Friday Five - The medtech week in review

There's no escaping it: the digital revolution in healthcare is well along the way, as evidenced by the flood of news this week about innovations, industry collaborations, deals and strategies around what will be the hottest topic for the rest of this year and for some time to come.

Four of our Friday Five stories this week have a digital theme and include: the FDA's announcement about new approaches for the review and approval of digital health innovations; Japanese pharma company Otsuka makes inroads into digital therapeutics for psychiatric disorders; GE Healthcare gets deeper into precision medicine with new digital and imaging tools for more targeted immunotherapy; and Philips' Jeroen Tas discusses how the company is progressing with its all-encompassing digital initiative. Also, we take a look at how the M&A landscape panned out in 2018.

 

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Digital health held a prime position in the agenda of the annual JP Morgan Healthcare Conference in San Francisco, the biggest investor meeting on the healthcare industry's calendar. The Twitterati jammed the Twitter feed (#JPM2019) with posts on key pharma and medtech companies' digital health during their presentations, and the meeting also had a number of dedicated platforms to the topic, including a Digital Medicine & Medtech Showcase platform and sessions on start-ups with AI-driven healthcare innovations and pioneers in digital health sharing their experiences. The FDA also timed a much anticipated announcement about the next steps for its digital health pre-certification pilot programme with the JP Morgan meeting. A January 8 statement from FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, who was participating in a fireside chat at the investor conference on the same day, highlighted three new documents issued by the agency. The first outlines how the existing de novo pathway will provide the regulatory framework for reviewing digital health innovations; the second document is a plan to start testing this year how the de novo pathway would work in the pre-cert programme; and the third document reveals a Working Model to help the agency understand how well the pre-cert pilot programme works.  

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Japanese pharma firm Otsuka is seeking to carve out a bigger presence in the emerging digital therapeutics field - and consolidating its leadership in the psychiatric drugs sector - by partnering with Click Therapeutics to develop an app to treat patients with major depressive disorder (MDD). Otsuka already has a digitised pharma product, Abilify MyCite, which it co-developed with Proteus. Abilify Mycite is Otsuka's antipsychotic tablet embedded with an ingestible sensor that works in tandem with a tracking system to monitor drug ingestion, thus allowing the patient's treatment to be better fine-tuned based on this feedback. This latest partnership with Click is to develop a prescription-only app that would work as a standalone, first-line treatment for MDD, or in conjunction with a pharmacotherapy. Otsuka will bring its pharma expertise to the table to take the app through clinical trials and ultimately to regulatory approval.

[See The Wider View: Click-ing into depression digital therapeutics reinforces Otsuka’s psychiatric drugs stronghold]

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Just as pharma companies like Otsuka are keen to partner up with technology experts like Click to capitalise on this digital healthcare revolution, GE Healthcare is also closely assessing pharma/medtech crossover opportunities, namely in the lucrative cancer immunotherapy market.

GE Healthcare this week said it has entered into a five-year partnership with the Vanderbilt University Medical Center (VUMC) to develop new apps and PET imaging tracers that will provide the tools to help clinical decision-making in immuno-oncology. The AI-powered apps will be developed using information that has been analysed and extracted from VUMC's extensive database of cancer patients and their response to immunotherapy. The apps, together with the PET tracers, could provide more effective monitoring of treatment efficacy and provide more individualised therapy. GE Healthcare said the products will be initially used in clinical trials and research, before moving into mainstream clinical practice.

[See The Wider View: GE Healthcare eyes bigger slice of $100 billion+ immunotherapy pie with digital tech and tracer tools]

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A close rival of GE Healthcare, Philips, is making significant strides in its mission to become a fully digital company. In an interview with FirstWord Medtech, Philips' chief innovation and strategy officer Jeroen Tas highlighted how AI is being embedded into an ever-increasing part of its product portfolio and how this digital platform enables the company to hit its quadruple aim, a four-factor checklist that ensures each innovation it introduces into the market improves health outcomes, patient experience and staff satisfaction, while lowering the cost of care at the same time. He discusses the remaining "bumps in the road" that have to be smoothened out to realise a truly digital future for healthcare and elaborates why technology will never fully eradicate the need for the human touch in medicine.

[See Medtech Leaders: Philips’ Jeroen Tas on smartening up healthcare with AI and digital tech]

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Finally, with another year behind us, we take a look back at M&A activity levels in 2018 within the medtech industry. Has consolidation among some of the big strategic buyers slowed down deal flow? From our findings, deal volume stayed almost comparable to that of 2017, so it appears that companies are still shopping around. However, there were no mega-mergers last year, with only a handful of low single-digit, billion-dollar transactions. We picked out seven other key findings from our analysis, including who the most prolific shopper was, which disease areas was the hottest spot for deal-making, which buyers are making their presence known, and which deals fell through.

[See Industry Insights: Medtech M&A - 8 things to know about 2018 deal flow]

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