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The Rise and Fall of Cue Health: Market Lessons and Implications

Cue Health, the portable COVID-19 test maker, reached its zenith during the pandemic’s peak, securing investments and contracts from both government and private sectors. The company was lauded for its user-friendly, rapid-response COVID-testing kits. At its peak, Cue Health’s products were seen as game-changers, with the potential to revamp the healthcare sector by providing accurate at-home diagnostic results within minutes. However, sales of these testing kits plummeted before Cue Health could diversify and establish other revenue streams, leading to a series of layoffs and, ultimately, the shutdown of its operations.

As the public focus shifted away from the pandemic, so did the demand for testing. For Cue Health, the COVID-19 test was essentially their sole product, and this decline in demand marked the onset of turbulent times.

In the past few years, Cue Health struggled to maintain its market position and technological edge, focusing on restructuring and streamlining its operations. The company engaged in talks with potential investors and stakeholders, which did not materialize. It also implemented several cost-cutting measures to remain afloat amid financial turbulence, but these were insufficient to counter the broader economic challenges that Cue Health faced. Its share prices declined steadily, and several rounds of layoffs followed.

The final blow came when the FDA issued a warning letter and a safety alert on May 10, 2024, asking users and healthcare providers to discard Cue Health’s product. The FDA discovered unauthorized changes made to Cue Health’s COVID-19 testing kits. This ultimately led to Cue Health’s winding down operations and filing for bankruptcy in May 2024 after laying off all its employees.

Cue Health’s business failures: A look at three critical oversights

Absence of recurring revenue streams: The company’s COVID-19 testing device was a one-time purchase, and it did not need any consumables or refills. This prevented the development of a recurring revenue model, such as subscription-based services or ongoing product sales, which is essential for financial stability and sustained revenue stream. Dependence on the one-time test kit sales implied that once its demand subsided, there was no consistent income to support operations.

Top-heavy business model: Cue Health employed many individuals in leadership positions, a common mistake that start-ups tend to make. This resulted in high salary costs, even amidst financial turbulence, eventually leading to several layoffs.

Moreover, the company struggled with financial management and strategic planning. Efforts to engage with investors and stakeholders did not yield results, further compounding the company’s financial crisis.

Narrow focus: Cue Health’s business model heavily depended on a single product, the COVID-19 testing kit, which nearly constituted its complete product portfolio. This singular focus left the company vulnerable to the declining demand for COVID-19 testing kits, and it was not able to pivot quickly to diversify product offerings. Moreover, the company was also unprepared for post-pandemic market realities, which led to its decline.

Cue Health’s wind down: Repercussions for diagnostics sector and investors

Regulatory and compliance implications: Cue Health’s regulatory challenges highlight the critical need for compliance and transparency in product modifications. Consequently, other companies in the diagnostics and medical devices sector may now encounter heightened regulatory scrutiny by the FDA. To stay afloat and avoid similar pitfalls, these companies must invest more in compliance, ensuring all products meet regulatory and quality standards. This could result in better overall product quality and safety across the industry, although at a higher cost to the device makers.

Industry lesson: Cue Health’s trajectory – from swift growth to sudden downfall – serves as a case study for industry players to understand the risks associated with over-reliance on a single product and the importance of portfolio diversification. Companies operating in the diagnostics sector should leverage the company’s experience to reevaluate business strategies and enhance risk management practices.

Investor sentiment: Cue Health’s downfall, despite the substantial funding and a successful IPO, could lead to more cautious investor behavior and diminished confidence in healthcare start-ups, particularly those with a singular product focus. For future investments, investors may demand more scrutiny and rigorous due diligence. Consequently, companies may be pressured to build diversified product portfolios and more sustainable business models to mitigate risks associated with market fluctuations and regulatory challenges.

EOS Perspective

Cue Health’s shutdown highlights the volatility and unpredictability of the MedTech sector, underlining the importance of regulatory compliance, portfolio diversification, and market adaptability. While innovation and growth are imperative for staying competitive in the diagnostics sector, striking a balance with robust financial planning and risk management practices is equally important.

For other diagnostics companies, Cue Health’s downfall serves as a cautionary tale, emphasizing the importance of building sustainable business models that can withstand market fluctuations and external pressure. For investors and stakeholders, it accentuates the requirement of stringent due diligence and risk assessment for high-stakes investments in emerging health technologies.

Despite Cue Health’s closure, its journey is important. The company leaves behind a legacy of innovations, diagnostic tools, and resourceful healthcare delivery models. Other diagnostics companies can build on Cue Health’s technological foundation, learning from its experiences to navigate the complex healthcare technology landscape.

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Denmark – A Trailblazer in Digital Health Innovation

The COVID-19 pandemic has spurred the need to embrace new digital tools and technologies within the healthcare sector. There has been a significant increase in the use of technology to provide care, resulting in improved health outcomes. In Europe, Denmark has made significant progress and is at the forefront of the digital health transformation with a 99% digitalization rate. Over the last few years, Denmark has strived to digitalize further its healthcare infrastructure, testing and leveraging technologies such as AI and robotics to implement them at full scale across the country. In this transformation, the Danish digital health system can be a source of valuable lessons, uncovering various opportunities it presents for health tech companies.

Demark’s digital health: Harnessing power from a robust public infrastructure

Denmark’s healthcare system is among the most expensive worldwide, with 10% of GDP allotted for healthcare expenditures and 90% publicly funded through taxes. The health infrastructure is highly digitalized, with almost 99% of healthcare communication done electronically.

The national e-health portal, Sundhed.dk, launched in 2003, plays a key role in Denmark’s digitalization, offering a comprehensive platform catering to both healthcare professionals and citizens alike. Sundhed.dk provides safe and secure access to an individual’s personal health records (from hospitals), medication information, vaccinations, laboratory results, appointments, and referrals. The portal is user-friendly and is regarded as one of the superior models for public healthcare information exchange worldwide.

Over the last 20 years, the Danish government has supported and invested in various digital health initiatives, rolled out several IT services, and strengthened its digital healthcare infrastructure. In 2007, the country introduced E-record, through which individuals can access their medical information from EHR systems using the Sundhed.dk portal. The government also launched Shared Medication Record, which has records of patients’ prescriptions, details of the doctor who prescribed the medicines, and information pertaining to where the medications were picked from. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the “My Doctor” app was introduced to facilitate video consultations between GPs and patients. These digital initiatives contribute to improved care coordination and increase the patient’s trust in the system.

Denmark – A Trailblazer in Digital Health Innovation by EOS Intelligence

Denmark – A Trailblazer in Digital Health Innovation by EOS Intelligence

Unraveling the blueprint: Denmark’s digital health success story

Well-formulated digital health strategies address the needs of patients and healthcare workers

Many countries develop digital health strategies, which are frequently focused solely on technical aspects, steering away from addressing the actual needs of patients and healthcare professionals. Moreover, these policies often function as plain vision documents with no clear description of action plans or the roles and responsibilities of various stakeholders.

In contrast, Denmark’s digital health strategy is well-formulated and primarily focused on addressing the needs of patients and healthcare workers. It provides a clear vision of how digital technology can help meet their needs. In addition, the strategies highlight the importance of cross-sectoral collaboration, detailing focus areas and specific initiatives that must be jointly executed. For instance, it clearly mentions how the health and education sectors should work together to promote digital health literacy.

Denmark’s well-crafted digital health policies are a cornerstone of its successful digital health transformation. Since 1999, the country has been updating these strategies every four years, ensuring ongoing review and modernization of its digital health infrastructure.

Governance models aid in the speedy integration and implementation of digital healthcare tools

Denmark follows a regional governance model instead of the top-down approach, controlled by the state (national) government. The states and municipalities are responsible for developing and implementing their own health IT solutions in alignment with the national strategy.

Further, the government has established several steering groups to aid in implementing and disseminating digital health initiatives for rapid digital uptake. For instance, Connected Digital Health in Denmark, a cross-governmental organization, manages, coordinates, and ensures the implementation of various action plans mentioned in the national digital health strategies.

In addition, the government also regularly engages in public-private partnerships to boost its digital capabilities. The country’s strong governance is considered one of the critical success factors for the digital health transition.

Common IT standards help in effective healthcare data exchange

Many countries have deployed digital health technologies; however, integration remains sparse, resulting in a fragmented digital landscape. Integrating patient information siloed across multiple healthcare segments is crucial for establishing a high-quality digital health infrastructure. The adoption of common IT standards helps facilitate this data exchange and integration.

Denmark has been using these standards since 1990 for electronic health data communication as well as improving workflows between public hospitals, general practitioners, private healthcare entities, specialists, laboratories, and home care services. The early development of these standards significantly increased electronic communication within the healthcare sector, contributing to the high level of digitalization of the Danish healthcare sector.

Strict testing protocols ensure digital health tools are user-friendly

The user-friendliness of digital technologies is considered one of the major factors for early e-health adoption. Denmark undertakes several initiatives to ensure that digital health tools and technologies are user-friendly and easy to use. For instance, the country collects feedback from healthcare stakeholders about their experience with various digital health solutions, checks if they are user-friendly, and uses the input received to develop new solutions.

The country has also implemented strict testing protocols for telehealth solutions by evaluating their performance on mobile devices and testing the products with a range of end users, including the elderly and people with disabilities.

Government’s focus on educating and training healthcare stakeholders helps them to use digital tools effectively

Denmark educates and trains healthcare workers to use digital tools appropriately. According to a 2020 Deloitte report, nearly 76.8 % of Danish clinicians mentioned that they are well-trained and supported in using digital health tools and solutions.

Local governments and hospitals in Denmark collaborate with tech professionals to provide support, education, and training on using digital solutions such as EMRs, telemedicine platforms, and shared IT standards for healthcare data exchange. Digital health literacy of front-line healthcare workers is one of the core objectives of the country’s digital health strategy.

Unlocking opportunities: Denmark’s digital health sector for health tech companies

According to Statistics Denmark, the percentage of the Danish population aged 75 or above is expected to double from 7.8% in 2017 to 14.4% in 2047. In addition, the country faces a severe labor shortage, with projections suggesting that by 2035, Denmark might have a shortage of 14,500 healthcare workers. These factors are expected to put increased pressure on the Danish healthcare system.

