The coronavirus pandemic that has paralyzed much of the world in the last several weeks has certainly taken a toll on the neurotechnology industry. As was discussed in several sessions at the 2020 Bioelectronic Medicine Forum earlier this month [see conference report, p6], venture capital investment has screeched to a halt, and some early-stage neurotech firms face an uncertain future because of disruptions in clinical trials, research activity, and supply chains. Though there were other factors at play, the pandemic was a major factor in Second Sight’s decision to wind down operations [see Financial News, p3] and we fully expect to see similar notifications in the weeks and months ahead.
But as we point out in our article on page 1 of this issue, COVID-19 has created some new opportunities for neurotechnology firms. The bioelectronic medicine firm electroCore Medical published positive results from two infected patients who used the company’s surface VNS therapy to alleviate respiratory symptoms. Former International Neuromodulation Society president Elliot Krames has formed an ad-hoc group of investigators interested in pursuing neuromodulation of the cholinergic anti-inflammatory pathway as a way to combat the “cytokine storms” that appear to play a major role in fatalities. And the FDA granted Emergency Use Authorization to two manufacturers of diaphragm-pacing and phrenic-nerve stimulation systems, Synapse Biomedical and Lungpacer Systems.
But this disease is a threat to more than just respiratory function. Former FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb has pointed out increasing evidence of neurological effects of the virus, including elevated incidences of stroke in younger infected patients. In all likelihood, there will be forthcoming government funding initiatives that target neurological therapies or protection.
Looking to the longer term, there may be lingering effects of the crisis that will have a positive impact on the neurotech industry. Rune Labs’ founder Brian Pepin pointed out one potential long-term benefit from the pandemic: increased adoption of remote monitoring of brain function as a result of the current surge in telemedicine. “Over the next few years we will see the first companies using wearable neurotech to manage chronic neurodegenerative and psychiatric conditions get significant market penetration and scale,” he wrote in a Medium post. “At-home brain signal monitoring will only grow in importance as we improve our understanding of the links between brain signals and psychiatric disorders.”
Though we’re certainly living in “interesting times,” we continue to believe we will emerge stronger and healthier in the end.
Editor and Publisher