Innovation must continue during the time of COVID-19

Innovation must continue during the time of COVID-19

By Peter Shen, Global Head of Research & Development, Medical Devices, Johnson & Johnson

While it’s true that COVID-19, along with recent natural disasters, have disrupted how many of us live and work, the need for solutions to the significant unmet clinical needs of patients around the world has not gone away. In fact, the pandemic has underlined the importance of continual innovation to meet vexing medical needs.

Vaccines and therapeutics deservedly get much attention these days but the need for innovation in medical devices is no less important. The unexpected challenges it presented our customers, such as ventilator and PPE shortages, no doubt spurred innovative solutions from our industry as we responded to immediate needs, while continuing to work on solving unmet needs both related and unrelated to COVID-19.

I’m proud to work in an industry with medical device professionals who are up to the challenge. We have adapted, persevered, and innovated during this unprecedented time, and will continue to do so as new challenges and opportunities present themselves. While many in our industry converted kitchens, dining rooms and spare bedrooms into home offices, I saw first-hand how colleagues took things a step further, reimagining garages, backyard sheds and basements into workshops and labs to keep the important work of innovation moving forward.

Some are even using project management methodologies such as Agile/SCRUM to manage R&D projects and home schooling, helping with the juggling of work and personal responsibilities. While others, whose important work required access to labs or engineering spaces, came up with both practical and innovative solutions to ensure their work could continue safely, using robotics and telepresence-type systems.  

I strongly believe that innovation is a company sport, going beyond engineering and development, and that has never been truer than this moment in history. For example, we are seeing Regulatory Affairs professionals in the European Union partnering with regulators, who closed their offices, to accept “green submissions” for digital registration of products in place of notarized or legalized paper documentation to ensure regulatory reviews and approvals can continue without significant delay. Similarly, the pandemic is accelerating innovation in evidence generation, supply chain and many other important functions in our industry.

And, as we are seeing with this year’s virtual MedTech Conference, we all are adopting virtual technology to ensure the collaboration required for innovation – internally and externally –  continues without major disruption. The pandemic has forced us all to rethink how we innovate and execute remotely and challenges us to reimagine how we will work moving forward.

As innovators, we must always look for ways to develop solutions for patients better, faster, safer and more cost effectively. That is truer today than ever before. Fortunately, I see an industry that is up to the challenge.