In order to tackle these challenges, Denmark’s government continues to invest in advanced innovative technologies and digitalization strategies. In 2018, the country launched a digital health strategy titled “A Coherent and Trustworthy Health Network for All: 2018-2024”, aiming to modernize the healthcare infrastructure further. Under this initiative, the country aims to expand telemedicine solutions, increase virtual care visits, and automate the administrative and clinical workflows within the Danish healthcare system. This initiative is creating opportunities for startups and companies offering health tech solutions in the areas of telemedicine, video consultations, remote patient monitoring, hospital automation, and diagnostics.

Danish government seeks to expand telemedicine solutions for various segments of the patient population

Denmark has been using telemedicine services since 2012, beginning with home monitoring solutions for Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) patients. The country seeks to further expand the rollout of telemedicine solutions for patients with COPD, chronic diseases, heart failure, comorbid conditions, and pregnant women facing complications. In December 2023, the government of Denmark invested about US$72 million to expand telemedicine solutions for these patients, offer digital rehabilitation courses, and increase the number of virtual consultations through GPs.

Various governmental organizations in Denmark have been looking to partner with companies providing innovative remote monitoring and virtual care solutions to facilitate home treatment.

For instance, in 2021, in collaboration with the local government, Trifork, a Denmark-based digital health company, developed a telemedicine solution called Telma for severe COPD patients. The solution provides COPD patients with medication, measuring tools, and devices to track pulse and oxygen levels at home. The Telma app transmits this data in real time and facilitates communication between healthcare professionals and patients through video consultations, thus lessening the need for frequent hospital visits.

Similarly, in 2022, two Denmark-based health tech companies, Copenhagen Center for Health Technology (CACHET) and Cortrium, forged a research collaboration to develop a novel technology to monitor a patient’s heart rhythm remotely. This allows heart failure patients to receive prompt medical care without visiting a hospital.

The Danish government is also looking to provide telerehabilitation services amidst the rising mental health issues across the country. In 2021, the government established the Centre for Digital Psychiatry to develop, test, and implement several nationwide digital services. In March 2023, the Center initiated a research project with Monsenso, a Danish mobile health company, to provide personalized digital treatment for patients with depression.

A rise in telemedicine programs catering to various segments of the patient population is expected in the forthcoming years. This surge in demand fuels the growth of companies offering telehealth solutions nationwide.

AI presents several opportunities for innovation and collaboration within the healthcare segment

Denmark actively seeks to integrate AI into its healthcare system, especially in diagnostics, presenting numerous opportunities for AI-based health companies to thrive. The country has established research and innovation centers across the country focusing on AI for uses such as identifying at-risk stroke patients, helping radiologists interpret scans, and assisting in other diagnostics.

In 2021, Denmark established the Radiology AI Test Center (RAIT) to accelerate the development and implementation of medical AI applications in the country. Through RAIT, private companies can test and validate their AI-based technologies in Denmark. For example, in 2021, through the RAIT program, several Danish hospitals in Copenhagen partnered with US-based imaging AI startup Enlitic to evaluate an AI-based algorithm to read chest X-rays. Similarly, in 2023, RAIT partnered with Cerebriu, a Denmark-based health tech company, to use AI to improve MRI imaging of the brain.

Investments in advanced digital technologies modernize healthcare infrastructure

As Denmark endeavors to digitalize its hospitals, ample opportunities arise for companies specializing in robotics and mobile health to improve hospital and clinical workflows, among other areas.

Some steps have been taken to digitalize hospitals. For instance, the Centre for Clinical Robotics (CCR), a research and innovation center for healthcare robotic technology in Denmark, aims to leverage robotic technology for various hospital processes, such as food service, cleaning, medication dispensing, clinical sample collection, etc.

Another interesting instance is the pilot project between Systematic, a Denmark-based software company, and physicians at the Aalborg University Hospital. Systematic has developed a communication platform called Columna Flow Clinical Tasking, which facilitates direct communication among the physicians at the Aalborg Hospital. The solution offers a real-time overview of the patients, including their medical conditions and the workload of hospital clinicians on duty. This empowers physicians to prioritize patients and efficiently allocate tasks during peak hospital hours.

EOS Perspective

The Danish health system is poised for an even more profound digital transformation in the coming years, aiming to improve patient accessibility and convenience. Denmark’s healthcare market is already highly digitalized, which provides a robust foundation for further digital transformation and innovation.

Home care and telemedicine, health data interoperability, AI-based diagnosis, healthcare automation, personalized medicine, and preventative health are likely the key focus areas for the next phase of digital health transformation.

Further, the country is looking to elevate patient care through its super hospital program, which involves consolidating smaller hospitals into larger, higher-capacity units. The aim is to provide superior medical care at lower costs. Technology will play a key role in improving healthcare delivery and patient outcomes in these hospitals, with applications across logistics, clinical decision support tools, diagnostic tools management, and patient engagement, among other areas.

These initiatives can be expected to make the Danish health system even more robust. The system is expected to move from a doctor-centric to a patient-centric care model, where patients would be actively involved in taking care of their own health. The country’s meticulously crafted digital health strategies, well-established digital infrastructure, and technology-proficient population lay a solid foundation to usher in the next wave of innovation.

As Denmark persists in its commitment to build a healthcare system fit for the future, there are abundant opportunities for health tech companies to thrive and drive innovation within the Danish healthcare industry.

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FemTech: A Game-Changer in Women’s Healthcare

Women’s healthcare is one of the most neglected and understudied fields in the healthcare sector. Despite substantial advances in medical sciences in recent years, there still exists a huge gap in the treatment of diseases that are specific to women. FemTech focuses on addressing some of these gaps and offers the potential to help tackle the longstanding issues of women’s health.

FemTech developed as an answer to inadequate healthcare for women

According to a 2018 article published in Our World in Data, a UK-based online scientific publication, human life expectancy has increased tremendously from 30 to 73 years during the last two centuries (1800–2018). But this leap has not been reflected in women’s life quality. A 2024 report published by the World Economic Forum and the McKinsey Health Institute indicated that women live 25% longer in poor health than men, although they typically outlive males.

FemTech, a group of technology-enabled solutions such as diagnostic tools, wearables, products, software, and services, aims to tackle women’s health issues, such as maternal, reproductive, menstrual, and sexual health, as well as menopause. An example is the UK-based Flo Health app that tracks ovulation and the menstrual cycle, offers customized health insights and tips, and a closed community for sharing concerns and queries. US-based Natural Cycles is another example. This application provides personalized insights based on each user’s menstrual cycle patterns. This novel approach to improving women’s health and well-being has been gaining more importance in recent years.

Several challenges slow down progress and widespread acceptance

While FemTech offers promising solutions to help diagnose and manage many health issues affecting women that were previously overlooked, several challenges are awaiting interested players.

One major bottleneck players face is the scarcity of investments. Many investors still consider FemTech a niche sector and shy away from investing compared to other healthcare fields. This situation is slightly improving, as the industry has seen an increase in investment in recent years. Data from Dealroom, an Amsterdam-based provider of data and insights on start-ups and tech ecosystems, indicated that the venture capital (VC) funding into FemTech startups reached US$2.1 billion in 2021, an all-time high.

Despite this increase in investment in FemTech, the total funding for this sector still trails other sectors, especially if it is female-led. The CEO of a leading US-based fertility tracker Mira, said in an interview with Forbes that though 70% of FemTech startups are female-founded, male-owned businesses tend to raise more capital.

Investors and lenders often have unconscious biases against female entrepreneurs, affecting their willingness to invest in female-led businesses, according to a 2020 study published in the Journal of Financial Economics, a peer-reviewed financial journal. Also, women might only have restricted access to male-dominated fundraising sources, including crowdfunding websites, angel investors, and VC firms. Similarly, the traditional male dominance in some areas, such as technology and finance, can also lead to power imbalances in fundraising and limit the options available to women.

Insufficient R&D support is another major challenge faced by players in the FemTech sector. This can be seen from the fact that a significant proportion of the funding allocated to healthcare R&D is not focused on issues that directly impact women’s health and well-being, with a meager 4% dedicated to this area according to a 2018 article published in Forbes. This insufficient funding can cause innovation stagnation, set back product development, and reduce market opportunities.

The inadequate representation of women in clinical trials is another difficulty faced by FemTech companies. This lack of representation has created a knowledge gap in understanding important facets of women’s health, such as female anatomy, physiology, health issues, etc. A 2022 study published in Contemporary Clinical Trials, a peer-reviewed journal, showed that though women constitute 50.8% of the US population, just 41.2% of those involved in clinical trials were female. This creates a certain lack of awareness of how women’s bodies work, making it challenging for FemTech businesses to develop effective solutions.

Cybersecurity issues are also creating challenges in the development of FemTech. A joint study by Newcastle University, Royal Holloway, University of London, and ETH Zurich found serious privacy, security, and safety concerns that could put users at risk. The research indicated the danger of leaking sensitive information, such as fertility, medical data, etc., to third parties.

Cultural and social taboos are another bottleneck faced by FemTech companies. Female-specific issues such as postpartum depression and premenstrual syndrome are rarely openly discussed. This makes bringing societal focus to FemTech products a difficult task.

FemTech A Game-Changer in Women's Healthcare by EOS Intelligence

FemTech A Game-Changer in Women’s Healthcare by EOS Intelligence

FemTech industry is seeing significant development in some segments

Though confronting numerous challenges, FemTech remains a promising industry for interested players with its projected market growth. The FemTech market, estimated at US$40.2 billion in 2020, is expected to reach US$75.1 billion in 2025, according to a 2021 report by the US-based market research agency Arizton Advisory & Intelligence.

General health and wellness is the fastest-growing segment

FemTech offers several solutions for improving women’s health across various segments, with general health and wellness companies attracting the most VC investment, followed by reproductive health and contraception.

The general health and wellness segment combines digital health clinics, mental health services, and direct-to-consumer products. Since companies in this segment focus on broad-ranging solutions that address multiple issues, demand for them is expected to rise.

An example is Maven, a New York-based company offering a holistic solution encompassing pre- and post-pregnancy care. This virtual clinic provides 24/7 access to healthcare professionals, including mental health therapists, relationship consultants, and sleep coaches. In 2022, Maven attracted US$300 million in funding from prominent investors and individual strategic partners.

