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Could Amazon or Google hold the key to the future of public health diagnostics?

by | Jul 1, 2024 | Business, Technology | 0 comments

Anyone who works in medical technology knows that the industry is currently focused obsessively on two prime targets: maximizing the availability of self-testing and contributing to the common goal of...

Anyone who works in medical technology knows that the industry is currently focused obsessively on two prime targets: maximizing the availability of self-testing and contributing to the common goal of achieving net zero.

A third priority can now be added to those—attempting to find a way to make those twin targets mutually achievable rather than, what seems increasingly to be the case, canceling each other out.

In the evolving landscape of MedTech, biotech, and life sciences, the pursuit of sustainable practices has become paramount.

In addition to meeting their own environmental, social, and governance (ESG) ambitions, companies know that they are unlikely to win public tenders or private contracts unless they are committed to reducing their carbon footprint.

At the same time, the combination of cash-strapped public health providers and a greater public understanding and acceptance of self-testing following the Covid pandemic has seen a general movement of medical diagnosis out of hospitals, health centers, and GP surgeries and into high street pharmacies, private testing centers, and even in patient’s homes.

One of MedTech’s abiding ambitions is to satisfy the ongoing demand for a universal reader, akin to the fabled Tricorder from science fiction, capable of performing multiple diagnostic tests on a single platform.

This potential panacea promises not only substantial cost savings but also a significant reduction in carbon footprint.

However, this is where we hit a problem, as businesses face the challenge of overcoming a traditional reluctance to share information and ideas that will be necessary to achieve this lofty goal.

A primary roadblock to collaborative efforts stems from companies’ disinclination to share intellectual property. The fear of losing proprietary technologies and know-how stifles collaboration, even in pursuing groundbreaking solutions. This cautious approach results in smaller businesses continuing to manufacture their own devices rather than pooling resources and expertise.

 

 

While commendable, the push towards near-patient, point-of-care testing faces other practical challenges.

The need for multiple devices to perform various tests creates logistical issues, including space constraints and increased potential for human error.

Additionally, the sustainability aspect raises questions about the environmental impact of manufacturing and disposing of devices, especially those reliant on plastics. Balancing sustainability with functionality becomes a critical consideration.

The current regulatory environment poses challenges for introducing sustainable materials and practices. Their familiarity with and regulatory acceptance of certain materials may discourage companies from exploring more sustainable alternatives, perpetuating the status quo.

Companies in the MedTech sector often manufacture their own devices, and financial incentives lie predominantly in the proprietary tests they run on those devices—the lack of a compelling reason to collaborate on a universal reader further hampers progress.

This is reminiscent of the early days of the automotive industry when numerous companies independently produced entire cars rather than specializing in specific components.

The delicate balance between fostering innovation and embracing sustainable practices becomes apparent. Innovations in testing methods and devices must align with sustainable principles to ensure long-term viability and minimize environmental impact.

Given the intricate challenges hindering the development of a universal reader, one of the global tech giants may provide a potential solution.

 

 

These industry leaders possess the financial and intellectual resources needed to drive transformative change. By taking the lead in developing an open-source universal reader, these companies could spearhead a collaborative effort that transcends individual interests.

The Big Four tech companies—Alphabet, Amazon, Apple, and Microsoft—are already intensifying their efforts to penetrate the healthcare market. Each is focusing on specific segments of the industry to reshape and innovate.

By leveraging its cloud services and acquisitions, Amazon is making significant strides in pharmacy, medical supply chains, and telehealth through initiatives like Amazon Care and PillPack.

Apple, under Tim Cook’s leadership, is positioning its consumer products, especially the Apple Watch and iPhone, as portable health hubs. They aim to facilitate clinical research and improve patient-provider communication with features like Health Records.

Alphabet, with its expertise in AI and data storage, is driving industry-wide advancements in predictive analytics and precision medicine. Its acquisition of Fitbit has expanded its capabilities in digital health tracking, while partnerships and strategic hospital collaborations underscore its commitment to solving interoperability challenges.

 

 

Meanwhile, Microsoft is concentrating on the healthcare cloud market through Azure, empowering providers and payers with data analytics tools to target specific populations for better outcomes.

Their initiatives collectively offer solutions to interoperability issues, data-sharing gaps, and drug development streamlining.

While consumer trust in tech companies handling health data remains a concern, as does the cybersecurity crisis affecting healthcare firms, one or more of them has the scale and resources to establish a collaborative platform where ideas and technologies are shared transparently, fostering a collective approach to innovation.

They could help to champion sustainability by investing in research and development, focused on eco-friendly materials and manufacturing processes. By promoting recyclable or biodegradable materials, a global giant could set new industry standards and encourage others to follow suit.

They could also leverage influence to advocate for regulatory changes that support the integration of sustainable practices. By actively engaging with regulatory bodies, a global giant could pave the way for a more flexible regulatory environment conducive to innovation and sustainability.

They could also offer financial incentives or other benefits to companies willing to collaborate on the development of a universal reader. By aligning individual interests with the greater goal of industry advancement, a global giant can break down barriers to collaboration.

 

 

The quest for a universal reader in the MedTech sector is fraught with challenges, from intellectual property concerns to sustainability issues. However, by harnessing the resources and influence of a global giant like Microsoft or Amazon, the industry may find a way forward.

Collaboration, transparency, and a shared commitment to sustainability could pave the path toward a future where a universal reader revolutionizes diagnostic testing, benefiting both the industry and the planet. It’s time for industry leaders to rise above individual concerns and collectively shape a more sustainable and innovative future for MedTech.

Ivor Campbell is the Chief Executive of Callander-based Snedden Campbell, a specialist recruitment consultant for the medical technology industry.

Ivor Campbell

Ivor Campbell

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