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Medical Innovation Will Not Be “Taxed Away”

Tue, 06/18/2013 - 4:43pm
Sean Fenske, Editor-in-Chief, MDT

“Take two and call me in the morning.” That’s the phrase that came to mind while preparing a particular article recently. While “Coating for Consumption” doesn’t deal with taking two pills and calling the doctor in the morning, I couldn’t help but think about how far we’ve come since the days when that phrase reflected what most people thought was “modern healthcare.” Now, we’re looking at technology that you can swallow and it offers a full view of your digestive tract for a doctor to see and diagnose any potential causes for concern. It is truly amazing to look back at how far medical technology has come and fascinating that it really didn’t take that long for that level of advancement to occur.

There have always been great advancements in medicine and there will continue to be, and in similarly great strides as well. I remember when I started as editor-in-chief of this magazine, one of the “big” news stories at that time was Intuitive Surgical’s da Vinci Surgical System. I even had the opportunity to see it at a show, look into the “viewfinder”-like display, and handle the controls. I was awestruck by how cool and high tech it all was. Now, robotic surgery and the devices that make it happen are practically old hat. They are barely something I bat an eye at compared to the next generation of incredibly fascinating devices that are coming down the pipeline, such as implantable eyes that allow the blind to see or exo-skeletons that enable the disabled to walk. While a new tax on medical device sales can be problematic and, no doubt, will impact the bottom line for device makers, I remain confident—optimistic even—that medical innovation will always continue to thrive, just as it always has.

Perhaps we’ll see a paradigm shift where R&D happens less in the private sector and moves even moreso into universities. Universities are already churning out some incredible device technology advances. This technology is then licensed to existing companies and a partnership is formed. Or the technology becomes the basis for a new start-up business and is then marketed to the public. Either way, the model is there and it may just be a situation where the model needs to be expanded. Perhaps corporations become direct sponsors of the research being done by the institutions; again, in a model that’s increased from the current one. Licensing of technology and granting exclusivity of those rights would become a more common practice.

I realize that this gets into a questionable area with corporations “controlling” universities and the research being done. Obviously, there needs to be a system where the corporate sponsor maintains a degree of separation from making the university its own private R&D laboratory. However, the underlying point remains; that is, medical innovation is going to continue to thrive, whether in a corporate laboratory or at a university or perhaps even in a place we have yet to fully explore. Is an “open-source” type opportunity available for the medical device research industry where a large collection of minds come together to work out a solution to enhance medical technology? The internet certainly opens up such a possibility. Of course, this gets into questions over who controls the rights of such an effort and who can sell the rights to the technology, but that’s a debate for another day.

I can’t say for certain from where medical innovation will originate. It will absolutely continue in the research labs of medical device companies. It will certainly continue to be the basis for new company start-ups. Universities will, without question, serve as an incredible resource for new ideas and technology. Taxes and regulation will not stop medical device innovation. I’m confident that it will continue and it will be truly exciting.

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