Another example is Stockholm-based Grace Health, acquired by Penda Health, a Kenyan medical care chain in 2023. It uses an automated health assistant called Grace to monitor and understand women’s sexual and reproductive well-being and receive timely reminders and notifications. The company is also expanding its local footprint in key African markets, including Nigeria, Kenya, and Ghana, to solidify its position as a market leader in these regions.

Reproductive health segment is also seeing strong demand

The reproductive health segment and menstruation care are also expected to continue holding the interest of investors and customers alike. According to the NIH, in the USA, 20% of women are now having their first child after turning 35, owing to a greater emphasis on education and career. With increasing age, some women may experience difficulty before, during, or after pregnancy. Women will also need to effectively and accurately track their fertility to make informed reproductive choices. This is likely to greatly contribute to in increased demand for FemTech reproductive health solutions.

An example is the Clue App, a Germany-based fertility tracker that leverages user data to compute and predict individuals’ periods and PMS. In 2023, the company raised US$7.6 million in funding and partnered with global universities such as the University of Exeter to bridge the diagnosis gap for women’s health conditions. This collaboration is expected to create new trends in managing female health issues.

Oncology products are now aimed at individuals and medical professionals

Development is also underway in the oncology segment. An example is Nevada-based Cyrcadia Health developing a breast monitor that tracks changes in breast tissue temperature over time to aid in the detection and risk management of breast cancer. The monitor consists of two patches that track temperature changes and send the data anonymously to the Cyrcadia Health core lab. This data is analyzed using machine learning (ML) algorithms and predictive analytics software to identify and categorize abnormal circadian patterns in healthy breast tissue. The results are then delivered to healthcare providers. This solution, when it becomes available in the market, is expected to enable women to take more proactive control of their breast health.

Cancer continues to be a leading cause of women’s death both in middle-income and high-income countries, according to a 2017 article published in Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention, a peer-reviewed journal. Therefore, the focus on FemTech oriented at breast cancer and cancer in general is expected to gain momentum in the future.

Stigmatized conditions and marginalized subpopulations are increasingly addressed

Many FemTech companies are now exploring areas beyond menstrual and reproductive care and addressing stigmatized and unmet conditions such as preterm birth, endometriosis, pelvic care, and sexual health.

An example is London-based Elvie, a company that addresses pelvic floor dysfunction, a common and often overlooked health issue affecting many women. According to the NIH, 27% of women aged 40-59 and 37% of women aged 60-79 experience some form of pelvic floor dysfunction. Elvie has developed a Kegel trainer that uses biofeedback technology to improve pelvic and sexual health through five-minute workouts. The development of these solutions is expected to persuade more women to seek treatment and improve the diagnosis of these health conditions.

Similarly, apps are also being introduced for different sections of the population such as LGBTQ+, black women, and women from low and middle-income societies. US-based InovCares, an app designed to address the crisis of maternal mortality affecting Black women, is an example. This virtual OB-GYN platform connects users with culturally sensitive healthcare professionals who cater to various health needs, including fertility, childbirth, and breastfeeding.

Solutions are being developed in various geographies

While FemTech solutions development is concentrated in the USA and Europe, it is also visible in developing geographies such as Africa and Southeast Asia. An example is Indonesia’s BukuBumil which provides information on various aspects of pregnancy, including fertility, maternal health, baby immunizations, family planning, and post-pregnancy care in the Indonesian language. The platform also allows users to track a baby’s development and milestones.

Another one is Ethiopia-based YeneHealth, a multilingual and culturally responsive platform with AI-powered trackers for menstrual cycle, pregnancy, and medication management.

AI and ML are expected to shape the future of FemTech

Technological advancements are creating waves in the FemTech industry. Many companies are developing smart wearables and AI-powered solutions. Zurich-based Ava Women has developed a wearable, the Ava bracelet (available without prescription), to track hormonal changes. It allows users to monitor their ovulation and detect potential health issues. Ava’s technology uses big data and AI to provide accurate and personalized insights.

Similarly, Ovum, an Australia-based health management app, currently in its pilot phase, offers an AI health assistant designed for women to generate a dataset to improve treatments and diagnostics of various conditions. The app integrates and stores medical records, allowing users to track their health and receive personalized recommendations. This comprehensive data repository is crucial for complex or chronic conditions such as endometriosis, where a diagnosis can take years.

Experts believe the widespread use of AI and ML in FemTech apps will help players provide more accurate and data-driven solutions to users. AI can also analyze large datasets and use predictive analytics to anticipate health risks, such as gestational diabetes or pre-eclampsia.

EOS Perspective

The FemTech landscape, though still developing, is expected to expand more and grow quickly, especially with the increasing discussion around female health, Amazon CTO Werner Vogels commented at the 2023 AWS re:Invent conference, the largest conference in the cloud computing community. He has highlighted the significant potential of FemTech to transform the female healthcare system, specifically considering that women make up 50% of the population and account for 80% of consumer healthcare decisions.

FemTech has also the potential to significantly impact the healthcare sector and the global economy as a whole in the coming years. A 2024 report by the McKinsey Health Institute indicated that improving women’s health could boost the world economy by at least US$1 trillion annually.

The market is expected to see FemTech players widen their business scope, offer multiple services, and address a broader set of health issues. An example of this trend is UK-based Peppy, which initially helped organizations better support their women staff members after they had a baby, but now also deals with menopausal issues. This shift demonstrates a broader approach to women’s health under a single solution and reflects a development towards more comprehensive and inclusive offerings within FemTech.

Since FemTech is still developing, extensive R&D can be expected in the coming years. Experts believe health issues affecting older women also offer interested parties a research investment opportunity. Even now, in discussions and debates regarding FemTech, the diseases suffered by older women get overlooked. This makes it a promising area for future developments.

As the FemTech market expands, it is likely to attract collaborations from players operating outside the healthcare sector. One of the first examples of this was seen in August 2021, when the French cosmetic giant L’Oréal partnered with Clue to research the connection between the menstrual cycle and skin health to improve its skincare products. Such collaborations, whether just publicity stunts for cosmetic companies or not, can help put FemTech solutions on the map of legitimate tools close to women’s health. Considering that FemTech is still considered a niche sector, this can draw attention to the relevance of this market and its players and, consequently, stimulate investment.

Over the long term, women-led companies are expected to create more effective FemTech solutions that identify and cater to women’s unique healthcare requirements. The key factor behind it is that women are better placed to understand the health issues affecting women. A 2022 study published in Harvard Business School’s digital research publication Working Knowledge has also indicated that female-led research teams are more likely to study conditions that impact both genders than male-led ones. With more women stepping into STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) roles and female-led FemTech start-ups emerging, there is a promise of a more comprehensive scope of FemTech solutions.

A 2023 article published in Harvard Business Review noted an important trend that may positively affect the FemTech market: female investors are more likely to invest in and support female entrepreneurs. This suggests the potential for more capital flowing into women-led businesses, including in FemTech. As more women take on senior leadership roles in both FemTech startups and VC firms, this could substantially propel the industry growth.

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PFA – A Potential Paradigm Shift in Atrial Fibrillation Ablation Landscape

Pulsed Field Ablation (PFA) is an emerging technology for treating atrial fibrillation (AFib), a form of irregular heartbeat affecting 40 million heart patients worldwide as of 2023. As the prevalence of AFib is increasing, all eyes are on this novel, minimally invasive technology that offers improved effectiveness, safety, and shorter procedure and recovery time compared to the existing thermal ablation procedures.

PFA applies short, high-voltage pulses of energy to cardiac tissue and is proven to be more precise and safe than the thermal ablation methods, which come with the risk of damaging collateral tissues.

A clinical trial conducted by Medtronic across North America, Europe, Australia, and Japan during 2022-2023 revealed that the efficacy performance of its PFA system PulseSelect stood at 66% in paroxysmal and 55% in persistent AFib patients against the pre-specified performance goals of >50% (paroxysmal) and >40% (persistent). Performance goals were set based on multiple studies conducted on thermal ablation procedures that evaluated efficacy based on the freedom from acute procedural failure and arrhythmia recurrence in one year.

Despite promising results, the first-generation PFA technology still needs improvement in targeting the tissue of interest, and players in the field are developing supportive systems such as mapping systems to improve performance.

PFA emerges as a better alternative to conventional ablation methods

PFA is viewed as the best evolution within the electrophysiology (EP) space (comprises ablation catheters, diagnostic catheters, laboratory devices, and access systems used to treat arrhythmia). The tissue-targeting approach of PFA overcomes the drawbacks of thermal ablation methods, such as extensive scarring and the risks of injuring nearby organs. Along with improving clinical outcomes, this transformative technology will significantly improve patient experience and reduce the cost of care by lowering procedure and recovery time.

Being safer than other ablation methods, PFA is set to become the preferred modality

Only about 2% of the eligible patients with AFib globally and 15% of the eligible patients in the USA were treated with ablation as of February 2023, according to a MedTech analyst at Bank of America. This is because thermal ablation comes with the risk of damaging nearby issues, which can lead to damage to the esophagus, phrenic nerve, and pulmonary veins.

A study published by the European Heart Rhythm Association in January 2024 comparing the outcomes of PFA and thermal ablations stated that the risk of injury from PFA was 3.4% compared to 5.5% in thermal ablation. PFA, being safer than thermal ablation, can be expected to reach many more eligible patients. After the launch of Boston Scientific’s Farapulse in Europe in January 2021, 38,000 AFib patients were treated there with the Farapulse PFA system during 2022-2023, compared to 2,000 patients Farapulse treated in 2021. Moreover, Boston Scientific predicts the global AFib ablation market will grow from US$5 billion in 2023 to US$11 billion in 2028, driven by the increase in the number of PFA procedures.

The growing adoption indicates that PFA has the potential to become the preferred method for treating AFib over the existing treatments, such as thermal catheter ablation and surgical ablation procedures.

Initial clinical trials indicate PFA results in better patient outcomes

With this new technology, patients will experience an improved quality of life with a significantly lower risk of complications and post-procedural discomfort.

This finds evidence in some of the studies performed by the industry. In January 2024, the European Heart Rhythm Association published a study comparing the performance of Boston Scientific’s Farapulse PFA system against thermal ablation systems in 1,572 patients across Europe. The study showed that 85% of patients who underwent PFA experienced overall freedom from AFib after one year, compared to 77% of patients who underwent thermal ablation procedures.

