The COVID-19 pandemic changed the healthcare industry in unprecedented ways. Seemingly overnight, the pandemic took the world by surprise, forcing the pharmaceutical industry to rapidly respond and transform in ways it never had.
With the help of artificial intelligence (AI), genomics, and other technological advancements, some of the biggest names in the healthcare industry led a collaborative effort. And in less than a year, the pharmaceutical sector sequenced, developed, and launched vaccines in record time.
The pandemic also highlighted how fragile and susceptible public and private healthcare systems around the world were (and still are). Hospitals were overrun, doctors, nurses, and health practitioners were exhausted, and many people worked remotely and visited doctors virtually.
The toll of the pandemic created a sense of urgency. Instead of waiting to see what the healthcare industry might be like in 2050, the pandemic spurred life-science companies to look at ways to immediately improve the readiness of the entire healthcare system.
In fact, the speed at which the pandemic spread globally shows how important it is for the healthcare industry to make radical changes and adopt the technologies—from robotics, AI, and genomics to the internet of medical things (IoMT) and fifth generation (5G) networks—it now needs to address upcoming critical challenges.
Can AI Help Beat Cancer?
AI is being used to tackle issues in unimaginable ways.
In 2016, AlphaGo, an AI program created by Google’s Deep Mind, beat the world’s top Go player, Lee Sedol. Go is a board game that no one thought a computer could ever master because it involved too much human intuition.
AlphaGo shocked the gaming community when it performed a never-before-used move. It was one so strange that it perplexed Go experts. The move helped AlphaGo win that game.
These unexpected, counterintuitive moves are expected to help AI fight cancer. For decades, doctors and researchers have been looking for ways to modify the immune system and cure cancer. While doctors search for ways to combat cancer, the disease continues to evolve, which makes finding a cure much more difficult.
That’s where AI comes in. With advancements in sequencing and the ability to simultaneously test all genes in various scenarios, AI can look at the data and run experiments in never-before-imagined ways.
It is thought that, within the next 10 years, AI could help researchers discover a counterintuitive therapy that could beat cancer.
We’re already on our way…
In early June, it was announced that a new immunotherapy drug used to treat rectal cancer was 100% effective. The cancer drug “Jemperli” was developed by GSK plc, formerly GlaxoSmithKline plc.
The small study followed 14 patients; after six months, all traces of cancer were gone. It is believed to be the first time this has ever happened in the history of cancer research.
Advancements in Genomics
Genomics is the study of a person’s genes (the genome) and how they interact with each other in the host environment. To understand how the body’s cells interact, researchers study our DNA. That’s because every cell in the body contains a complete copy of the three billion DNA compounds that make up the human genome.
If the DNA in a cell is mutated, it can upend the body’s usual processes and lead to diseases such as cancer. Since virtually every ailment has some basis or originates in our genes, the study of genomics is paramount to discovering genetic variants that contribute to human diseases, including COVID-19.
In fact, genomic technology is one reason why researchers at Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna were able to identify, manufacture, and have vaccines approved in less than a year. Manufacturers developed the mRNA vaccines using the genetic code of the SARS-CoV-2 virus vaccine. mRNA technology can also be adopted more quickly if there is a need to reformulate a vaccine against other variants.
Since the first human genome was completed in 2003, the medical community has discovered genes responsible for more than 5,000 rare hereditary diseases. This has led to genetic diagnostics for many patients, new drug treatments, gene therapies, and personalized medicine.
Some of the biggest pharmaceutical companies are leading revolutionary gene therapies across the globe.
Thermo Fisher Scientific Inc., for example, is using next-generation sequencing, real-time polymerase chain reaction (PCR), and microarrays to develop a diverse portfolio of genomic solutions. The company’s clinical genomics covers some of the most common diseases, focused on oncology, infectious disease, reproductive health, inherited disease, and other clinical research tests.
Novartis AG is using genomics to target select DNA sequences it can switch on or off and can transport genes to specific cells in the body. The company currently has six projects in its gene therapies pipeline, including treatments for spinal muscular atrophy (SMA), genetic amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, Rett syndrome, and autism spectrum disorder. Novartis also has 162 projects in its clinical pipeline.
Roche Holding AG, through its gene therapy platform, Spark Therapeutics, is using genomics to create medicines for people with inherited diseases, including retinal diseases and liver-directed diseases such as hemophilia, and neurodegenerative diseases.
What Is IoMT?
The advent of 5G technology will finally bring to fruition the long-held promise of the Internet of Things (IoT). IoT is a term used to describe a network of systems where multiple devices are connected and communicate with each other. In the healthcare industry, this is applied as the Internet of Medical Things (IoMT).
5G has long been touted for its speed and latency. It is 10 times faster than fourth-generation (4G) networks, supports 10,000 times more network traffic, and can handle 100 times more devices than 4G. It can do all this with extremely low latency and zero perceived downtime.
5G will change the way we live, work, and interact with each other. With 5G, doctors can visit more patients virtually, conduct quicker/better examinations, and receive vital information in real-time. Eventually, doctors will be able to ultimately conduct operations remotely using surgical robots and other 5G-related tech.
Two notable companies that are changing the face of the healthcare industry with advancements in IoMT are Abbot Laboratories and Medtronic PLC.
Abbot is a major player in IoMT with well-known medical device products like FreeStyle Lite (a blood glucose meter used to monitor diabetes) and Proclaim DRG (a neuromodulatory technique for the treatment of pain). It has also made several strategic acquisitions and partnerships over the years to expand its IoMT product lines.
Medtronic is a global leader in IoMT, developing life-transforming medical technology used by hospitals, physicians, clinicians, and patients worldwide. The Dublin, Ireland-based company has been enhancing its IoMT market position by acquiring companies such as CardioComm Solutions Inc and Medicrea International SA, as well as forming partnerships with QUALCOMM, Inc. and LHC Group, Inc. in an effort to develop wireless, homecare, and home-monitoring services.
Global Medical Robotics Market
The future of medicine has always inspired images of robots performing complex surgeries. The implementation of 5G and adoption of IoMT are making the idea of robotic-assisted surgery and rehabilitation closer to becoming a reality.
Stryker Corporation, a leading medical technology company, has a robotic surgery system for total knee reconstruction called “Mako SmartRobotics” which was approved by the FDA in 2015. The Mako installation base is growing rapidly, up 27% in 2021 over 2020, and is currently approaching 1,500 robots.
The healthcare industry’s unprecedented rapid response to the COVID-19 pandemic shows how resilient and capable health sciences companies are, and how quickly they can bring innovations to market. History shows that investing in innovation during a crisis helps pharmaceutical companies discover, accelerate, and scale medical innovations, as well as outperform their peers during the recovery.
This is one of the many reasons why a number of investors have considered adding global healthcare companies into their portfolios.
Investing in Global Healthcare with LIFE ETF
The Evolve Global Healthcare Enhanced Yield Fund (LIFE ETF) provides investors with exposure to twenty global blue-chip healthcare companies with a covered call strategy that is actively managed to provide increased yield potential while helping mitigate risk. The LIFE ETF is available in hedged, unhedged and USD classes.
Managed by an established team of industry veterans with a proven track record of success, Evolve ETFs creates investment products that make a difference. For more information, please visit www.evolveetfs.com or download our one-pager about LIFE ETF.
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