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For Breakthrough Innovation, Follow the Big Needs not the Existing Solutions

Innovation Center September 25th, 2017

For Breakthrough Innovation, Follow the Big Needs not the Existing Solutions

By Partha Ray, Director, Global Strategic Marketing & Innovation, Ethicon

Henry Ford is credited with saying, “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said ‘faster horses.’” While he may not have uttered those actual words, the sentiment rings true, because rarely do breakthrough innovations occur from incremental improvements to existing solutions.

In healthcare, what really drives large-scale advances in patient care, access to therapies and economic value are approaches which are needs-based as opposed to technology-driven. Investing time and effort to understand those needs which have the greatest impact on clinical outcomes, economic value and customer satisfaction, and seeking out the best solutions regardless of their source is what truly moves the innovation needle – particularly in medical devices.

Based in part on the Stanford Biodesign process, we have taken this approach to heart at Ethicon and increasingly across the Johnson & Johnson Medical Devices Companies.  We focus on select clinical specialties which have been prioritized by the business, such as Obesity and Surgical Oncology, and seek to characterize the top needs across the full care continuum. 

In a recently published paper, my colleagues Joseph Amaral, Piet Hinoul and I described how this process was used at the J&J Ethicon franchise to acquire a microwave ablation technology and enter the interventional oncology space.

Case Study: NeuWave Medical acquisition

Our focus on liver cancers was based on a high global incidence as well as the lack of significant progress in improving outcomes during the past two decades. Each year, more than 780,000 people are diagnosed with primary liver cancer, which has a five-year survival rate of just 17 percent. While removing the malignant tissue through surgery remains the best treatment for long-term survival, most people, as much as 80 percent, aren’t surgical candidates due to underlying cirrhosis or other conditions.

With the above in mind, an interdisciplinary innovation team at Ethicon articulated the need statement as: “A way to treat early-stage and surgically-ineligible hepatocellular carcinoma patients in order to improve their overall survival.”

The team considered various options, including inventing better tools in-house as well as identifying external technologies. Among non-surgical treatment options, mounting clinical evidence pointed to ablation as being equivalent to surgery in survival outcomes for patients with small tumors.

Next, the team evaluated the existing technology landscape, identifying emerging technologies that could be developed internally.

The two leading contenders were radiofrequency ablation (RFA) and microwave ablation (MWA). While RFA was more established as a treatment, MWA was building momentum in the market.

The Neuwave Medical MWA system, co-developed by the early ablation expert Dr. Fred Lee, emerged as the best available option as an acquisition target. Dr. Lee and his team successfully innovated in key areas where other microwave technologies were falling short. 

Johnson & Johsnon Medical Devices Companies officially acquired NeuWave Medical in March 2016. The combined resources between the two organizations is helping to expand NeuWave’s commercial reach and innovation pipeline, while boosting our companies understanding of the area of interventional radiology and the potential opportunities in interventional oncology. 

As a result of this experience, today Johnson & Johnson Medical Devices Companies is committed to advancing interventional oncology care with a needs-based approach to better serve patients in need. 

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