Reduced time of post-procedure care is PFA’s major advantage

With a duration of about 2 hours, the PFA procedure is shorter than thermal ablation, which takes 3-4 hours. More importantly, PFA requires a few hours of hospitalization post the procedure, while thermal ablation is typically associated with one day of hospitalization after the procedure.

Shorter hospital stays improve patient experience by minimizing stress and discomfort from longer hospitalization hours. They also enable faster scheduling, as hospitals can perform more procedures and minimize scheduling delays.

As PFA does not require in-patient admissions, PFA procedures will not be disrupted by hospital bed shortages. This is a considerable advantage, as many developed countries such as the USA and the UK lack adequate hospital bed capacity. As of 2021, there were 2.8 hospital beds per 1,000 population in the USA and 2.4 in the UK, below the WHO’s recommendation of 3.4 beds per 1,000 population.

Moreover, reducing the length of hospital stays yields significant cost savings for patients as well as the payers. Reducing a hospital stay by a day or several hours translates to savings that cannot be ignored. For instance, in the USA, the average cost of per-hour hospital observation is US$600 in 2024, as per the healthcare pricing transparency platform Turquoise Health. The average cost of per-day hospitalization was US$2,883 in 2021, as per a study by the Kaiser Family Foundation (Medicare patients are eligible for $1,632 reimbursement). In the UK, the average cost of per-hour hospital observation is US$100, and the cost of per-day hospitalization is US$442 as of 2022, according to the National Health Service.

Short learning curve and procedure time facilitate performing more procedures

A short learning curve equips more cardiologists and trainees with the skills required to perform and support the procedure faster. Cardiologists typically get comfortable with PFA procedures after 5-10 cases, which allows to expand the pool of specialists performing this treatment relatively quickly and easily. This, in turn, can significantly improve PFA accessibility.

As the shortage of physicians continues to worsen globally, particularly in the USA, which represented 50% of the ablation market in 2023, PFA can play a crucial role in facilitating an increase in the number of procedures performed at a hospital within the same timeframe. With an expected shortage of 120,000 cardiologists in the USA by 2030, according to a 2021 report by the Association of American Medical Colleges, performing quicker procedures can help to partially offset the lack of specialists. Since PFA takes 30-50% less time than conventional ablation methods, it has the potential to significantly increase the number of procedures performed.

MedTech companies grow their ablation market share by offering PFA devices

With increased health screening efforts that detect more patients with arrhythmias, the number of cardiac ablation procedures performed globally doubled between 2013 and 2023 to reach about 650,000 procedures in 2023.

Boston Scientific expects the global AFib ablation market to more than double to US$11 billion during 2023-2028, with PFA predicted to grow to more than 80% of procedures (from under 5% in 2023). PFA technology is expected to be adopted quickly. As seen in Europe, PFA devices were launched in 2021, and already about 12% of the ablation procedures in the region in 2023 were done using PFA technology.

J&J, Medtronic, and Boston Scientific take the lead in the PFA field

Eyeing the potential of this emerging market, MedTech giants such as Johnson&Johnson (J&J), Medtronic, and Boston Scientific (accounting for 55%, 10%, and 5% share of the global thermal ablation market in 2023, respectively) have entered the market with their newly developed PFA devices. Being early entrants, these companies have the potential to expand their market shares in the cardiac ablation market by grabbing shares from thermal ablation procedures.

Boston Scientific was the first company to commercialize PFA devices with the launch of the Farapulse PFA system in Europe in January 2021. Boston Scientific enjoyed a two-year monopoly in the European market until Medtronic launched an integrated mapping and PFA system called Affera in March 2023. Later, the company launched another PFA system, PulseSelect, in December 2023. In February 2024, J&J’s Varipulse PFA system also received approval in Europe.

In the USA, Medtronic was the first company to receive FDA approval for its PFA system PulseSelect in December 2023, followed by Boston Scientific in January 2024. Medtronic also received FDA approval for Affera in March 2024.

J&J is the only company with a presence in Asia, as the company received approval for its PFA system in Japan in January 2024. Abbott is currently conducting clinical trials for its PFA system Volt in Australia and expects to start clinical trials in the USA this year.

The companies work to enhance and improve their systems. For instance, Medtronic’s integrated mapping and PFA system Affera offers enhanced procedure performance supported by real-time mapping. The integrated system includes an ablation catheter Sphere-9 and mapping software to facilitate real-time mapping. Sphere-9 catheter can perform high-density mapping and ablation simultaneously to allow cardiologists to deliver wide-area focal ablation lesions quickly. Affera can also work with the PulseSelect PFA system to provide real-time mapping. Similarly, J&J has a 3D mapping system called Carto 3 (in the market since 2009), which integrates well with its PFA system and generates real-time 3D mapping that aids in better cell targeting. Boston Scientific has not developed an exclusive mapping system for its PFA system, however, the company claims that any catheter mapping system will work well with Farapulse.

Comparing the PFA systems’ performance in the clinical trials, all systems, including Boston Scientific’s Farapulse, Medtronic’s PulseSelect, Medtronic’s Affera, and J&J’s Varipulse proved to be effective in over 70% of patients in terms of freedom from arrhythmia recurrence in one year.

Currently, PFA devices are only available in the USA, Europe, and Japan, with Boston Scientific dominating in Europe. Boston Scientific has witnessed high adoption rates in Europe so far, and the company has been able to serve 40,000 patients in three years since its entry into the European market in 2021. The company expects an overall organic sales growth of 8-10% during 2024-2026, driven by its PFA devices. Medtronic and J&J have just launched their PFA systems in the USA and Europe, and how these companies perform has yet to be seen. Analysts from BTIG financial services firm predict that Medtronic’s PulseSelect will secure 9% and Boston Scientific’s Farapulse will secure 14% of the cardiac ablation market (which comprises PFA and two other forms of thermal ablation procedures – radiofrequency and cryoablation) in the USA by 2025.

With competent technologies, the market is expected to witness stiff competition from these companies. Analysts from BTIG financial services firm predict that by 2027, PFA will grab 48% of the US cardiac ablation market, while the radiofrequency ablation market will have a 42% share and cryoablation a 10% share. The expected PFA’s 48% market share is likely to be split amongst the leading PFA systems – Boston Scientific’s Farapulse, J&J’s Varipulse, Medtronic’s PulseSelect, and Medtronic’s Affera, at 16%, 13%, 10%,7%, respectively, followed by others with 2% share.

While these companies have already entered the PFA space, Abbott’s wait-and-see approach to PFA may backfire on its performance in the EP market. The company aims to commercialize its PFA system Volt in the USA by 2027 or 2028. However, PFA’s fast adoption threatens Abbott’s US$1.9 billion EP business and its 15% global thermal ablation market share (as of 2023). Growing PFA adoption could also threaten Abbott’s diagnostic catheter and mapping systems, as healthcare providers using PFA systems would prefer buying mapping systems linked to PFA.

New entrants to drive innovation and further improve PFA technology

Apart from the large players, there are a few smaller players, such as Canada-based Kardium, US-based Adagio Medical, and US-based Pulse Biosciences, that are developing PFA systems. These companies are investing in improving the PFA using nanotechnology and supportive systems such as 3D mapping systems. For instance, Pulse Biosciences developed Nanosecond PFA (nsPFA) technology that uses superfast nanosecond pulses of electrical energy that can regulate cell death, which spares adjacent noncellular tissue. The company expects FDA approval for this system in 2024.

EOS Perspective

Over the years, MedTech companies have been actively pursuing the development of minimally invasive procedures that have shorter recovery periods, offer improved patient outcomes and reduced post-procedure discomfort. As the limitations of the existing ablation methods became apparent, PFA poses a vast growth potential, as it is a safer, more convenient, and more effective alternative.

On the other hand, the pulsed-field waveform is significantly more complex than the energy modalities that preceded it, with numerous variables determining the dose targeted at the tissues and the quality of the resulting lesion. While a variety of PFA systems have demonstrated effective ablation procedures, these systems have yet to advance in overcoming all limitations of targeting the tissue of interest and rare but potentially serious complications.

In the coming years, we can expect companies to develop multiple catheter configurations that allow cardiologists to configure the energy delivery to achieve the desired energy dose and lesions. This includes the development of multi-configurable ablation catheters that can shift shapes to create circular, linear, or focal ablation lesions without performing catheter exchanges.

As the technology advances, we can expect PFA to dominate the AFib ablation market and democratize AFib ablation procedures by improving accessibility to all eligible patients.

by EOS Intelligence EOS Intelligence No Comments

Digital Therapeutics: The Future of Healthcare?

Although the COVID-19 pandemic seems to be done with its rampage, many people still opt to access all kinds of services, including healthcare, from the comfort of their homes. As this trend is expected to continue, the global digital therapeutics market, with its projected growth at a 20% CAGR from 2022 to 2035, is one important sector healthcare firms should focus on right now.

Digital therapeutics (DTx) are digital health interventions or software applications that are clinically validated and designed to treat or manage medical conditions. They can be used alone or in conjunction with traditional medical treatments.

The Digital Therapeutics Alliance categorizes DTx products into three types: disease treatment, disease management, and health improvement.

Examples of DTx include a solution to manage chronic musculoskeletal pain developed by Kaia Health, a biotechnology company in New York. This motion analysis tool assesses and guides patients’ progress during physical therapy and tailors treatment to individual requirements.

Similarly, Clickotine from Click Therapeutics, a company also based in New York, uses AI to help people with nicotine addiction. This solution offers a personalized plan fully integrated with eight weeks of nicotine replacement therapy, including options such as gum, patches, or lozenges. It tracks critical aspects such as daily cigarette counts, craving triggers, craving times, etc. A trial study conducted by the company in 2016 claimed that 45% of Clickotine users were able to quit smoking.

Adoption of DTx is taking off amid increased investments

The commercial development of DTx started around 2015 and, since then, has grown into a global market of considerable size. The total value of global DTx start-ups was estimated at a whopping US$31 billion in 2022, according to a 2022 report published by Dealroom, an Amsterdam-based firm offering data and insights about start-ups and tech ecosystems, in partnership with MTIP (a Swiss-based private equity firm), Inkef (an Amsterdam-based early-stage venture investment firm), and Speedinvest (an Austrian early-stage investor).

