From video game-based therapies and a liquid biopsy for cancer to deep learning and bioelectronics, 2016’s Fierce 15 are redefining what it means to be a medical device. If they’re not making big bets on nascent technology, they’re reimagining an existing device or therapy to deliver better results.
A big trend this past year was upending how we use imaging in healthcare. Acutus Medical is trying to improve catheter ablation as a treatment for atrial fibrillation using an alternative to traditional voltage-based heart activity mapping. The procedure is only successful about half of the time and Acutus is aiming to bring that success rate up to 100% with its AcQMap system. RefleXion Medical is combining PET imaging and radiotherapy in one device so that, for the first time, radiotherapy may be image-guided in real time. This allows the century-old cancer treatment, which could only be used to treat one tumor at a time, to be deployed against metastatic cancer.
Meanwhile, Arterys and Zebra Medical are both working on systems that will read and make diagnoses based on medical images, streamlining a time-consuming process. Arterys seeks not only to expedite physician decision-making, but also to “transform healthcare” by making image analysis a consistent, quantitative and data-driven process. Zebra, on the other hand, is marketing image-analyzing algorithms to hospitals and—since November—to consumers in an effort to bring high-end radiology services to more people.
Akili Interactive is reimagining the definition of medicine: It has a video game-based treatment for ADHD in phase 3 and is developing the tech for diagnostic purposes as well. And G-Therapeutics is working on restoring lower limb function in people with spinal cord injuries using a combination of a neurostimulator and gravity-assisted training.
Of course, this list wouldn’t be complete without the visionaries: Illumina spinoff Grail is trying to apply liquid biopsy—currently used to guide treatment in people already known to have cancer—to the early detection of the disease. And Auris Surgical Robotics and J&J/Verily joint venture Verb Surgical are both seeking to break new ground in the robotic surgery arena, which has long been commanded by Intuitive Surgical. Another Verily JV, Galvani Bioelectronics, is developing tiny implants that can be placed on nerves to effect changes in the body, inducing it to heal itself.
We received an impressive number of nominations and would like to thank everyone who submitted company names. So, without further ado, here’s the list of honorees for 2016. Let us know what you think and as we get on with 2017, send along any prospects you think we should keep an eye on. — Amirah Al Idrus, @FierceBiotech