By Joe Muldoon
The coronavirus has upended most areas of life, from the health of individuals and communities to the health of the economy. Understandably, most of the world’s medical community is focused on finding solutions to COVID-19. However for medical technology companies not already focused on epidemiology, virology or immunology, the pandemic has laid bare many challenges, but has also revealed opportunities.
While the coronavirus and its vast impact are an urgent emergency, there are scores of existing unmet medical needs that require continued research, funding, trials and more. As companies across fields in medical technology grapple with the challenges and delays from COVID-19, many would argue that the advancement of other medical innovation should not be put aside as we seek ways to contain the pandemic. Instead, the medical community must simultaneously continue its work while also exploring new opportunities and innovations as we learn more about COVID-19.
Every sector of the economy has been impacted by the pandemic, and there is only more uncertainty to come, which has also led to a slowdown or freeze from some investors. While there has been a surge in investment in medical technology related to COVID-19, many investors are hesitant to fund medtech that is not directly related to the virus or may not be able to move forward with clinical trials at the moment. As new norms continue to unfold and each day brings new developments, some are simply waiting to make their investment decisions.
In addition to a change in the investment environment, the most significant roadblock medical technology companies faced as the coronavirus took hold was the immediate halt in clinical trials. For companies who were conducting trials during that time-period, it became unsafe to bring patients into hospitals and clinics to expose nurses and technicians to additional, non-emergency patients.
While it is possible for certain healthcare operations to function remotely, it’s not typically a viable solution to conduct clinical trials with patients at home. This freeze also meant that many companies who were just beginning a new phase of clinical trials were not permitted to move forward. While the continuation of clinical trials were not likely to have an impact on the treatment of COVID-19 patients, the safety risk was too high.
Companies fortunate enough to not be in the middle of clinical trials have still been impacted. Doctors responsible for analyzing the results of studies have had to switch gears to focus on the treatment of COVID-19 patients, meaning there has been a shift away from prioritizing the publication of trial results.
Despite the challenges, many opportunities have also been identified:
Time to Learn
The pandemic has 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. With ongoing research, there are new discoveries associated with chronic and long-term morbidities stemming from COVID-19, such as the “long COVID” patients who are still battling symptoms months after being diagnosed. 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 a standalone investment in the future.
New Ways to Work
While some investors have slowed, others have continued to invest, even citing that the new emphasis on video conferencing is driving efficiencies. Prior to the onset of the pandemic, it was rare that a deal would be closed without meeting in person. Video meetings between investors and entrepreneurs have become more common, and as a result, funding has been secured despite these changes.
There are, of course, the usual challenges of remote work, including those spontaneous in-person productivity sessions. 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. The pandemic spurred changes to make this process even more rapid and efficient. The FDA started working more closely with industry and academic players, as well as healthcare organizations like the NIH, to speed up the pace of testing and trial processes. The overall cooperation between public-private partnerships in healthcare has been a welcome change during COVID-19, and that won’t change after a vaccine is developed for this virus.
Life science business owners have an incredibly unique role to play in the industry. There are more than 16,153 life sciences companies in the United States with even more opportunities to explore existing unmet medical needs, short-term COVID-19 solutions, or long-term challenges as they come to light.
The severity and unknowns associated with COVID-19 have pushed medical technology companies in new ways, but it has proven to be an integral time for companies to examine how they fit into the medical community’s role when it comes to fighting the virus.
While there have certainly been challenges in the short-term, it’s important to find opportunities where they exist and understand the value in long-term developments, whether they do indeed have the potential to aid in the fight against COVID-19 now or whether they will prove to be vital in the future.
Joe Muldoon is CEO of FAST BioMedical.