Friday Five: The medtech week in review (12 March 2020)

COVID-19 is now a pandemic, declares WHO

The World Health Organization officially classed the COVID-19 outbreak as a pandemic, in a week where the spread of coronavirus infections is accelerating in tandem with the rising death toll across the world. The escalation is now mainly outside China, in countries like Iran and Italy, for example, that have gone into complete lockdown. On the other hand, China looks to be getting over the worst of COVID-19, with the number of infections and related deaths slowing down. The WHO's Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus warned that the worst is yet to come with the infection and death rates expected to keep climbing in the days and weeks ahead. 

No-gos for major shows

The past week saw several major medical conferences and health industry events being called off due COVID-19. For example, the annual HIMSS (Health Information and Management Systems Society) meeting would have kicked off in Orlando, Florida on March 9, with at least 50,000 attendees gathering to discuss the latest in health IT. The society had maintained the show was still going ahead, in spite of major exhibitors like Amazon and Intel pulling out, but finally threw in the towel and announced the Friday before the event that it was cancelling for the first time in 58 years. More recently, the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons joined this ever-growing list of cancellations, which include the ACC, EHRA and AAAAI - many are related to medical specialties where physicians are in contact with patients who are immuno-compromised, have cardiac and respiratory problems, and therefore at higher risk of succumbing to coronavirus if infected.

Physicians expect significant disruption from COVID-19

Responses from a snap-poll conducted by FirstWord to gauge what impact COVID-19 is having on physicians in their medical practice reveal a high level of concern on the disruption the pandemic will cause to accessing necessary drugs and devices to treat patients, among other issues. Nearly 300 physicians across multiple specialities in EU5 countries and the US took part in this poll; one not-too-surprising finding was that physicians in Italy, the hardest hit of all European countries by coronavirus, anticipate the highest level of significant disruption to patient care. 

See Physician Views Results: Docs foresee COVID-19 having 'greater than moderate' impact on patient care for more details of our findings.

Telehealth a winner amidst COVID-19 stock slump?

Investors joined in the COVID-19 panic, as the implications of the pandemic on businesses and the wider economy started to dawn on them. While even the top five medtech companies - Medtronic, Johnson & Johnson, Philips, Abbott and GE Healthcare - were not immune to the downward spiralling of stock value in markets across the globe, shares in telehealth companies like China's Ping An Good Doctor and Teladoc Health, the leading US telehealth services provider, have taken an upward trajectory. 'No-contact' measures to contain the coronavirus mean patients are urged by governments to turn to telehealth services, rather than going into their clinics, to seek medical help. Teladoc also received a further boost last week when the US government signed into law an emergency spending bill that ring-fenced $500 million to expand reimbursement for telehealth services during this coronavirus pandemic [See The Wider View: Backed by US bill, Teladoc’s top-line looks to get healthier from COVID-19].

Look out for our Physician Views poll to find out what the real impact is of telemedicine and digital health platforms on medical practice and whether this pandemic marks the turning point for the use of these services in mainstream medicine. 

February's venture activity levels still strong in spite of COVID-19 

While it did not beat January's $1 billion-plus record for total deal value, February still pulled in an impressive $930 million in venture dollars, with the largest round being a $165 million fundraise by liquid biopsy company Karius. It was noted that of the 29 deals recorded, none of them were from Asia-based companies. The last 12 months have seen a steady flow of innovators from that region attracting both local and western investors - whether February's inactivity reflects the impact of the coronavirus is hard to tell, just because there was a sudden downswing in a single month. To see if this is a longer-term trend, look out for our regular monthly Spotlight On VC Deal Flow series - in the meantime, go to Spotlight On: February’s VC deal flow for more details about last month's transactions.

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