As we close out this decade, our biggest medtech stories of the past year have all looked toward what’s coming next—whether it’s new treatments or renewed companies, the common thread running through our most popular reads is that people are eager to see these advancements realize their promise.
Our top 10—plus some honorable mentions—include research and breakthroughs in diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease, cancer testing and vision care, with some products tantalizingly close to that FDA green light and getting into the hands of doctors and patients.
It also covers large devicemakers and big pharmas aiming to remake themselves by embracing new technology or potentially new acquisitions.
Up first is our report on a closed-loop artificial pancreas system being developed by Tandem Diabetes Care and Dexcom that promises to automatically deliver insulin based on continuous glucose data and eliminate the need for frequent fingerstick draws or daily injections for people who have Type 1 diabetes.
A six-month trial supported by the National Institutes of Health followed participants as young as 14 as they used the system over their daily lives and found it helped keep blood sugar in a healthy range for longer. More importantly, users saw fewer spikes and drops over a 24-hour period—important news for children and adults who would prefer to sleep than manage their diabetes. The Control-IQ system recently picked up its FDA approval.
In an interesting twist, another of our most read stories also featured an artificial pancreas system, though it first debuted in 2016. Making its viral return this year was our piece on the FDA’s approval of Medtronic’s MiniMed 670G, designed to regulate insulin with little personal input.
Our second story of 2019 comes from the annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology, where blood testing upstart Grail delivered early study results for its cancer-seeking diagnostic. Its liquid biopsy was able to identify 12 early-stage cancers and their locations in the body by searching for small, tainted pieces of tumor DNA floating in the bloodstream.
In third place is Novartis’ new, expansive partnership with Microsoft, which aims to put artificial intelligence tools in the hands of each of the big pharma’s research associates. The five-year project includes plans for joint AI labs and clinical research support—and is paired with our tenth most popular story of the year, on the drugmaker’s separate team-up with Amazon to help revamp its supply chain and personalized medicine manufacturing.
Next, we have startup Sigrid Therapeutics, developer of an edible medical device to help ward off the progression of Type 2 diabetes. Technically a “therapeutic material,” Sigrid has been working on a superfine silica powder that mechanically separates stomach enzymes from food to slow down digestive processes.
In fifth is Stryker’s $4 billion acquisition of Wright Medical, which looks to give the company a stronger foothold in fast-growing orthopedic markets focused on the upper and lower extremities—including joint replacements, bone grafts and fixation systems for shoulders, elbows, wrists, ankles and toes.
Elsewhere, Apple, Eli Lilly and Evidation presented their first results from a collaboration that hopes to develop digital warning signs for Alzheimer's by sifting through the data and patterns created in our day-to-day lives. Their work, on trying to spot the nearly imperceptible symptoms and changes that could belie cognitive decline, was featured in our list of the top “lighthouse” projects in AI and biopharma to keep an eye on in the future.
In seventh and eighth place we have two pieces exploring the latest in contact lens technology. A new silicone hydrogel material from Alcon contains 51% water and holds a permanent layer of moisture on the surface of the daily disposable. A second lens, developed by CooperVision, is designed to help slow the progression of nearsightedness in children by splitting off incoming light and reducing a potential driver of myopia.
Number nine delves into the future of the $8 billion diagnostics maker Qiagen as it considers being acquired by one of several potential suitors. That includes fellow diagnostics maker Thermo Fisher Scientific, which has begun early talks, according to reports. The news comes just a month after Qiagen announced its long-time CEO plans to step down amid a reorganization of the company around a 15-year partnership with Illumina.
Finally, we have our annual class of the FierceMedTech Fierce 15, the private companies we think will best move the needle when it comes to patient outcomes and technological advancement in the field.
And on a broader note, we’d like to thank you all for helping to make 2019 FierceMedTech’s best year yet—readership has grown by leaps and bounds over the past 12 months, and by at least 1 million views over 2018’s total. But that wouldn’t be possible if we didn’t cover a dynamic industry with a surplus of interesting stories to tell.
Though we’re taking a short publication break for the holidays, we, like you, are still looking forward to 2020 and the decade ahead. Check in for any breaking news, and feel free to share your tips, thoughts and stories with us. We will return Jan. 2. — Conor Hale
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