The number of people using DTx solutions is expected to increase over the next few years, according to a 2022 report by Juniper Research, a UK-based research firm. The study found that there were 7 million DTx users in the USA in 2020, a number expected to rise to around 40 million in 2026.

This increase can be attributed to the fact that DTx solutions are highly accessible and distributable due to an increase in the use of smartphones. A 2021 report published by Pew Research Center, a US-based think tank, found that 87% of Americans owned a smartphone in 2021, compared to 35% in 2011. With this, more people will be able to access medical care without having to spend more on hospital visits.

DTx applications have also been attracting numerous investors owing to the applications’ cost-effectiveness, ease of distribution, and better accessibility. According to the same 2022 report published by Dealroom, global venture capital funding in DTx witnessed a fourfold increase in 2022 compared to 2017.

All these studies reveal that, despite certain challenges, the DTx applications hold the promise of developing into a practical and affordable means of treating illnesses and conditions that impact large numbers of people.

Regulatory pitfalls present a major roadblock to DTx adoption

One main challenge DTx companies face is the regulatory environment. All DTx products must comply with the regulations of regional agencies such as the FDA, HIPAA, HITECH, etc.

Many US firms initially faced regulatory obstacles and payer resistance around product reimbursement. Before 2017, the US FDA classified DTx solutions as a SaMD (Software as a Medical Device) and, therefore, made them subject to risk assessment (low, medium, or high). Due to this, DTx solutions needed premarket approval and rigorous clinical trial results to get approval.

This has improved with the introduction of the Digital Health Innovation Action Plan by the FDA in 2017. According to the new plan, the FDA will first consider the company producing the solution. If the producer has demonstrated quality and excellence, it can market lower-risk devices with a streamlined premarket review. Post-market surveillance and data collection are also done to evaluate product efficiency.

Similarly, in the EU, DTx is controlled by national competent authorities and governed by the European Regulation on Medical Devices 2017/745 (MDR). However, no specific framework indicates the evidence required for assessing the performance or quality of DTx solutions or their production standards. This means that the member states may interpret the dossier requirements differently, leading to a fractured regulatory environment.

The COVID-19 pandemic has provided companies with some regulatory flexibility, leading to an increase in venture capital funding. In 2020, the federal government in the USA issued a new rule allowing healthcare practitioners to treat patients across state lines, including the use of digital medicine. This can increase access to healthcare, especially in rural areas, and physicians will be able to offer timely care to their patients traveling in a different state.

The FDA has also loosened regulations during COVID-19, particularly for mental health products, with the Digital Health Innovation Action Plan. This was to ensure that patients received timely care even from their homes while reducing the burden on hospitals. It waived certain regulatory obligations, such as the need to file a 510(k) premarket notification during the COVID-19 pandemic. The 510(k) is a submission indicating that a new medical device is similar to something already approved by the FDA (a predicate device) to ensure safety and efficiency. However, finding suitable comparables can be highly challenging in the case of DTx, which is dynamically evolving. This can result in misunderstandings or overlooking of critical aspects of these solutions, leading to uncertainty and delays in the approval process. The waiver of this regulation offers DTx companies some relief in the future.

Digital Therapeutics - The Future of Healthcare by EOS Intelligence

Digital Therapeutics – The Future of Healthcare by EOS Intelligence

Patient health literacy is a hurdle in the adoption of DTx solutions

A survey by the National Assessment of Adult Literacy (NAAL) in 2003 has shown that only 12% of Americans possess proficient health literacy skills, making them able to find and understand information related to their health. This lack of awareness among patients can also impede the ease of applying DTx products.

Patient experience is also crucial for the acceleration of DTx adoption. Older patients unfamiliar with using technological gadgets can find it difficult to adopt DTx solutions. However, a 2022 AMA survey has shown that 90% of people over the age of 50 in the USA recognize some benefit from digital health tools.

Similarly, a survey conducted by the Pew Research Center in 2021 indicated an increase in the use of smartphones and the internet among older people in the USA, driven by the pandemic. Older adults are using technological applications for activities such as entertainment, banking, shopping, etc., even after the pandemic, a 2021 survey by AARP Research, a US-based NPO, shows. This indicates that there is scope for an increase in adoption.

Many companies are now trying to increase patient involvement by using gamification, aiming at patient groups for whom DTx use is likely to be more challenging (e.g., older population, children). DTx developers include game-like elements or mechanics into a DTx solution, such as tasks, rewards, badges, points, and leaderboards. An example is US-based Akili Interactive’s EndeavorRx, a prescription DTx aimed at enhancing attention function in children with ADHD aged 8 to 12. It uses an interactive mobile video game to assist children in improving their attention skills and adjusting to their performance levels. The game’s sensory stimuli and motor challenges also help kids multitask and tune out distractions.

Payer reluctance affects many DTx products

Although the number of DTX products on the market increases, payers’ reluctance to cover their costs to the patient can also slow down adoption. The coverage of DTx solutions is limited, even when they are FDA-approved. Only 25% of payers are currently willing to cover prescription DTx solutions, according to a 2022 survey by MMIT, a Pennsylvania-based market data provider, which involved 16 payers.

Akili Interactive’s EndeavorRx is one such solution facing insurance coverage issues. Elevance Health (previously Anthem) denied coverage for EndeavorRx, deeming it medically unnecessary, while Aetna, another insurance provider, considers it experimental and investigational.

A study released by Health Affairs, a health policy research journal, in November 2023 has shown that only two of the twenty FDA-approved prescription DTx solutions on the market have undergone rigorous evidence-based evaluation. This means that no authoritative results indicating the benefits of these solutions for various population demographics are available, making many payers skeptical of their medical claims.

DTx offers solutions for managing multiple conditions

Over the past few years, several prominent players have emerged in the DTx landscape. Around 59% of the DTx market is concentrated in the North American region and 28% in Europe.

Top players, such as Akili Interactive and Big Health, both US-based firms, focus on offering products for managing mental health illnesses, mostly management of anxiety, depression, and stress, according to a report published in 2023 (based on data until September 2022) by Roots Analysis, an India-based pharma/biotech market research firm. With about 970 million people suffering from mental health conditions globally (according to the WHO), the potential user pool is enormous, offering growth opportunities for DTx solutions developed to address mental illnesses and, over time, driving the growth of the DTx market as a whole.

Many top companies also focus on solutions offering pain management and treatment for chronic conditions such as diabetes, obstructive pulmonary disease, and musculoskeletal disorders. An example is US-based Omada’s pain management solution, Omada MSK. This application guides patients through various customized exercises and records their movements, which are then assessed by a licensed physical therapist (PT), who can make recommendations for improvement. It also has a tool that utilizes computer vision technology to help PTs virtually assess a patient’s movement and range of motion, allowing them to make necessary changes in the therapy.

Similarly, several DTx solutions on the market now focus specifically on diabetes, which affects around 537 million adults globally. Some top companies focus on the previously unmet needs of conventional methods, such as weight management or preventing prediabetes, to help with overall diabetes treatment. US-based Omada’s solution, Omada Prediabetes, comes with a weight scale pre-connected to the app, and the weight is added to the app as soon as the patient steps on the scale. A dedicated health coach assesses the patient’s weight, creates a customized plan, and monitors the patient’s progress. In other similar DTx solutions for diabetes, an app can also give insulin dose recommendations based on the patient’s blood glucose levels.

DTx can serve in a range of other conditions, including major depressive disorder, autism spectrum disorder, and multiple sclerosis, to name a few.

The DTx landscape is rife with development

The DTx business landscape has recently seen many developments, from acquisitions to product launches. One of them was Big Health’s acquisition of Limbix, a California-based DTx firm, in July 2023 to bolster its portfolio, including SparkRx, a treatment for adolescents dealing with depression and anxiety. Similarly, in June 2023, Kaia Health launched Angela, a HIPAA-compliant, AI-powered voice-based digital care assistant, to serve as a companion and guide, enhancing the physical therapy experience for patients.

In another development, BehaVR, a DTx company headquartered in Kentucky, and Fern Health, a digital chronic pain management program, merged their companies in November 2023 to create a novel pain management DTx solution that addresses both pain and fear caused by chronic diseases. With this merger, they launched RealizedCare, an app designed to offer a comprehensive solution that collaborates with health plans, employers, and value-based providers to treat a range of behavioral and mental health conditions. This solution provides clinicians with immersive programs specifically designed for in-clinic use. It is initially focusing on chronic pain.

Bankruptcy of Pear and lessons for the industry

However, the most shocking development in the DTx market was the bankruptcy of Pear Therapeutics in 2023. The remains of this once-prominent company were purchased by four other companies for a total of US$6.05 million at an auction. Pear was a big name in the industry since its inception in 2013. It introduced numerous products such as reSET, reSET-O, and Somryst for treating substance use disorder, opioid use disorder, and chronic insomnia, respectively. It was also the first company to receive FDA approval for a mobile app aimed at treating substance use disorders.

Though the company announced layoffs of nearly 20% of its workforce in November 2022, its management expressed optimism about the company’s growth and reduced operating expenses in the third quarter. But in April 2023, the company filed for bankruptcy.

The demise of Pear has opened the eyes of industry experts to the challenges faced by DTx players. Certain issues were unique to Pear itself, such as the comparatively higher prices of its products and the focus on treating challenging conditions such as substance use disorders. However, the bankruptcy of Pear also brings attention to the obstacles that can be faced by any other DTx company. One crucial roadblock is that physicians and payers still approach these products with caution. Additionally, achieving profitability for DTx might be challenging for all types of players, particularly for small start-ups lacking substantial market influence. The bankruptcy of Pear and the challenges it faced can be used by budding DTx companies as a road map as they navigate this complex sector.

EOS Perspective

DTx is all set to revolutionize the medical industry, with a 2020 McKinsey report suggesting it could potentially alleviate the global disease burden by up to 10% by 2040. Given the impact of emerging treatments on stakeholders, pharmaceutical and healthcare companies should consider expanding their portfolio to include DTx solutions.

