Medical Device Venture Investment Spikes; Trends in 2015

Medical device, diagnostic venture investment at $2.7B, highest since 2008

See article above: Excited to see that medical device venture investment is picking up. It has been a big month for the space after the end of the JP Morgan Healthcare Conference and a number of new Lifescience investments have been announced (ex: Obalon Therapeutics $20M, Apama Medical $11M; and of course Moderna Therapeutics’ historic $450M financing).

One area that I think is exciting is the neuromodulator space. It has been growing, and in my time in VC, I saw a company working on a diaphragmatic stimulator for ALS, just last year the FDA approved the Inspire device for stimulating the hypoglossal nerve for sleep apnea, and recently the FDA approved a neurostimulator device for obesity, the Maestro system.

What is interesting to me is the market and physicians are willing to utilize implants for increasingly less dangerous diseases. No one batted an eye at pacemakers because they are a life-saving device. When the lap-band debuted there was market hesitation because it was an implant for a purely lifestyle disease, but it gained acceptance quickly, and I think part of what sold consumers is that it is an easy to understand mechanical device that works by limiting gastric expansion. What is different about the Inspire hypoglossal nerve stimulator device for sleep apnea, and the recently approved Maestro obesity neuromodulator device, is that they act electronically on significant nerves and alter neurophysiology in complex and not fully understood ways. Also, this is for diseases that can otherwise typically be cured by lifestyle modifications. This suggests that device makers assume consumers are interested in tech implants that don’t just save their life, but make it better, and I think this is related to the trend towards wearables.

The development of these devices signals that the technology for biologically compatible electrodes/sensors is rapidly improving. A clear example are electrodes in the cochlear implant space; where we could once only fit a handfull of implants into the tiny human cochlea, now we can fit in 20 and a 50 electrode model is in the works

The implications of this are twofold: 1) entrepreneurs are increasingly less limited by technology, and instead can focus more on finding/solving significant clinical needs 2) the lines between tech innovation, wearables, and medical device innovation are increasingly blurred. Entrepreneurs will need to diversify their teams accordingly, and more and more software and hardware backgrounds are relevant to life sciences and this is supported by Google X making large inroads into medical device.

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