SAN FRANCISCO—After years of stops, starts and stops again, the J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference has returned to the city by the bay in full form. Below we've compiled the biggest medtech news so far, bite-sized—from both inside and outside the Westin St. Francis—including acquisitions, collaborations, presentations and stray observations.
Medtronic’s self-described “aggressive transformation” is underway, with a strategy that looks to change not only the medtech giant’s operating model but also the company culture. Speaking with investors Monday, CEO Geoff Martha talked about how Medtronic eliminated its group and region structures, centralized its global operations and installed a new performance-based incentive program—to say nothing of setting up three divisions for spinoffs into new companies in the past year. “We’ve also brought in several new external leaders who bring much-needed capabilities in certain areas but also just as, if not more importantly, a fresh perspective,” Martha said. The next fiscal year will also bring “significant expense reductions” to face oncoming macroeconomic headwinds and inflation, he said.
Don’t call it a thought experiment: Schrödinger has launched three AI-powered drug design projects focused on neuroscience. With Bristol Myers Squibb, the company is expanding on its previous $2.7 billion partnership to target kidney cancer and KRAS-driven tumors. Simultaneously, Schrödinger will work with Otsuka and its Astex Pharmaceuticals arm for molecule discovery work in “an emerging CNS disease target,” plus a licensing deal that will place its AI platform in a new Otsuka facility. Schrödinger also said it would tackle a new in-house program in Parkinson’s disease, with plans to select an LRRK2 inhibitor for development in 2024. Read the full story here.
While it waits for Illumina and the European Commission to hash out its future as an independent company, the work hasn’t stopped at Grail. The multicancer blood test developer launched a new research-only tool for biopharma companies, which aims to analyze the structural methylation signatures of tumor DNA in the bloodstream to help find signs of minimal residual disease and recurrence or help deliver a cancer prognosis. The liquid biopsy test could be used in retrospective or prospective clinical studies or to help develop biomarkers and tumor classification methods, Grail said.
“I was cruising along at about 100, and the adrenaline rush from speaking—adrenaline causes glucose to increase—and in a matter of 30 minutes I’d gone from 100 to 132. So I showed the J.P. Morgan analysts yesterday: This is what happens to people who speak at your conference!”
— Dexcom CEO Kevin Sayer, who doesn’t have diabetes, but still uses the company’s CGM to track his blood sugar
Hologic offered an early peek into its upcoming quarterly earnings report, including a sales drop of 27% compared to the COVID testing-fueled surges seen the year before. Described as an estimate ahead of its full disclosure Feb. 1, the company reported that the final three months of 2022 brought in $1.07 billion—higher than previous guidance that pegged revenues between $940 million and $990 million. Still, Hologic’s diagnostics division posted $950.4 million in sales alone during the same period at the end of 2021, with about two-thirds coming from coronavirus tests. Excluding COVID, however, core diagnostics sales grew 12.2% last quarter, from $345.5 million to $387.7 million. Read the full story here.
From the stable of medtech companies founded by entrepreneur Jonathan Rothberg, the protein sequencing developer Quantum-Si announced that it has begun shipping its Platinum system, a benchtop device designed to provide high-resolution data on the building blocks of life. The Connecticut-based company also unveiled new partnerships with the reagent maker Aviva Systems Biology, to co-develop protein enrichment kits, and with the AI company Biovista, to help connect its proteomics data with drug developers.
“[Blood testing] isn't something that people look forward to. To me, it's very equivalent to how it used to be that taking a cab in New York City was very scary, and nowadays, people Uber like crazy. They took an experience and made it from scary to highly accessible by digitally enabling it, by making it very transparent. And we're gonna do the same for diagnostic blood testing.”
— Babson Diagnostics CEO David Stein
Invitae’s new CEO told Fierce Medtech how the nearly two decades he spent at General Motors, Caterpillar and Amazon prepared him to lead a genetic testing company. “I did crazy things like working with NASA to put a humanoid robot up on the International Space Station,” said chief Kenneth Knight, who took the helm last summer. “And when I think about what we’re trying to do here at Invitae… our mission is to bring comprehensive genetic information into mainstream healthcare for billions of people.” Meanwhile, Invitae is in the midst of a large restructuring plan, which saw the company lay off more than 1,000 employees last year and slim down its test offerings. Knight said Invitae’s three main goals for 2023 include continuing those cuts. Read the full story here.
