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Medical Design & Manufacturing Breakthroughs

Once the stuff of science fiction, today's technologically advanced products can increase both the length and quality of our lives.

April/May 06
Medical design and manufacturing, one of the nation's fastest-growing industries, is targeting new advances to fight many of our most costly and harmful diseases. Reflecting its rapid growth, the medical technology industry, currently an $80 billion market, is projected to reach $140 billion by 2010, according to the Advanced Medical Technology Association (AdvaMed). The industry's products include pacemakers, defibrillators, orthopedic implants, diagnostic imaging equipment (such as ultrasound computer tomography), and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) machines, as well as diagnostic tests that detect disease.

Mark Brager, AdvaMed's director of communications, says one of the major trends in medical design and technology is miniaturization, which allows implants to be smaller and produces less hospital time for faster recovery. He also cites mapping of the human genome (DNA). "It's an important scientific milestone that will lead to incredible breakthroughs in medical diagnostic technology," he says. In addition, advances in materials sciences are increasing the durability of implants. According to Brager, implants that used to last 10 years are now lasting 15 to 20 years and in the future will last 40 to 50 years. "It's important because people are living longer," he says. He also cites health information as one of the more important areas of technology, enabling providers to get rid of paper records, generate fewer medical errors, and increase efficiency.

In terms of site selection, Brager and others say medical design and manufacturing companies tend to group together in clusters of concentration, to avail themselves of reciprocal services, technical support, and professional resources. Brager lists the "Big Three" areas as Boston, the Twin Cities (called "medical alley"), and Southern California. Smaller versions of the Big Three are coming in Warsaw, Ind., Philadelphia, and areas of New Jersey.

It's no secret that today's medical manufacturing environment is a fast track, with the rapid emergence of new developments that can change market trends virtually overnight. Innovative products usher in new trends while older technology fades away. With that in mind, Medical Design Technology magazine, in its January 28, 2006 issue, pinpoints five different medical manufacturing sectors in the forefront of new trends: combination products, electronic miniaturization, nanotechnology, medical plastics, and lean manufacturing.

Combination Products
A combination products is one that combines more than one element, such as a medical device coated with a drug. The combination nature enables the product to perform its function more effectively, according to Barry Sall, senior consultant at PAREXEL International, providers of expertise in biopharmaceutical and medical device development to manufacturers worldwide. There's a wide variety of combination products, most being prescription products used by physicians. One that has enjoyed particular success is the drug-coated stent - a tube one-eighth of an inch in diameter and coated with a medication, which can be threaded into a blocked artery. The stent clears up the blockage and the drug prevents it from coming back by killing the cells that were creating it.

There's a trend toward increasing use of combination products because they provide greater insight into how medical devices react with the body. "As researchers gain additional understanding of these reactions, they can use drugs or biologies to enhance that interaction or reduce the possibility of an adverse reaction," says Sall. In general, combination products are more complex than traditional medical devices, he says, "so more complex manufacturing techniques are required to produce them. They require a lot of technical decisions which may involve process engineers or chemical engineers in some cases."

Sall says the industry involves many small entrepreneurial companies that want to be close to sources of venture capital, as well as intellectual resources in the form of schools and teaching hospitals. "Getting the right people together with the right knowledge is the main thing," he says.

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