable medical devices market.

Namrata Kakade
Namrata Kakade
About the Author

Namrata Kakade is a PLS Business Research Analyst at SG Analytics. She has experience in market analysis for specialty therapy areas for the US, Europe, and emerging markets. She has expertise in key business strategies and competitive intelligence for pharmaceutical companies. She holds an MBA degree in Marketing from PUMBA, Pune and a Bachelor’s Degree in Biotechnology from Fergusson College.

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