Looking Back, Looking Forward

As 2003 comes to an end, it’s useful to look back on the events of the last year to see what progress we’ve made. In the process, this editor could not resist the temptation to single out a few individuals and organizations for special recognition. The result is the somewhat impromptu “Gold Electrode” Awards (that just sounded better than “Iridium Electrode Awards”), which are itemized in the article to the right. Awards like this are always subjective and bound to get people’s noses out of joint, but hopefully, the fact that we have an awards program can add some profile to the industry. Anyone who wants to voice their objection to the selections should direct them to myself. Perhaps in future years a more formal selection process can be put in place, though that’s no guarantee to keep everyone happy.

Aside from the five categories of awards we selected, there were several events in 2003 that stand out as significant developments for the neurotechnology industry. The first was the implantation of a diaphragm stimulation system in actor/activist Christopher Reeve in February. Reeve is just one user, and the potential market for the device is perhaps not huge. But the fact that he was willing to undergo the procedure, and became a vocal proponent of the device, is significant if for no other reason than that he had previously not been a major proponent of functional electrical stimulation devices as a treatment for paralysis.

Another key event of 2003 was Medicare’s decision to cover deep brain stimulation for treatment of tremor and Parkinson’s disease. Reimbursement continues to be a major hurdle confronting the neurotechnology industry, but the relative speed with which this decision followed FDA approval of DBS treatment for Parkinson’s disease is a positive sign.

Still another major development in 2003 is the progress Cyberonics has made in obtaining FDA approval of its VNS therapy for treatment of drug-resistant depression. Though the process is far from over, the positive research results and the indication from the FDA that a timely decision is forthcoming are encouraging signs. Aside from the sheer market size of this application, it is significant because in penetrating even a portion of the mood disorder market, Cyberonics may well prove to other neurotechnology device manufacturers that they can compete in markets where the pharmaceutical industry appears to have a firm grip.

While venture capital investment was not rampant in 2003, there were enough deals done to give hope to neurotechnology start-up firms. Perhaps more significant is the fact that major medical device manufacturers, including Boston Scientific, Medtronic, Guidant, and Johnson & Johnson, are looking closely at this market.

Taken together, these events hold out hope that the long drought in neurotechnology investment and public awareness may be coming to an end.

James Cavuoto
Editor and Publisher



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