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Perspective - Economics

The three fastest-growing trends in healthcare

With new insight into diseases and a multitude of new medicines being developed, it is an interesting time to be investing in healthcare. Here are three of the three fastest-growing trends.

3 October 2019

John Bowler

John Bowler

Fund Manager, Global Healthcare

Healthcare providers around the world are seeking to change the way that care is delivered to patients, due to increased pressure on budgets and higher demand for services.

A small minority of patients (with chronic or long-term conditions) often account for a large percentage of overall spending. By treating these patients more effectively and taking advantage of new technologies, healthcare providers can make significant cost savings.

Below are three of the fastest-growing trends in healthcare which can provide opportunities.

1. Glucose monitors

Wearable glucose monitors are one of the fastest new growth segments in healthcare. I think it is a great example of how technology can enable better monitoring of diabetic care, which is key to prevent patient complications.

For people with type 2 diabetes, wearable continuous glucose monitors reduce the need for finger-prick blood tests. This makes it much easier for sufferers of the condition to manage their health. The device uses a tiny sensor under the skin of the arm which is connected to a small transmitter patch on the surface of the skin.

The sensor reads blood sugar levels from fluid just beneath the skin and transmits them to your display device, which can be a hand-held device (such as a smartphone) or in the case of a type 1 diabetic, an insulin pump (known as an integrated system).

For many people, the first time they may have been aware of the device was when former UK prime minister Theresa May revealed one at the top of her left arm after she was pictured wearing a sleeveless dress during a dinner with US President Donald Trump in July 2018.

2. Drug therapy

In the past few years there have been huge medical breakthroughs in cancer treatments, transforming the way the disease is treated and leading to significantly higher survival rates.

Immunotherapy drugs, which work to treat cancer by harnessing the patient’s immune system, are the first group of drugs to have a significant impact on survival rates. The survival rate in advanced melanoma, for example, is now 20% to 30%, whereas previously it was less than 5%, according to the results of medical trials conducted by Merck. Survival rates in early stage lung cancer have also improved, with around 60% of patients treated with these drugs still alive after 18 months, compared with around 40% of those treated with chemotherapy, the Merck trials found.

This step change in cancer therapy has led to rapid adoption globally. Indeed, many of the big global drug companies, such as Roche, AstraZeneca and Bristol Myers, have been investing heavily in these type of drugs, which are increasingly becoming the new backbone of cancer treatments. 

3. Gene therapy

Every year small numbers of children are born with gene mutations that tragically either lead to early death or developmental issues.  Pre-natal/new-born screening and gene sequencing has enabled the early detection of these mutations. 

The first gene therapy products have recently been approved that offer the potential of a one-time cure to correct or offset specific errant genes. 

In May, Zolgensma was approved to treat spinal muscular atrophy, a neuromuscular disorder that leads to the loss of motor neurons and progressive muscle wasting. Half of babies diagnosed with the condition at birth die within 12 months.

The promise of gene therapy has been discussed for the past three decades but is only now the technology exists to make this a reality and highlights some of the new opportunities available in healthcare.

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