With telehealth companies seeing good growth in the pandemic and post-pandemic years, an increase in investment can be expected as they are uniquely placed to support prescription DTx. With the growth of the digital health industry, prominent telehealth providers may also choose to acquire DTx businesses or create their own in-house DTx solutions.


Read our related Perspective:
 COVID-19 Outbreak Boosts the Use of Telehealth Services

An increase in industry M&A activities can be expected in the next few years, with growing incidences of chronic illnesses, improved technology penetration across all age groups, and a maturing market. Big names such as Bayer, Novartis, and Sanofi are also entering into partnerships with DTx companies, indicating a bright future for the sector.

Mental health and behavioral therapy are great fields to branch out for companies starting in the DTx landscape, especially in this post-pandemic era. Demand for such services is likely to be sustained, considering the National Institute of Mental Health Disorders estimates that one in four adults in the USA suffers from a diagnosable mental illness, with many suffering from multiple conditions.

Similarly, diseases such as diabetes, cancer, heart, and respiratory ailments are on the rise. Healthcare companies can effectively address these medical areas through the use of DTx applications, providing personalized care for patients. This approach has the potential to manage not only chronic conditions such as diabetes but also terminal illnesses such as cancer.

Many DTx players will likely focus on areas with unmet needs, including pediatrics and metabolic disorders. With seven DTx-based diabetic management solutions already receiving 510(k) clearance as of December 2022, it can be expected that more products addressing the treatment gaps might flood the market.

The DTx industry is gradually maturing and has been receiving significant investments in recent years (US$8 billion in 2022). While experts view it as a profitable market, hesitation remains, particularly following the bankruptcy of Pear Therapeutics.

Nevertheless, due to the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent lockdown measures, technology adoption among older adults has increased significantly. Hence, strategic investments in DTx by pharmaceutical and healthcare companies, taking into account market conditions, can expect to establish a stronger presence in this industry in the future.

by EOS Intelligence EOS Intelligence No Comments

Bridging the Gap between MDx Testing and Point-of-care

The COVID-19 pandemic brought innovation and investment to the in vitro diagnostics (IVD) market, opening new pathways to simplify and expand testing. The previously complicated and time-consuming molecular testing gradually started moving towards rapid testing, changing how we manage healthcare. The growing popularity of rapid testing gave way to self-sampling and at-home sampling, which is set to bring molecular testing closer to patients. Another noticeable transformation the industry witnessed post-pandemic was the rise of molecular testing at point-of-care (POC), which is set to disrupt the way clinicians deliver accurate diagnoses in record time.

The latest generation of IVD devices is focused on providing quick diagnosis and being cost-effective. This has led to IVD companies focusing on developing simpler and less invasive sample collection methods, such as self-sampling tests.

IVD innovation is also transforming molecular testing to make healthcare more accessible. To a certain extent, dependence on laboratories is gradually decreasing with molecular testing available at POC. A key development in this area is the use of multiplex assay, which allows to test for multiple pathogens simultaneously, allowing for early diagnosis.

Molecular testing moving near-patient

After using antigen tests during COVID-19, demand for molecular testing for a variety of diseases at POC has risen drastically. In 2023, the industry faced an acute shortage of skilled laboratory staff, further increasing the need for molecular testing to move near-patient. This has resulted in physicians and patients preferring molecular tests at POC (MPOC). Some prominent industry players, such as Cepheid, Abbott, and BioFire, offer CLIA-waived PCR instruments and multiplex assay tests for the POC setting. A CLIA-waived certification allows tests to be performed at a doctor’s office by a non-technician instead of other more complex MDx tests requiring specialized technicians.

Moving these multiplex molecular tests near-patient is revamping the IVD landscape, positively impacting both the patients and payers. Early diagnosis with POC diagnostics empowers physicians with evidence-based decision-making at an early stage. Moreover, with multiplex assays increasingly being used for MPOC and delivering results within 10-25 minutes (in the case of respiratory assays), the wait time for patients to receive the correct diagnosis has reduced substantially. This results in clinicians being able to start with proper treatment on the patient’s first visit, thus reducing the total number of patient visits. Consequently, physicians are also able to accommodate a higher number of patients.

In fact, MPOC could become a critical element of the value-based care model in the USA. The value-based program incentivizes healthcare providers/physicians to provide quality healthcare. With MPOC offering quicker turnaround time and lower testing costs, physicians/payers will likely be better incentivized and motivated to deliver high-quality services.

Growing demand for self-sampling/at-home sampling

The pandemic raised public awareness regarding the use of self-sampling kits and increased demand for them. Further, the FDA granted Emergency Use Authorization to multiple assays during the pandemic to quickly onboard self-test kits and penetrate the US households with this novel testing method.

Driven by the convenience, cost-effectiveness, and accessibility offered by self-sampling kits, they are becoming increasingly popular, particularly amongst the aging population that needs tools and technologies to manage health at home. It is also proving to be a sustainable testing method, as it can be used for preventative screening as well as allows for discretion for patients who may not prefer to get tested in a laboratory or by a physician, particularly in case of sexually transmitted infections (STIs).

Additionally, unlike OTC tests, molecular diagnostic tests allow for better accuracy in results and are recognized by the FDA for clinical diagnosis use. This has given confidence to healthcare providers to advocate self-sampling, as they stand to benefit from bringing care to patients’ homes, eventually reducing healthcare expenses. In a value-based setting, at-home testing proves to particularly benefit physicians who are able to eliminate unnecessary patient visits.

For the prominent industry players, at-home testing represents a key opportunity area to grow in the niche direct-to-consumer testing segment. Companies are also using these tests as an opportunity to target the rural population who do not have easy access to laboratories. Besides infectious and respiratory diseases, companies are now trying to foray into other treatment areas, such as human papillomavirus (HPV). Self-sample collection for HPV has begun in Europe with BD’s Onclarity HPV assay.

EOS Perspective

Establishing a strong foothold in both self-sampling and MPOC segments is seen as a sizeable business opportunity for stakeholders of the IVD market. In the near term, it is likely for the IVD players to continue launching new assays and technologies to expand offerings.

For self-sampling, MDx players have been focusing on infectious diseases, and there still is a vast untapped market for self-sampling at home, specifically when testing for STIs. In November 2023, LetsGetChecked became the first company to secure FDA approval for chlamydia and gonorrhea at-home sample collection. This has opened doors for other players to enter this niche market, and they are likely to jump on the bandwagon by seeking FDA approvals for their STIs self-sampling kits. Major players, such as Hologic, are already gathering data to launch a self-collection device for STIs. Hologic’s Aptima Swab for STIs multi-testing is approved in the EU, and the company is now conducting trials to get approval in the USA.

In the near term, a noticeable trend in the MPOC segment is expected to be the focus of MDx players on developing multiplex assays that follow the ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach. There is a growing demand from physicians for multiplex assays that allow them to test for multiple viruses and deliver results in under four hours. Companies have already started to take matters into their own hands by focusing their R&D efforts on developing panels and preparing them for FDA approval and CLIA waiver. Becton Dickinson announced the launch of its first molecular diagnostics POC instrument, BD Elience, by 2025. The device is expected to allow panel testing for respiratory and sexually transmitted diseases.

Although the self-sampling and MPOC segments present many opportunities for the IVD stakeholders, some roadblocks may hinder their development and adoption. For instance, multiplex assay reimbursement schemes may hamper their widespread adoption in the POC setting. Per the latest guidelines, reimbursement schemes for multiplex assays are less favorable than those for singleplex assays. Furthermore, at present, there are no reimbursement schemes in place to reimburse for self-sampling at home, so patients are required to pay out-of-pocket.

Several players face a crucial challenge for at-home collection: proving to the FDA that the self-sample collected is not contaminated or poorly taken. FDA requirements for approval of these tests are very stringent and demand that companies prove the adequacy of the sample collected by patients to match that of laboratory collection.

Despite these challenges, self-sampling and MPOC present untapped opportunities for many IVD players seeking to expand their capabilities and offerings to position themselves better in the MDx market.

by EOS Intelligence EOS Intelligence No Comments

Powering Healthcare Diagnostics with AI: a Pipe Dream or Reality

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The growing paucity of radiologists across the globe is alarming. The availability of radiologists is extremely disproportionate globally. To illustrate this, Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, USA, had 126 radiologists, while the entire country of Liberia had two radiologists, and 14 countries in the African continent did not have a single radiologist, as of 2015. This leads to a crucial question – how to address this global unmet demand for radiologists and diagnostic professionals?

Increasing capital investment signals rising interest in AI in healthcare diagnostics

The global market for Artificial Intelligence (AI) in healthcare diagnostics is forecast to grow at a CAGR of 8.3%, from US$513.3 million in 2019 to US$825.9 million in 2025, according to Frost & Sullivan’s report from 2021. This growth in the healthcare diagnostics AI market is attributed to the increased demand for diagnostic tests due to the rising prevalence of novel diseases and fast-track approvals from regulatory authorities to use AI-powered technologies for preliminary diagnosis.

Imaging Diagnostics, also known as Medical Imaging is one of the key areas of healthcare diagnostics that is most interesting in exploring AI implementation. From 2013 to 2018, over 70 firms in the imaging diagnostics AI sector secured equity funding spanning 119 investment deals and have progressed towards commercial beginnings, thanks to quick approvals from respective regulatory bodies.

Between 2015 and 2021, US$3.5 billion was secured by AI-enabled imaging diagnostics firms (specialized in developing AI-powered solutions) globally for 290 investment deals, as per Signify Research. More than 200 firms (specialized in developing AI-powered solutions) globally were building AI-based solutions for imaging diagnostics, between 2015 and 2021.

The value of global investments in imaging diagnostics AI in 2020 was approximately 8.8% of the global investments in healthcare AI. The corresponding figure in 2019 was 10.2%. The sector is seeing considerable investment at a global level, with Asia-based firms (specialized in developing AI-powered solutions) having secured around US$1.5 billion, Americas-based companies raising US$1.2 billion, and EMEA-based firms securing over US$600 million between 2015 and 2021.

As per a survey conducted by the American College of Radiology in 2020 involving 1,427 US-based radiologists, 30% of respondents said that they used AI in some form in their clinical practice. This might seem like a meager adoption rate of AI amongst US radiologists. However, considering that five years earlier, there were hardly any radiologists in the USA using AI in their clinical practice, the figure illustrates a considerable surge in AI adoption here.

