Healthcare futurists have declared that Silicon Valley has set its sights on the medical devices industry. Experts routinely talk of new entrants and point to Google, Apple, Samsung and their interest to disrupt the inefficient healthcare market.
A senior Medtronic employee turned some heads last year when he proclaimed that Google is going to be its competitor in the future, not Boston Scientific or St. Jude Medical.
However, one person who is not losing too much sleep over this phenomenon is Boston Scientific CEO Michael Mahoney.
At the annual JPMorgan Healthcare Conference currently underway in San Francisco, an attendee asked Mahoney whether he believes companies like Google and Apple will "get over their hesitancy to deal with the FDA" and become competitors of Boston Scientific in the future.
Here's how Mahoney responded:
Not in [terms of ] our five-year [strategic plan] in any significant way. I think there are some alliances that we can make with Google and companies like that. We have made an alliance with wth Optum Labs. So I think implantable medical devices are a Class III medical device with long clinical [timelines]. It is a different business model.
So in the wearables area, in the sensors area - maybe there is some activity there, but I think ... in the next three to five years, I don't see them as a significant threat to our business.
Optum Labs can hardly be classified as a new entrant or a non-healthcare entity, having been co-founded by the Mayo Clinic and Optum, UnitedHealth’s the health IT and services unit. Boston Scientific became its founding medical device partner last year and will focus on heart failure with a goal to know which therapies actually work and how to reduce overall costs.
What makes Google a potential threat to traditional medtech?
Google has several healthcare initiatives including a smart lens technology that diabetes drug maker Novartis has licensed to develop a contact lens with a glucose sensor able to measure glucose through tears. It seems the stuff of science fiction, but if the collaboration is successful, Novartis and Google will have found the Holy Grail for diabetes patients - freedom from daily finger pricks to measure glucose.