CSEM 2016 Business Day in Zurich – World Café
Medical technology: it’s getting disruptive in here
Our small country of Switzerland is one of the most important medical technology hubs in the world. The medtech sector’s contribution to GDP is higher than in any other country. But this typically Swiss business is changing. Many external factors are influencing this normally conservative and relatively safe economic niche. Whether Switzerland maintains its prominent position in a time of technological upheaval depends on whether industry leaders make frank assessments of their business model and revise their notion of success to include long-term benefits to society.

Analyzing tomorrow’s competition

The speakers, Dr. Clément and Dr. Ulrich, presented the morphing, complex competition in the medtech industry using Porter’s five forces analysis. These forces (the bargaining power of suppliers, the threat of new entrants, the threat of substitutes, the bargaining power of buyers, and internal industry rivalry) are all pulling the sector in different directions. It seems that each of them is reinforced by new technologies, sometimes emerging from rather unexpected areas.

The threat of substitutes

Perhaps the greatest disruption to the medtech industry is coming from rapid shifts in applied science, driven by outsider technologies such as biodegradable implants, 3-D printing, targeted drug delivery, and even implantable devices that could—in the near future—lead to “the augmented man”. As technology develops at a rapid pace, it’s hard for medtech companies to keep up in a highly regulated clinical environment.

The power of buyers

With the Internet has come a new breed of patient: people are better informed not only about their conditions, but perhaps about how best to treat them. As patients continue to gain knowledge, their power over the market grows as well. 

The threat of new entrants

A considerable threat originates in developing markets, notably from Asia. Previously inaccessible technological production methods are now becoming globally democratized, and generic, low-cost implants and medical devices will soon flood the market and lower prices everywhere.

The force of Swiss suppliers

When all of these forces are working on the market, what does the future hold for the medtech suppliers, who increasingly need to adapt their business models to maintain their market share? How can one innovate in an industry that dutifully maintains strict restrictions on clinical testing, leading to agonizingly long times to market? According to the industry professionals at the World Café, one way to combat these trends is to embrace new technology while at the same time urging the government and industry to invest more heavily in creating market-ready products and delivering them to the people who need them most—the sick and disabled. Switzerland is doing great medtech research, but needs to produce more medtech products that have a real and positive impact on individual needs and society. 

Dr. Claude Clément, CTO of the Wyss Center, and Dr. Dieter Ulrich, Head of CSEM Landquart gave a World Café workshop at the 2016 CSEM Business Day in Zurich on the theme of medical technology. Here is a summary of the presentation and group work.

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