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Are Medical Devices the New Drugs?

Is pharma's time in the spotlight running out in terms of treating heart disease?

Recent reports indicate a potential shift in healthcare as researchers and doctors are increasingly just saying no to drugs and instead embracing medical devices to treat certain conditions. The notion of passing over drugs in favor of devices is growing in popularity in the treatment of such conditions as Alzheimer's disease, while new drug development for heart disease seems to be slowing down. So, as minimally invasive surgeries increase and researchers turn to medical devices in instances where drugs aren't working, are medical devices stealing the spotlight from Big Pharma?

Last week, for example, Reuters reported on a noticeable change in the air at the American College of Cardiology's scientific meeting in New Orleans. The article notes that Medtronic dominated local advertising this year in terms of plastering its new pacemaker on the sides of buses and on hotel keys, whereas these spots have traditionally promoted pharmaceutical products such as Pfizer's Lipitor and AstraZeneca's Crestor.

In addition to advertising, the conference, according to Reuters, focused heavily on minimally invasive surgeries and innovative treatment methods while drugs took a backseat. Allowing for minimal scarring and recovery time with fewer risks, minimally invasive surgeries and devices are broadening treatment options and promising exciting outcomes for various heart-related issues. Several such technologies were prominent at the show while little fanfare was dedicated to new drug development, the article notes. The efficacy of existing drugs designed to treat high cholesterol and high blood pressure, according to the article, has tempered the drive for new drugs in these areas.

"We have learned that mechanical problems are fixed by mechanical devices," David Holmes, president of the ACC, told Reuters. "Devices have been brought along because they sometimes result in more reliable, reproducible outcomes."

But medical devices aren't just on the rise thanks to minimally invasive surgeries; they're also regarded as having potential for the treatment of Alzheimer's disease. As I recounted in a blog post a few weeks ago, researchers are actively exploring light-based therapies and medical devices to treat the devastating disease. Drugs are considered by many to be relatively ineffective in treating Alzheimer's disease, and medical devices offer an interesting alternative worth investigating.

While drug makers probably aren't too threatened by these advancements, the rise of medical devices and slowing of drug dominance in certain areas is an interesting trend to observe. It will also be fascinating to watch how emerging minimally invasive procedures and combination devices impact the medical device and pharmaceutical industries. Soon enough, the impending era of personalized medicine could likely spur a resurgence in drugs for the aforementioned applications. But until then: Enjoy your time in the spotlight, medical device makers. --Shana Leonard

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