After unveiling an upgrade to its long-read DNA sequencing systems last October, Pacific Biosciences posted it has broken a company record with 76 new orders. PacBio’s Revio hardware is designed to sequence up to 1,300 whole human genomes per year at less than $1,000 each. Last fall the company also raised the curtain on Onso, its first short-read machine, designed to compete with Illumina’s DNA sequencers. PacBio said it expects to begin taking Onso orders later this quarter and start shipping by the end of June. The company also announced a bioinformatics and sequencing collaboration with the University of Tokyo, to study the genetic causes of rare diseases in the Japanese population.
“I knew very little about genetics and DNA coming in here, and the best thing is that I know what I don't know.”
— Invitae CEO Kenneth Knight, who is helping to restructure the testing company after working at GM, Caterpillar and Amazon
Leaders from Freenome, Babson Diagnostics and Immunexpress discussed their ongoing plans to make a wide range of blood tests as broadly accessible and as simple to use as possible—a dream that’s been helped along by the COVID-19 pandemic, where over-the-counter nose swabs were just the beginning. Read the full story here.
Freshly independent, GE HealthCare is getting the year rolling with its first acquisition. After ringing the bell on the Nasdaq last week, the digital imaging giant has signed a deal to acquire Imactis, a French developer of CT-powered guidance programs for diagnostic and interventional procedures. GE HealthCare described image-guided procedures as a high-opportunity growth driver—and though Imactis currently focuses on CT, its new owner-to-be said it plans to expand the technology to other modalities. The financial terms of the cash deal were not disclosed.
“AI is no longer this quirky new technology … You won’t have hospitals who don’t leverage this technology. And those who are slower are going to be out-competed by those who are adopting faster … We’re going to look back on today in 20 years’ time as the medical dark ages.”
— Viz.ai CEO Chris Mansi
Philips’ CPAP machine recall is still in full force, and competitor ResMed has been looking to pick up the slack in the market and meet the demand as much as possible, but international supply chain delays have ultimately slowed the company’s ability to respond. “There’s still excess demand, and we see that as a humanitarian emergency,” ResMed CEO Mick Farrell told investors. “We’re doing everything we can to source more and more semiconductor chips.” And when it comes to actually assembling those chips into new machines in 2023, ResMed highlighted a new major manufacturing plant it opened in Singapore last quarter, which Farrell described as “the biggest on the planet for respiratory medicine.” Read the full story here.
“You don’t see a lot of people show up to a clarinet concert, but if you’re part of an ensemble, then it’s really amazing what people can bring. When you do your part and hit the notes, and so does everybody else, it’s amazing what happens.”
— Freenome CEO Mike Nolan, on looking for collaborators against cancer, rather than competitors
Twist Bioscience strengthened its ties with Japanese drugmaker Astellas Pharma through a new antibody discovery collaboration spanning multiple disease targets—the companies’ second collaboration in the past eight months. Fierce Biotech reports the synthetic DNA weaver Twist will receive up to $11 million per product, plus royalties. Twist also announced this week it would work with Centogene to launch three target enrichment panels aimed at next-generation sequencing and diagnostic development in rare diseases and hereditary cancers.
“The genome provides more content, more discoveries and more diagnoses the more of it you sequence. So every time we reduce the price, we see people move along that continuum [and adopt higher-throughput DNA sequencing]. Some do it in one big leap, some are more incremental… because the science pulls you across that journey.”
— Illumina Chief Technology Officer Alex Aravanis, on chasing cheaper genomes
Dexcom is ready to begin rolling out its new G7 continuous glucose monitor in the U.S., after securing a long-awaited clearance from the FDA last month. It will join commercial efforts already underway across Europe and elsewhere, and the company has its eyes set on Canada and the wider Asia-Pacific region by early 2024. It’s the first time Dexcom has ever launched a product in multiple international markets at the same time, and CEO Kevin Sayer said it likely won’t all be smooth sailing. Read the full story here.
“Versus the last time I was here in person, I’ve never seen San Francisco so busy.”
— Butterfly Network Chief Strategy Officer Darius Shahida
Qiagen acquired its previous distribution partner Verogen in a $150 million cash deal. The San Diego-based Verogen specializes in providing next-generation DNA sequencing to forensics laboratories. Qiagen described human identification genetics as a fast-growing field and has sold DNA purification kits to forensics professionals since the 1990s.
For years, in-depth diagnostic scans have come with hefty price tags and wait times. But imaging tech like the systems developed by Butterfly Network and Viz.ai are set to slash costs and increase access. Butterfly’s ultimate vision is for its handheld ultrasound probe to become as common as the stethoscope, in both hospitals and homes through telehealth programs that allow doctors to talk untrained users through performing scans themselves. Viz.ai’s artificial intelligence tools, meanwhile, analyze scans to look for specific and dangerous hidden conditions and automatically alert a patient’s care team. The company aims to have 100 cleared algorithms within the next three to five years. Read the full story here.