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Anticipate 'Safer' Medical Device Innovation

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The amount of change we have seen in the consumer technology has seen in the last decade is huge. The iPhone, not even a decade old, has helped launch a new era of mobile computing, enabling us do everything from adjust our thermostats remotely to hail an Uber.

Speaking of Uber, there is no counterpart thus far in the healthcare ecosystem to the car-hailing service, and it is unlikely we'll see one in 2016. If anything, last year demonstrated the potential perils and the enormous difficulties of attempting to disrupt healthcare. Most notably, Silicon Valley-based Theranos was savaged by the Wall Street Journal for overpromising its blood-testing technology. (Shown above is Theranos CEO Elizabeth Holmes and Vice President Joe Biden flanked by a panel of healthcare executives.) "They are facing the blowback of trying to move at the pace of Silicon Valley in healthcare," said Frost & Sullivan's Venkat Rajan in an earlier interview.

As 2016 dawns, there is already evidence that the quest to disrupt healthcare--and diagnostics in particular--is continuing, but it is likely happening in a somewhat more conservative fashion. Consider the case of Illumina, which recently announced a blood-testing spinoff known as Grail. The young company promises to develop tests that could detect several types of cancer before patients exhibit symptoms of the disease--potentially at a cost point of less than $1000. It plans on debuting its product by 2019.

While bold, the approach is immediately different than Theranos in several key ways. First of all, Grail is backed by Illumina, a healthcare company with a nearly 20-year track record that happens to have backing from prominent tech innovators turned investors such as Bill Gates and Jeff Bezos. That is significantly different from Theranos, which was able to attract sizable funding despite the fact that few of the companies' leaders had relevant medical experience or healthcare technology experience.  

In addition, Grail will interpret cancer results using high-speed DNA sequencing--a novel technology that is quickly accelerating and finding steadily growing support from clinicians.

Furthermore, while Theranos has been criticized for its stealth science and lack of peer-reviewed data, one of the innovators behind the Grail technology, Bert Vogelstein, is one of the most-cited scientists in the world.

So while Grail is promising a lot, it is seeking to innovate a game-changing diagnostic technology in a more traditional way: leveraging the expertise of veteran scientists and a successful public healthcare company, Illumina, whose technology is gaining a foothold in labs across the world.

Learn more about cutting-edge medical devices at MD&M West, February 9-11 at the Anaheim Convention Center in Anaheim, CA. 

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