In its “BioMEMS & Non-Invasive Sensors: Microsystems for Life Sciences & Healthcare 2018” report Yole Développement describes how MEMS devices and emerging sensors are becoming key solutions transforming global healthcare.
It was just a rumor a year ago. But now it’s clear that Apple is putting a lot of effort into developing a non-invasive glucose monitoring device to integrate into its Apple Watch. Just a few days ago the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office published Apple’s patent application with the title “Reference switch architectures for non-contact sensing of substances”. The company has also hired a full team of experts, many of whom formerly worked on measuring blood glucose levels through a non-invasive technique. What are Apple motivations? There are several reasons.
Health organizations are at the beginning of a profound transformation, due to a combination of factors such as exploding and ageing populations and increased prevalence of chronic diseases. Cost of care and the ability to offer the highest-level care services at hospitals and doctor’s offices are now major governmental issues. Among the solutions envisioned today, some are linked to less hospitalization, with monitoring of patients at home, more preventive medicine and remote doctor consultations.
A new ecosystem is therefore developing. Sensor makers have well understood that the healthcare market is no longer a niche, but a promising market. New players – start-up companies as well as leaders from both consumer and medical device companies – are looking at this new business opportunity. Most sensor makers and MEMS foundries see a great chance to expand their portfolio and manufacturing services.
BioMEMS devices offerings for Life Sciences and Healthcare are now a “must have” for MEMS companies!
With the aim of having dedicated medical devices close to patients at the point of need, such devices must be easy to use, compact, accurate and reliable for the medical community, as well as for patients. The challenges for the device makers are to get miniaturization and low power without downgrading performance. This makes it a great opportunity for MEMS technology!
Including microfluidic chips and MEMS-based devices for Life Sciences and Healthcare applications, the BioMEMS market is expected to more than double in the next five years to reach $6.9B in 2023. This is huge growth, nearly 15% year-over-year for the period 2017–2023. The BioMEMS market is driven by point-of-care applications, using microfluidic chips in high volumes as well as medical wearables.
One main parameter for wearable devices is low- or non-invasiveness. In smartwatches, hearing aids and patches, the detection principle is key, and is another major challenge for sensor makers. About 422M people suffer from diabetes worldwide. About 1/10th have type 1 diabetes, meaning that they require insulin and need to monitor their blood glucose level. A painless and continuous monitoring device should be the ultimate solution. One minimally invasive solution comes from start-up company PK Vitality, which is developing its K’Watch smartwatch that integrates MEMS microneedles at the back of the watch. The microneedles can collect interstitial fluids just under the skin with no pain for the patient, to measure glucose levels. Among others, Micralyne, a Canada-based MEMS foundry, has developed expertise in the manufacturing of bio-compatible microneedles for drug delivery applications.
Other companies are working to develop hearable solutions. Recently Sonion and Valencell have announced that they are developing smart ear pods able to measure vital signs like heart beats or body temperatures. This requires huge knowledge in sensor integration. The devices are getting ever smaller, but with more functions. MEMS microphones in hearing aids are following the same integration path as smartphones. There are two to three MEMS microphones in each hearing aid device, offering 3D reconstruction of the noise environment to help disabled people. Moreover, the devices are able to alert people if an alarm is suddenly ringing. Oticon, an Austria-based company, is now offering this.
From toys to medical devices, medical grade sensor performance is the next big thing
A challenge for ‘More than Moore’ companies supplying sensors for medical devices is to provide devices in line with medical grade requirements, in terms of reliability, accuracy of measurement and lifetime. To address the Life Sciences and Healthcare market, system makers need to ensure that they are in line with regulation and local recommendations such as those from the US Food and Drug Administration, or the European Conformity (CE) mark. Otherwise, products will remain consumer systems. Sensor makers are starting to move from standard devices to dedicated devices for healthcare applications. At the beginning of 2018, ams introduced a sensor reference design for blood pressure and other vital signs for smart health and wearables. ams’ solution has been validated in a clinical trial, delivering a high level of accuracy. The sensor’s average selling price is under $2 in volume production.
Sensor modules that increase system performance are becoming more valuable than sensors alone. Experienced sensor manufacturers know how to get the full performance from their products at low power in such modules. By contrast, there are an increasing number of new players with great projects but less experience in sensor integration. There is therefore a clear trend for More than Moore companies, such as Analog Devices, to provide full sensor module solutions.
In this context, when will disruptive commercial patient centric solutions will hit the market? Who will be the winners?
One thing is clear: it will profoundly change patients’ lives and their comfort levels, partially thanks to the tiny sensors inside.
Jérôme Mouly serves as a Senior Technology & Market Analyst & Business Developer specialized in microtechnologies for inkjet & bioMEMS sensors. Since 2000, he has participated in more than 100 marketing and technological analyses for industrial groups, start-ups and institutes. Previously, Jerome was involved in a support action for value creation of smart miniaturized systems research projects at Yole Finance Innovation, part of Yole Développement.
Jérôme holds a Master of Physics from the University of Lyon (France).
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