Jean-Charles Moczarski, a life sciences advisor based in Enterprise Ireland’s Paris office, describes how big data is shaping the future of medtech.
There are three important trends in medtech: data, data, and even more data. There is the data that is collected by individuals, which when collected generates data about populations. Then there are the many ways in which that data can be analysed, researched, and used to benefit people.
By 2030, we can expect things like smartphones, wearable tech, and the Internet of Things (IoT) to be fully integrated into our lives. Never before in the history of medical research will so much information be collected by individuals, generating an unprecedented volume of big data.
Predicting future health outcomes
Some of this data will be based on lifestyles, for example the amount of exercise we take, and the bars and restaurants we visit. And some of that data will be captured by devices, which monitor such things as heart rates and blood pressure.
Combined, that data will deliver an extraordinary snapshot of a person’s health and, with accurate interpretation, will help to predict future health outcomes. As data has little value if it cannot be interpreted, we will also have tools to help us analyse data in new ways.
A doctor, armed with this data, will be able to monitor a patient’s health, which will make things like annual health checkups unnecessary. If an issue arises, doctors can be automatically notified. If a doctor advises a patient to change their diet or exercise more and they don’t, that event can also be noted. Such features will help progress the preventative side of medicine and help improve the adoption of health regimes.
Predictive medicine is assisted by analysis of data collated from entire populations, as researchers will increasingly have access to data generated by millions of people spanning most of their lives, a vast increase in sample size.
Ireland’s role in the development of medtech
Ireland is uniquely positioned to benefit from these advances, for two main reasons. It is it the second largest exporter of medical devices, with a cluster of over 300 medical companies. Most of the world’s largest tech companies have a presence in Ireland too.
Here are some innovative Irish medtech companies that have established international reputations.
Irish company Aerogen has developed award-winning acute-care aerosol drug delivery products that are used in over 75 countries around the world.
The smartphone app ONCOassist gives oncology professionals access to adjuvant tools, formulas and prognostic calculators, among other features. Unlike many apps, it is classified as a medical device and can therefore be used to aid clinical decisions.
In the area of design, creative design and innovation consultancy, Dolmen work with a wide range of industries, from wearable tech to medical design. They have designed products for Cook Medical, Philips, and Soteira, collecting multiple awards along the way.
Collaborations across life sciences and tech
The fusion between big pharma and tech is hastening the next revolution in medtech, while the spark igniting that revolution is how big tech works with medical data and devices.
Companies such as Google and Amazon are already making inroads into the healthcare industry. In 2016, Google and the French pharma giant Sanofi, both of whom have bases in Ireland, announced a $500 million investment in a joint venture to develop treatments for people living with diabetes.
The partnership between Google’s experience in miniaturised electronics, analytics, and consumer software development and Sanofi’s clinical expertise is an example of how complementary companies from previously separate industries are joining forces.
On the artificial intelligence (AI) front, Alexa, Amazon’s voice recognition system, is being tested in US hospitals as an aid for surgeons in operating theaters.
Risks of medtech
While fusions across industries are full of potential, there are also risks which must be addressed. Products that rely heavily on software can be vulnerable to cyberattacks, hacking, and general IT downtime.
If we are to embrace and benefit from the age of big data, we will need to ensure that our data is safe, and that we can access necessary healthcare treatments when they are needed.
Nova Leah, an Irish cybersecurity start-up is only two years old, yet has established itself as an important player in this space.
Their innovative products ensure that individual devices connect safely and securely to hospital networks. In any large hospital at any one time, there are many devices which are gathering data and uploading it to a server.
All it takes is a vulnerability in one such device – and a timely piece of ransomware – to gain access, not only to the device, but potentially to the entire hospital or healthcare system.
The digital health market is expected to reach $379 billion in the next six years. It is a vast sum, and one which Ireland will benefit from.
While there will no doubt be breakthroughs in many fields of medicine in the coming decades, it is the overarching influence of data – both big and small – that will see the greatest advancement.