I’m very bullish on medtech.
A series of breakthroughs is about to upend the healthcare industry in ways we can’t imagine.
The next 10 years will sprout so many transformative technologies, it’s going to make the last 10 look in comparison.
Technology has a way of downsizing products and equipment. Once upon a time, the most advanced computer used to fill an entire room. Now, smartphones – with the same computing power – fit into our pockets.
Along these same lines are two amazing technologies shrinking room-sized operations into something orders of magnitude smaller.
They’re not quite ready for prime time. But they’ll be here very soon. Their impact on healthcare will be impossible to ignore. Everybody will take notice.
Here’s a peek into the future right now.
A Different Kind of Refrigerator
These are words you’ve probably never heard…
“Sorry, we’re out of Lipitor.”
That’s because our global pharma companies make their drugs in large batches.
For big-market drugs with steady demand, it works well.
But for orphan drugs (used to treat rare diseases), it’s very uneconomical.
What’s more, if production is interrupted for just a short time, supplies of even the most common drugs can run out.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration says there are dozens of such shortages at any given time.
Instead of pharma companies set up one huge batch after another – as they do now – MIT researchers are going down a different road and updating an old technology called “flow chemistry.”
It’s been around for decades, used mostly in the chemical and petro-chemical markets.
Illustration of “flow chemistry”
MIT’s chemists devised an ingenious way to pass the starting compounds through thin, snaking tubes, carrying out a dozen or more reactions.
Think of it as a sort of molecular assembly line.
An apparatus that can produce four medicines: an antihistamine, an anesthetic, an antidepressant and an anti-anxiety drug.
And it’s the size of a refrigerator. The previous apparatus was as big as a boxcar.
That was only two years ago.
These four medicines aren’t that complex. In fact, there are hundreds of other drugs with a similar level of complexity.
They could be produced with a similar setup.
This technology should be deeply impactful, accelerating the production of thousands of doses of a drug from months to days.
It should also make pharma supply more nimble. For example, it will be much easier to supply drugs when only small quantities are needed.
And it will allow drug manufacturers to adjust production up and down – say, to meet surging demand followed by a drop-off when an unexpected flu outbreak occurs.
The Amazing Medical Lab “on a Chip”
IBM scientists have set their sights on unlocking the secrets of bioparticles invisible to the naked eye.
They’re as small as 20 nanometers in diameter. They’re so tiny that you could fit more than 100,000 of them across the width of a human hair.
And they could potentially reveal the presence of diseases like cancer before symptoms appear.
In the next five years, IBM plans on shrinking down to a single silicon chip all of the processes necessary to trace clues in our bodily fluids (saliva, tears, blood, urine and sweat). The scientists expect to detect diseases that can now only be diagnosed in a full-scale biochemistry lab.
Eventually, this lab-on-a-chip technology could be used at home via hand-held devices. The data would be sent to your doctor’s office for prognosis.
Or, in a scenario I like better, it would be sent to the cloud to be further analyzed by software.
A Tidal Wave of Breakthroughs
These are but two of a number of incredible medical technologies coming down the pike.
And several startups are well into developing and commercializing these remarkable technologies.
We’ve already identified a couple of companies that we believe are developing breakthrough disruptive technology.
As we continue to explore this fertile startup sector, we’ll be sure to let you know what we find out.
Invest early and well,
Founder, Early Investing