However, the adoption of AI in healthcare diagnostics is faced with several challenges such as high implementation costs, lack of high-quality diagnostic data, data privacy issues, patient safety, cybersecurity concerns, fear of job replacement, and trust issues. The question that remains is whether these challenges are considerable enough to hinder the widespread implementation of AI in healthcare diagnostics.

Powering Healthcare Diagnostics with AIPowering Healthcare Diagnostics with AI

AI advantages help answer the needs in healthcare diagnostics

Several advantages such as improved correctness in disease detection and diagnosis, reduced scope of medical and diagnosis errors, improved access to diagnosis in areas where radiologists are unavailable, and increased workflow and efficacy drive the surge in the demand for AI-powered solutions in healthcare diagnostics.

One of the biggest benefits of AI in healthcare diagnostics is improved correctness in disease detection and diagnosis. According to a 2017 study conducted by two radiologists from the Thomas Jefferson University Hospital, AI could detect lesions caused by tuberculosis in chest X-rays with an accuracy rate of 96%. Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, Massachusetts uses AI to scan images and detect blood diseases with a 95% accuracy rate. There are numerous similar pieces of evidence supporting the AI’s ability to offer improved levels of correctness in disease detection and diagnosis.

A major benefit offered by AI in healthcare diagnostics is the reduced scope of medical and diagnosis errors. Medical and diagnosis errors are among the top 10 causes of death globally, according to WHO. Taking this into consideration, minimizing medical errors with the help of AI is one of the most promising benefits of diagnostics AI. AI is capable of cutting medical and diagnosis errors by 30% to 40% (trimming down the treatment costs by 50%), according to Frost & Sullivan’s report from 2016. With the implementation of AI, diagnostic errors can be reduced by 50% in the next five years starting from 2021, according to Suchi Saria, Founder and CEO, Bayesian Health and Director, Machine Learning and Healthcare Lab, Johns Hopkins University.

Another benefit that has been noticed is improved access to diagnosis in areas where there is a shortage of radiologists and other diagnostic professionals. The paucity of radiologists is a global trend. To cite a few examples, there is one radiologist for: 31,707 people in Mexico (2017), 14,634 people in Japan (2012), 130,000 people in India (2014), 6,827 people in the USA (2021), 15,665 people in the UK (2020).

AI has the ability to modify the way radiologists operate. It could change their active approach toward diagnosis to a proactive approach. To elucidate this, instead of just examining the particular condition for which the patient requested medical intervention, AI is likely to enable radiologists to find other conditions that remain undiagnosed or even conditions the patient is unaware of. In a post-COVID-19 era, AI is likely to reduce the backlogs in low-emergency situations. Thus, the technology can help bridge the gap created due to radiologist shortage and improve the access to diagnosis of patients to a drastic extent.

Further, AI helps in improving the workflow and efficacy of healthcare diagnostic processes. On average at any point in time, more than 300,000 medical images are waiting to be read by a radiologist in the UK for more than 30 days. The use of AI will enable radiologists to focus on identifying dangerous conditions rather than spend more time verifying non-disease conditions. Thus, the use of AI will help minimize such delays in anomaly detection in medical images and improve workflow and efficacy levels. To illustrate this, an AI algorithm named CheXNeXt, developed in a Stanford University study in 2018 could read chest X-rays for 14 distinct pathologies. Not only could the algorithm achieve the same level of precision as the radiologists, but it could also read the images in less than two minutes while the radiologists could read them in an average of four hours.

Black-box AI: A source of challenges to AI implementation in healthcare diagnostics

The black-box nature of AI means that with most AI-powered tools, only the input and output are visible but the innards between them are not visible or knowable. The root cause of many challenges for AI implementation in healthcare diagnostics is AI’s innate character of the black box.

One of the primary impediments is tracking and evaluating the decision-making process of the AI system in case of a negative result or outcome of AI algorithms. That is to say, it is not possible to detect the fundamental cause of the negative outcome within the AI system because of the black-box nature of AI. Therefore, it becomes difficult to avoid such occurrences of negative outcomes in the future.

The second encumbrance caused by the black-box nature of AI is the trust issues of clinicians that are hesitant to use AI applications because they do not completely comprehend the technology. Patients are also expected to not have faith in the AI tools because they are less forgiving of machine errors as opposed to human errors.

Further, several financial, technological, and psychological challenges while implementing AI in healthcare diagnostics are also associated with the black-box nature of the technology.

Financial challenges

High implementation costs

According to a 2020 survey conducted by Definitive Healthcare, a leading player in healthcare commercial intelligence, cost continues to be the most prominent encumbrance in AI implementation in diagnostics. Approximately 55% of the respondents who do not use AI pointed out that cost is the biggest challenge in AI implementation.

The cost of a bespoke AI system can be between US$20,000 to US$1 million, as per Analytics Insights, while the cost of the minimum viable product (a product with sufficient features to lure early adopters and verify a product idea ahead of time in the product development cycle) can be between US$8,000 and US$15,000. Other factors that also decide the total cost of AI are the costs of hiring and training skilled labor. The cost of data scientists and engineers ranges from US$550 to US$1,100 per day depending on their skills and experience levels, while the cost of a software engineer (to develop applications, dashboards, etc.) ranges between US$600 and US$1,500 per day.

It can be gauged from these figures that the total cost of AI implementation is high enough for the stakeholders to ponder upon the decision of whether to adopt the technology, especially if they are not fully aware of the benefits it might bring and if they are working with ongoing budget constraints, not infrequent in healthcare institutions.

Technological challenges

Overall paucity of availability of high-quality diagnostic data

High-quality diagnostic and medical datasets are a prerequisite for the testing of AI models. Because of the highly disintegrated nature of medical and diagnostic data, it becomes extremely difficult for data scientists to procure the data for testing AI algorithms. To put it in simple terms, patient records and diagnostic images are fragmented across myriad electronic health records (EHRs) and software platforms which makes it hard for the AI developer to use the data.

Data privacy concerns

AI developers must be open about the quality of the data used and any limitations of the software being employed, without risking cybersecurity and without breaching intellectual property concerns. Large-scale implementation of AI will lead to higher vulnerability of the existing cloud or on-premise infrastructure to both physical and cyber attacks leading to security breaches of critical healthcare diagnostic information. Targets in this space such as diagnostic tools and medical devices can be compromised by malware or software viruses. Compromised data and algorithms will result in errors in diagnosis and consequently inaccurate recommendations of treatment thereby causing stakeholders to refrain from using AI in healthcare diagnostics.

Patient safety

One of the foremost challenges for AI in healthcare diagnostics is patient safety. To achieve better patient safety, developers of AI algorithms must ensure the credibility, rationality, and transparency of the underlying datasets. Patient safety depends on the performance of AI which in turn depends on the quality of the training data. The better the quality of the data, the better will be the performance of the AI algorithms resulting in higher patient safety.

Mental and psychological challenges

Fear of job substitution

A survey published in March 2021 by European Radiology, the official journal of the European Society of Radiology, involving 1,041 respondents (83% of them were based in European countries) found that 38% of residents and radiologists are worried about their jobs being cut by AI. However, 48% of the respondents were more enterprising and unbiased towards AI. The fear of substitution could be attributed to the fact that those having restricted knowledge of AI are not completely educated about its shortcomings and consider their skillset to be less up-to-date than the technology. Because of this lack of awareness, they fail to realize that radiologists are instrumental in developing, testing, and implementing AI into clinical practice.

Trust issues

Trusting AI systems is crucial for the profitable implementation of AI into diagnostic practice. It is of foremost importance that the patient is made aware of the data processing and open dialogues must be encouraged to foster trust. Openness or transparency that forges confidence and reliability among patients and clinicians is instrumental in the success of AI in clinical practice.

EOS Perspective

With trust in AI amongst clinicians and patients, its adoption in healthcare diagnostics can be achieved at a more rapid pace. Lack of it breeds fear of job replacement by the technology amongst clinicians. Further, scarcity of awareness of AI’s true potential as well as its limitations also threatens diagnostic professionals from getting replaced by the technology. Therefore, to fully understand the capabilities of AI in healthcare diagnostics, clinicians and patients must learn about and trust the technology.

With the multitude and variety of challenges for AI implementation in healthcare diagnostics, its importance in technology becomes all the more critical. The benefits of AI are likely to accelerate the pace of adoption and thereby realize the true potential of AI in terms of saving clinicians’ time by streamlining how they operate, improving diagnosis, minimizing errors, maximizing efficacy, reducing redundancies, and delivering reliable diagnostic results. To power healthcare diagnostics with AI, it is important to view AI as an opportunity rather than a threat. This in turn will set AI in diagnostics on its path from pipe dream to reality.

by EOS Intelligence EOS Intelligence No Comments

Diagnostics Gain Spotlight amid Coronavirus Outbreak

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It took 60 days for global COVID-19 infections to reach 100,000, but this figure doubled in the following 12-14 days, and the addition of next 100,000 cases took only 3 more days. Because of highly contagious nature of the novel coronavirus, testing became essential to keep the epidemic under control. As a result, there was a spike in global demand for coronavirus testing kits. As per McKinsey’s estimates, in May 2020, global demand for coronavirus testing was 14 million to 16 million per week, but less than 10 million tests were being conducted.

Industry was quick to respond to the rise in demand

The widespread outbreak of coronavirus required the manufacturers to develop and launch new testing kits in large volumes in a short duration of time. Diagnostics kit suppliers responded promptly to this spike in demand by developing new coronavirus testing kits. Roche Diagnostics, for instance, developed coronavirus test in about six weeks – such diagnostic tests generally take 18 months or more to reach regulatory review stage. In 2020, Roche developed a total of 15 solutions for coronavirus diagnosis.

Governments across the world eased up regulatory procedures for manufacturers in order to allow rapid development and commercialization of the coronavirus testing kits. This paved way for many companies to quickly launch new products to the market. For instance, a Korean firm, Seegene, developed coronavirus testing kit in two weeks and got approval from Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC) in another two weeks’ time. Such approvals generally take more than six months in Korea.

