Global Perspectives – Healthcare Beyond Borders
Aug 09, 2021 Heitham Hassoun, MD
Although it is arguably the central phenomenon of our times, globalization is anything but recent. The first explorers took to the seas for new worlds—and new markets—as early as 1,500 BC, when Phoenicians living in what would one day be Lebanon established trade routes throughout the Mediterranean and Asia Minor.
Consider this: 35 centuries later, in the same place, the Lebanon Ministry of Public Health is providing its citizens with a Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine manufactured in 86 sites across 19 countries.
"By reaching beyond borders, competitors dramatically increase the possibilities at every step in the process, gaining access to new expertise, funding sources, suppliers, factories, clinical trials and distribution channels."
The ancient explorers started something big.
In 2009, Thomas Friedman was struck by the ramifications of globalization in the medical device field. He wrote in The New York Times about a startup in St. Louis called Endostim MedTech, which produced a device for moderating acid reflux. It was invented by two doctors from Cuba and India, funded by St. Louis venture capitalists, run by a CEO from South Africa, designed by Israeli engineers, manufactured in Uruguay—and the clinical trials were conducted in South America, Hong Kong, India and Europe. Endostim had leveraged the protean capacity of globalism to accelerate the process of bringing a novel device to market. A new kind of innovation network had emerged.
In the ensuing years, entrepreneurs around the world were thinking outside the box—and beyond borders. The medical device market expanded exponentially, including a growing number of small-and-medium sized enterprises that have started up in Asia, the Middle East and Europe. Before trade was temporarily dampened by the COVID-19 pandemic, the medical device market was growing by 4% annually. By 2019, sales worldwide had reached almost $500 billion.
Today, the medical device market is increasingly shaped by the players who are most effectively tapping into global synergies. By reaching beyond borders, competitors dramatically increase the possibilities at every step in the process, gaining access to new expertise, funding sources, suppliers, factories, clinical trials and distribution channels. The business logic is inexorable.
The human logic is even stronger. With access to myriad options in the development and production process, new devices can often be more innovative and faster and cheaper to produce—with the ultimate winners being patients around the world.
Mostly, I find the globalization of healthcare to be a thrilling trend. Every now and then, colleagues will confess that they miss the days when American healthcare was mostly a domestic enterprise that was less exposed to the complexities and vulnerabilities inherent in international commerce. Yet, the future is already here, and medical centers and research enterprises across the country are reliant on international synergies and supply chains. (By way of example, every year Cedars-Sinai purchases more than 50,000 different kinds of items from around the world.)
The future belongs to those who embrace collaboration. As the world leader in biomedical research and development, the U.S. has a major stake in continuing to champion international networks in the medical device market. Global synergy is the new Silk Road, and healthcare is leading the way!
My thanks for following Cedars-Sinai Global. More to come.