Instead, this year’s MedTech Conference celebrated other prominent themes, including the need for diversity in our industry, the evolution of innovation (primarily around the aforementioned use of machine learning), the changing (and more approachable) regulatory environment of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, and the value of partnership and inclusion of technology leaders whose interest in healthcare continues to grow.
Located in Boston, this year’s event still featured familiar elements we’ve seen during past conferences. Medtech leaders participated in numerous sessions and presentations on a variety of topics, but the panels weren’t filled only by those firms who comprise MPO’s annual top company list. Sure, Kevin Lobo, Stryker’s CEO and current AdvaMed chairman was prominent, along with the association’s CEO and president, Scott Whitaker. We heard comments (perhaps some of his last before retirement next year) from Omar Ishrak, Medtronic’s CEO, on the direction of the industry during one of several plenary sessions. Perhaps more so in 2019 than ever before, however, we also saw an influx of new blood participating in sessions, allowing their enthusiasm and passion for the industry to shine through. Executives from small firms as well as startups who haven’t even put a device on the market yet were in attendance to express their concerns, insights, and thoughts.
Many of these individuals were involved with the Medtech Innovator program, which saw a winner named for the latest campaign. Forest Devices won the 2019 global competition, ultimately beating out almost 800 early-stage medtech companies. Winning the contest, now in its seventh year of existence, is not only a positive PR boon for the firm, but Forest Devices took home $350,000 in prize money from being the 2019 champion. The Pittsburgh-based startup is developing a portable device leveraging electroencephalogram monitoring and machine learning to diagnose large vessel occlusions and other stroke subtypes to be used by first responders.
The inclusion of smaller and startup firms within the agenda of The MedTech Conference, however, isn’t what AdvaMed had in mind with its push for diversity at the conference. Instead, the association highlighted a number of initiatives being put forward to help promote this theme within medtech. While several items in the schedule in Boston celebrated the issue, including women-focused sessions and a networking breakfast hosted by MedTech Color, the efforts went beyond that.
Debuting at the 2019 conference, AdvaMed Advance’s Summit on Inclusion and Diversity brought together executives and forward-thinkers at the one-day, co-located event to focus on initiatives to promote the themes throughout the year and across the industry. AdvaMed Advance was established to serve as “an industry resource to help unlock the power and potential of all talent, and drive innovation in medical technology through achievement of the best inclusion and diversity practices,” according to the conference website. Attendees of the Summit were able to hear from individuals on the challenges contributing to lagging diversity within medtech and plans that could be put in place to encourage change. They were also provided insights on how to best put effort into making those changes within their own organizations.
A feeling of inclusion seemed to be felt regarding the FDA as well. Many in attendance expressed how they’ve seen a welcome change in the agency, noting a more approachable nature and an interest in working with industry instead of being viewed as a challenge. Further, many saw the continuing effort to modernize the 510(k) and new guidance documents issued as recently as the week before the annual conference as positive steps. One regulatory consultant with whom I spoke said the changes had been part of a years-old plan to have the U.S. become the “first to market” destination, as it had been before the EU took on that role. Further, she stated the changes were not a reaction to the bad PR the industry faced throughout much of last year, but rather part of a plan established some time ago.
If you haven’t had the opportunity to attend The MedTech Conference, I would highly encourage you to do so. Next year, the event will take place in Toronto, so have your passport ready.
Sean Fenske, Editor-in-Chief