Healthcare technology: challenges and opportunities in global markets

By Sarah Harding, PhD - 07/01/2019

Nicola Travierso, President of Velit Bio, talks to Sarah Harding, Editorial Director of Chemicals Knowledge, about current developments in healthcare technology and their particularly rapid uptake in emerging markets.
We are at an exciting point in the development of healthcare technology. The success of the human genome project, digitization, and a range of new technologies are revolutionizing modern healthcare. The future of medicine – and by extension, that of the pharmaceutical industry – is approaching realms that were considered the stuff of science fiction just a few decades ago. Nicola Travierso, President of Velit Bio spoke to Sarah Harding, Editorial Director of Chemicals Knowledge, about some of these developments and his views on their likely impact on modern healthcare.
“Innovations that are enhancing healthcare include personalized medicine, artificial intelligence, 3D printing, telemedicine and digitized sensors,” explains Travierso. “These technologies are already starting to have an impact on patient longevity, as they provide ever greater insights into genomic sequences, cell types and tissues, individuals, populations and our environments. We know more about the human condition than ever before, and that knowledge is leading to a revolution in healthcare.”
As we head towards a future that embraces this revolution, it is important to prepare everyone in the supply chain – from the drug developer to the prescribing physician – for the adoption of disruptive and smart technologies. A challenge in doing this, says Travierso, is that “Reform is harder than creation”. Therefore, particularly in situations where healthcare systems are already well established based on conventional models, it can be challenging to implement these new technologies.
“Personalized medicine and connected care – the new models of healthcare coming out of these technologies – are most likely to be taken up first in places where they can be tested and deployed quickly without disrupting existing interest groups,” explains Travierso. “This means that developed countries, which already have well-established, conventional pathways for healthcare, might find it more difficult to adapt to the new model. In contrast, emerging countries that are in the process of developing pathways for the first time might be better positioned to take advantage of new technologies as they do so.”
In emerging countries, greater healthcare expenditure is being driven by urbanization and economic development, which are providing improvements in healthcare systems, infrastructures and awareness both of diseases and the availability of treatments.1 Furthermore, an increasing proportion of populations in emerging countries are gaining access to healthcare, thanks to growing government support for improving healthcare systems, and enabling technologies.
“Telemedicine is already helping to provide professional healthcare services to rural areas in Africa,” Travierso points out. “It allows patients to get medical aid from a distance, making it very beneficial for patients living in isolated communities and remote locations. I look at successes like this, and I see it as another example of emerging countries adopting these new technologies and incorporating them into new standard pathways for medical care.”
Rapidly growing pharmaceutical markets in the Asia-Pacific, Middle East, Latin America and Africa offer significant opportunities for companies who are willing to turn their gaze from the US and old Europe, advises Travierso. These countries are not only showing tremendous growth in healthcare expenditure, but they are likely to play a key role in accelerating innovation, as new technologies are tested and deployed more easily (with less resistance) in newly-developed healthcare systems.
Potential risks include infrastructure barriers to the implementation of new technologies, patent protection and local competitors. This is a high-investment, high-yield market, and any innovations need to be protected. However, different countries hold differing perspectives on patenting healthcare technologies (e.g. China will not grant patents to any method of diagnosis), making this a very complex matter.2
“I would advise companies to make sure they understand the local stakeholders, and to identify local partners for a dialogue on health system policies and any legal issues,” says Travierso.
The healthcare revolution offers opportunities not just for pharmaceutical companies and contractors, but also for speciality chemicals innovators that are developing biocompatible materials for 3D printing, polymers for medical devices, and a broad range of other materials. And in Travierso’s view, at least, companies would be wise to consider opportunities in emerging countries, where pharmaceutical markets are growing at around ten times the rate seen in the US and Europe,1 and where the rapid uptake of new technologies is making a considerable contribution to accelerating innovation across healthcare.
1. Travierso N. Chemicals Knowledge 2018;3:22.
2. Salisbury F, Keirstead T. Mewburn Ellis News & Insights, 31st October 2018.

Nicola Travierso, President of Velit Bio, Wollzeile 1-3/3/3.2, 1010 Wien, Austria
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