COVID-19 can upend the medtech sector — and even strengthen it

COVID-19 can upend the medtech sector — and even strengthen it

By Jim Welch, EY Global MedTech Leader, Health Sciences and Wellness

In 2019, the medtech industry earned one more year of growth (6.3%), in line with the rate from the year before. But if 2019 seemed like a continuation of 2018 in many ways, 2020 is proving to be a profound departure — with new dimensions of uncertainty from the COVID-19 pandemic rapidly redefining the landscape, and existing trends accelerating faster than previously imagined.

In the 14th annual Pulse of the industry report, EY Global Life Sciences scrutinized 18 months of data — from the time before anyone had heard of COVID-19 through when it became an inescapable reality — with an eye toward the next and beyond.

In one encouraging sign, medtech’s 2019 R&D investment grew 11.5% compared with 2018, marking a return to the double-digit R&D growth rates regularly recorded before the financial crisis. However, from July 2019 to June 2020, the number of IPOs was the lowest in a decade, venture capital investment fell 22% and M&A deal value plunged 60%. Yet financing levels over that time more than doubled, suggesting that the major players in the sector expect an active market in the second half of the year.

One reassuring measure in 2020 stands out: investor confidence. By the end of August 2020, medtech’s valuations were up 50% compared with January 2019, with the non-imaging diagnostics segment recording a rise of 102%, more than twice as much as any other segment. In part, this reflects the urgent need for new diagnostic tools in the pandemic: for example, Quidel’s valuation jumped 331% when the company’s rapid point-of-care test for detecting COVID-19 received an emergency-use authorization. And Exact Sciences’ revenue surged 93% as use of its Cologuard at-home colon cancer tests doubled to 1.7 million, illustrating consumer desires for ways to avoid clinics and hospitals.

Fueled by the pandemic environment, the rise of digital health presents enormous opportunities for the sector, as evidenced by the potentially transformative announcement by Teladoc Health, in August, that it will buy Livongo for US$18.5 billion, creating a health tech giant and a new benchmark for the valuation of digital health. Digital technologies are key to enabling the move toward remote-care models for chronic disease and for health maintenance, and the challenge now is not a lack of personalized health data, but a lack of data integration.

Regulation has often created hurdles in the digital health space, but the outbreak of COVID-19 has also transformed regulatory norms, shifting to accelerating reviews and increasing the acceptance of digital health in delivering positive health outcomes. The crisis appears to have fostered an attitude of collaboration and cooperation within the medtech sector, and between the industry and its stakeholders. With the buy-in of regulators, medtech is well-placed to continue this transformation and usher in a new era of digital, data-driven smart devices fully integrated into an advanced, connected health ecosystem.

The industry finds itself at a crossroads between crisis and opportunity, and between the past and whatever future we create as we emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic. Pulse of the industry 2020 shows the lifetime of change compacted into 18 months following the 10 years of progress since the financial crisis, while pointing medtech companies toward a new generation of care.

The views reflected in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Ernst & Young LLP or other members of the global EY organization.