Earlier this week, Google (GOOG) and Novartis (NVS) unveiled a new, relatively amazing product. The duo is co-developing a so-called smart lens, which is a contact lens that also monitors blood-sugar levels for diabetics. The lens contains a micro sensor as well as a tiny antenna to transmit the glucose data to a nearby recording device, resulting in more medical tech that blurs/blends the lines that used to divide healthcare stocks and tech stocks.
The impending smart lens from Novartis and Google is hardly the first medical tech to do so, however. Plenty of other companies — large and small — have combined traditional healthcare approaches with modern technology to come up with medical tech products that couldn’t have even been imagined a few years ago.
Here’s a closer look at some of the other medical technologies that have made tech stocks and healthcare stocks strange bedfellows.
Apple Quietly Sneaks Into Medical Tech
The upcoming iWatch from Apple (AAPL) hasn’t exactly been a big secret. What has been relatively obscured, however, is that Apple has been hiring several medical sensor experts like Masimo Corporation’s (MASI) Chief Medical Officer Michael O’Reilly, Vital Connect’s VP of Biosensor Technology Ravi Narasimhan, and Cercacor’s Chief Technology Officer Marcelo Lamego.
Why would Apple need such people if it was merely making general consumer technology? Because Apple may have designs on being more than just a consumer tech name. The personnel Apple is recruiting from the likes of Vital Connect and Masimo have a pretty specific background and skill-set … biosensors, which goes well beyond the scope of the typical smartphone or tablet.
Canon is Ready to Take a (Very) Close-up Snapshot
Contrary to popular belief, Canon (CAJ) isn’t just cameras, copiers, and printers anymore. In fact, investors may soon be able to categorize it as a healthcare stock as much as a tech stock.
Last year, Canon opened a healthcare optics research laboratory with the aim of developing all sorts of new medical tech for the market. Imaging, of course, is one promising area, but so is robotic surgery. Specifically, Canon hopes to build devices that can do everything from detect cardiovascular disease to assist with miniature endoscopic procedures.
We’ll have to wait and see whether that gives CAJ stock — which has been stagnant for the past year — a shot in the arm.
IBM Curing Cancer?
IBM (IBM) — one of the market’s most iconic tech stocks — doesn’t technically have a presence in the healthcare market yet, but its medical tech is getting close to making that dream a reality.
Remember Watson? It’s the cognitive technology entity IBM developed to do a myriad of things, all of which can be described as decision-making analytics. Watson was largely introduced to the world in 2011 when a computerized interface version of the technology competed against past champions on TV quiz show Jeopardy. (It won, by the way.)
The technology, however, wasn’t just designed to win game shows. In partnership with the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York, IBM has taught the artificial intelligence entity to recommend cancer treatment options. Watson incorporates 600,000 pieces of medical data with two million pages of medical journal information (all will while simultaneously considering a physician’s observation’s of a particular patient) to come up with the most fruitful treatment regimen.
Though oncologists haven’t entirely turned the keys over to the computer program just yet, it holds promise. There’s just no way human oncologists can process the amount of data Watson can.
Organovo is Poised to Print Living Organs
Remember in 2012 and 2013 when 3D printing stocks were all the rage? While those 3D printer tech stocks are past their mania phase, the underlying technology has continued to advance. Indeed, it has become so advanced that one organization can now print three-dimensional living tissue that will eventually be used to repair the diseased or damaged tissue of real-life patients.
The company’s name is Organovo (ONVO), and though it could still be years before it actually prints living flesh that will be used to treat humans, the medical tech thus far has proven amazingly successful. The key isn’t just reproducing the right kind of cell. Organovo has figured out how to print “architecturally correct” tissue, meaning the cells and geometrical spacing between the cells are custom-assembled the way they need to be in order to work as a particular type of tissue or organ.
The bottom line: Some tech stocks are becoming healthcare stocks, at least in minor ways. Should these early ventures prove fruitful, however, you can bet many more technology companies will be throwing their hat into the ring.
As of this writing, James Brumley did not hold a position in any of the aforementioned securities.