Zimmer Biomet executives have said the company’s “smart” knee implant could pave the way for implantables that inform orthopedic care—but that will take time, CEO Bryan Hanson said during the J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference on Monday.
Zimmer Biomet last year released a “smart” knee implant—a first of its kind to be cleared by the Food and Drug Administration—embedded with a sensor and that counts the steps a patient takes, their walking speed and range of motion. But while some orthopedic surgeons said they were excited by the development, they’re also waiting for clinical evidence before they decide whether to use it.
The implant so far is cleared to provide data to physicians and patients, but that data hasn’t been shown to provide clinical benefits yet.
“It is absolutely going to be a game changer,” Hanson said. But “it will take some time.”
The exciting potential of the knee implant isn’t that it collects data, he said, but that analyzing that data may be able to augment patient care. Zimmer Biomet is planning to collect and study data on patient outcomes over time to figure out what insights physicians and patients would be able to glean from the data, according to Hanson. In the long-term, that could result in Zimmer Biomet creating clinical algorithms that detect or even predict problems.
But that’s not where Zimmer Biomet is focusing first. For now, the company’s priority is collecting safety data.
“We want to make sure people know and feel confident that if you have a sensor on an implant—and you have a stem on an implant as a result of that sensor—there’s no negative outcome,” Hanson said. “We feel confident in getting that accomplished. That’s what we’re going to be focused on.”
Zimmer Biomet doesn’t have a set timeframe for when it expects to submit clinical algorithms or decision-support capabilities to the FDA.
Zimmer Biomet for the past several years has been refocusing its business to incorporate digital technologies and data, tying in mobile apps, wearables and surgical robotics.
Zimmer Biomet in recent years has spent more on research and development related to robotics and data, and has tripled the number of employees with backgrounds in those areas, according to Hanson. In cases where Zimmer Biomet doesn’t invest in-house, it’s struck partnerships with such companies as Apple, Microsoft and Canary Medical.
“Over the last four years, we’ve dramatically shifted where we spend our research and development dollars,” Hanson said.