Furthermore, standard regulatory process for approval of diagnostic kits in the USA typically take several months, but considering the public health emergency in the event of pandemic, the FDA issued emergency use authorizations to expedite the process of bringing coronavirus test kits to the market. Emergency use authorizations are like interim approvals provided on the basis of sufficient evidence to suggest a diagnostics test is effective and the benefits outweighs potential risks.

By the end of 2020, the FDA granted emergency use authorization to 225 diagnostic tests for coronavirus detection, including test kits developed by Abbott Laboratories, Roche, Cepheid, Clinomics, Princeton BioMeditech, UPenn, Inno Diagnostics, Ipsum Diagnostics, Co-Diagnostics, QIAGEN, DiaSorin, BioMérieux, and Humanigen.

Leading companies with adequate resources quickly ramped up their production capacity by multifold in line with the rising demand. For instance, a US-based firm, Thermo Fisher Scientific, increased the global production of coronavirus test kits from 50,000 per week in January 2020 to 10 million per week by June 2020. In 2020, Roche spent CHF 137 million (~US$149 million) to ramp up production capacity and supply chain for all COVID-19-related testing products.

Some companies also received government grants and private investment to scale up their production capacity. For instance, in July 2020, BD (Becton, Dickinson and Company) received a US$24 million investment from the US government to scale up production of coronavirus test kits by 50%, thereby, enabling the company to produce 12 million test kits per month by the end of February 2021.

The pandemic encouraged the shift towards decentralizing diagnostics

While the test kit manufacturers were trying to achieve round the clock production to meet the demand, they struggled with global supply chain disruptions which were also induced by the pandemic.

Coronavirus testing requires several components including specialized chemicals and laboratory testing equipment. Roche, for example, manufactures coronavirus tests in the USA but procures components of the test kit from different countries. One of the important components of test kits is reagent, a specialized liquid used for the identification of coronavirus. Roche produces these reagents mainly in Germany and few other production sites located across the world.

Further, the test kits are often compatible only with company’s own testing equipment and systems. For instance, the Roche cobas SARS-CoV-2 test kit runs on the cobas 6800 or 8800 systems. The cobas 8800 system includes approximately 23,000 components which are procured from different parts of the world. In addition to this, the production involves 101 sub-assemblies and accumulated assembly time of about 450 hours each. Final production of these instruments from Roche takes place in Switzerland.

Manufacturing of a coronavirus testing kit involves complex supply chain. Spread of coronavirus forced countries to implement extreme measures including lockdowns and trade restrictions which impacted the supply chain of test kit manufacturers. Producing all the testing components and equipment at one place is near to impossible. For instance, the production of reagents involves highly sophisticated and sensitive processes, and thus, setting up a new production site to manufacture reagents on a large scale would take several months. Setting up a new production site and streamlining the procurement for such testing equipment and systems would take several years. Hence, the diagnostics firms upped their R&D activities in an effort to develop tests that could be conducted without sophisticated laboratory systems and equipment.

Moreover, the high demand for testing compelled the diagnostics practices to evolve far beyond the traditional laboratory-based business model. The need for community testing during the pandemic that challenged the operational capabilities of hospitals and diagnostics labs dictated the importance of decentralizing diagnostics for improved patient care. This gave rise to increased demand for point-of-care testing.

The two most widely used diagnostic tests for coronavirus detection are Reverse Transcription Polymerase Chain Reaction (RT-PCR) and Antigen tests. RT-PCR test detect viral RNA in samples from the upper and lower respiratory tract, while antigen test is used to detect viral proteins in samples.

RT-PCR test is considered gold standard for coronavirus detection since the accuracy and reliability is high compared to Antigen test. However, RT-PCR test needs to be processed in a laboratory-setting and had turnaround time of several hours. Hence, there was a need for development of RT-PCR tests that could give faster results without the support of laboratory equipment.

On March 18, 2020, Abbott announced the launch of their first coronavirus test kit that was compatible with their system ‘m2000 RealTime’ which processed 470 tests in 24 hours and another ‘Alinity m’ system with capacity to run 1,080 tests in a 24-hour period. Since there was demand for more portable and fast testing solution, on March 30, 2020, Abbott launched a RT-PCR point-of-care test that ran on ID NOW system, which is the size of a small toaster. The test delivers results in 13 minutes or less. The test price is in the range of ~US$100.

Further, despite the limitations of accuracy and reliability, in some cases antigen test is preferred because there is no requirement of a lab specialist to conduct this test, thus making it less expensive, and the result is available in a few minutes. The industry saw an opportunity here and quickly developed rapid antigen tests that can be conducted at home without any assistance. For instance, in December 2020, the US FDA granted emergency use authorization to an Australia-based firm Ellume’s antigen test (priced at ~US$30) as first over-the-counter at-home diagnostic test for coronavirus detection. Soon after, Abbott also received emergency use authorization from FDA for its at-home rapid antigen test (priced at US$25) giving results in 15 minutes.

Other countries around the world also followed the suit by extending official authorization to the home-based tests for coronavirus detection. For instance, in February 2021, Germany’s Federal Institute for Drugs and Medical Devices (BfArM) granted special approval for the first time to antigen home-test kits developed by US-based Healgen Scientific as well as China-based firms Xiamen Boson Biotech and Hangzhou Laihe Biotech.

Diagnostics Gain Spotlight amidst Coronavirus Outbreak by EOS Intelligence

Coronavirus crisis accelerated innovation in the field of diagnostics

In a united fight against the pandemic, governments, private sector, as well as NGOs and philanthropists across the world stepped forward to raise funds to bolster R&D efforts in coronavirus diagnostics. As per data compiled by Policy Cures Research (an Australian firm engaged in global health R&D data collection and analysis), from January 2020 to September 2020, funds worth over US$800 million were committed for coronavirus diagnostics R&D. The firm also indicated that 450+ coronavirus diagnostics products were in R&D pipeline since January 2020 to December 2020.

With firms looking to capitalize on exponentially rising demand for coronavirus testing, the development of new diagnostics technologies beyond conventionally used tests (i.e., RT-PCR and antigen tests) picked up significantly.

For instance, in May 2020, the FDA granted an emergency use authorization to first ever CRISPR-based rapid test kit developed by Sherlock Biosciences. CRISPR, an acronym for Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats, is a gene editing technology which allows to alter the DNA. Sherlock’s rapid test is a paper-strip test (like a pregnancy test) which can be conducted at point-of-care and does not require any additional equipment for processing of the test. The test works by programming a CRISPR enzyme to release a detectable signal in presence of genetic signature for coronavirus.

In March 2020, US-based Surgisphere launched a smartphone app using Artificial Intelligence algorithms to detect coronavirus infection. This app confirms diagnosis by integrating the findings of chest CT scan and laboratory tests with clinical symptoms and exposure history. Preliminary studies found that the tool can detect coronavirus infection with 95.5% accuracy.

Further, application of nanotechnology for diagnosis of coronavirus infection is also underway. Canada-based Sona Nanotech developed a rapid antigen test using gold nanoparticles. This is a strip test that can be conducted at point-of-care and gives result in 15 minutes. Research is in progress to develop wearable sensors using nanoparticles for detection of coronavirus. In January 2021, University of California San Diego received US$1.3 million from the National Institutes of Health to develop a test strip containing nanoparticle that change color in presence of coronavirus. This test strip can be attached on a mask and used to detect coronavirus in a user’s breath or saliva.

Innovation wave was not limited to development of different types of tests but also expanded to consumables. For instance, in March 2020, HP (a company manufacturing 3D printers) teamed up with Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (a teaching hospital of Harvard Medical School) to develop 3D printed nasopharyngeal swab (typically used to collect sample for coronavirus testing) and within 35 days the clinically validated swab was ready for use. By May 2020, these swabs were commercially available for the US market following the FDA approval. In June 2020, a Belgium-based 3D printing service provider, ZiggZagg, began to plan large-scale production of swabs on their fleet of HP 3D printers. By October 2020, the company had 3D-printed over 700,000 swabs for the Belgian market.

EOS Perspective

A market research firm, The Business Research Company, estimated that the global COVID-19 rapid test kits market was expected to reach a value of US$14.94 billion in 2020. Due to worldwide vaccination drive, the market is expected to decline at a rate of -54.9%, to reach US$1.37 billion in 2023.

Though the demand for coronavirus tests is expected to diminish eventually, it has supported rapid development of diagnostics infrastructure which will remain. In India, for example, only one laboratory was performing molecular assays for COVID-19 in January 2020. The COVID-19 pandemic has shifted that balance. By May 2020, some 600 Indian RT-PCR laboratories had been set up in an effort to help manage the pandemic, thousand-fold increasing testing capacity. The additional capacity will likely remain in place as the pandemic subsides, leaving the RT-PCR assay as the dominant method for diagnosing most viral infections in India in the future.

Furthermore, with surge in demand for the coronavirus testing, the provision of diagnostic services expanded beyond the purview of hospitals and laboratories. Mobile testing facilities and drive-through testing sites propped up with development of point-of-care diagnostics. For instance, Walgreens, one of the largest pharmacy chains in the USA, offer coronavirus drive-thru testing at 6,000+ locations across the country. Further, there is high-demand for home-based testing.

Diagnostics firms riding high on the COVID-19 gains have been actively scouting opportunities to strengthen their positioning in the market and prepare for the post-pandemic world. High demand for COVID-19 test kits boosted the revenues of diagnostic companies, with Roche, Thermo Fisher, PerkinElmer, Hologic, and DiaSorin among the companies benefiting. With strong balance sheet, these companies went on with M&A flurry to advance their diagnostic portfolio and other core business verticals.

As the virus originated in China, the country was better prepared and first to develop relevant detection mechanisms. By the time the virus spread to the other parts of the world, Chinese companies were ready to export detection kits globally. Coronavirus outbreak helped China to penetrate major markets such as EU and the USA in which the indigenous diagnostics companies traditionally had a stronger hold. China was a net importer of diagnostic reagents and test kits in 2019. But in 2020, after the outbreak of coronavirus, China ramped up its production capacity of diagnostic reagents and test kits, and as a result its export growth increased by more than 500% and the country became a net exporter of diagnostic reagents and test kits by the end of 2020.

This indicates that the outbreak of the pandemic has shifted the market dynamics on many fronts. As the pandemic slowly subsides, some of these shifts might partially revert, however, the way testing is performed is likely to remain.

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