COVID-19 stalled clinical trials, halted elective surgeries, and body slammed many med-tech companies’ revenues. Despite that, an industry report released by Ernst & Young (EY) finds that the pandemic also drove some positive changes in the med-tech industry including long-neglected attention to enterprise-wide business continuity.
The COVID-19 pandemic has been a bump in the road for developers of digital surgical systems that include robotics, but the technology is still in demand. That was the message from industry leaders at the Advanced Medical Technology Association’s Virtual Medtech Conference.
COVID-19 has prompted dramatic rethinking of supply chains, health care delivery, regulations, and collaboration that are likely to permanently restructure the med-tech industry, according to industry leaders speaking at a panel during the Advanced Medical Technology Association’s (Advamed) Virtual Medtech Conference on Oct. 6. In addition, the significant increase in debt and strong fundamentals position the industry for a burst of M&A activity.
The annual med-tech conference hosted by the Advanced Medical Technology Association, always features an FDA town hall, but this year’s town hall labored under the overhang of the COVID-19 pandemic. Nonetheless, Jeff Shuren, director of the Center for Devices and Radiological Health (CDRH), repeatedly gave voice to frustration with the statutory authorities currently enjoyed by the center, stating on more than one occasion that the Medical Device Amendments of 1976 are more than 40 years old and are in need of updates to cope with modern medical technology.
Device makers have wondered in the past whether they like the idea of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) peering over the U.S. FDA’s shoulders in premarket applications, which might be a concern as well for the Medicare program for coverage of breakthrough devices. Tamara Syrek Jensen, director of the Coverage and Analysis Group at CMS, declined to say whether her office has any influence over what would be designated as a breakthrough device by FDA, stating little more than that “we will constantly be talking with the FDA” about breakthrough devices.
What is the future of med-tech innovation in the wake of COVID-19? That was the question addressed during the Advanced Medical Technology Association’s Virtual Medtech Conference, with members of industry providing some insight. “I think … that this is going to be in many ways a turning point,” changing the way stakeholders look at devices and the evidence supporting them, said Tom O’Brien, of Johnson & Johnson’s (J&J) Ethicon unit.
In a fireside chat at the Advanced Medical Technology Association (Advamed)-sponsored Virtual Medtech Conference on Oct. 5, U.S. FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn addressed questions that have been circulating for months about the political pressure that the agency is facing to quickly approve a vaccine for COVID-19 by reiterating that any decisions will be “completely dependent on when data is mature” from phase III trials.
The COVID-19 pandemic has not run its course, but the U.S. FDA is already working on a plan for handling devices in the period after the public health emergency ends. Bill Maisel, chief medical officer at the FDA’s Center for Device and Radiological Health (CDRH), said the agency is thinking through what would have to appear in a guidance for a transition that may span a number of months, providing industry with some much-needed breathing room.
Device makers may see privacy legislation in California and other U.S. states as a source of regulatory balkanization, but that very same problem is cropping up in the international arena. In addition to the European General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), privacy requirements are popping up in Brazil and elsewhere, and Eric Bowlin, a partner at Deloitte Risk & Financial Advisory, told attendees on a virtual symposium that the best approach might be to base a compliance program on general principles.
The field of artificial intelligence (AI) is stretching the boundaries of conventional med-tech regulation, and several regulatory agencies are working to cut that Gordian knot. Marc Lamoureaux, director of digital health at Health Canada’s (HC) medical device directorate, said on a Sept. 21 webinar that legislation passed in 2019 gives the agency a “regulatory sandbox” in which to experiment with AI regulation, a mechanism he said may bring these algorithms to market much more rapidly than would otherwise be the case.