Medical device trade association says U.S. companies can meet COVID needs

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By Jim Spencer Star Tribune (Minneapolis) (TNS)

WASHINGTON — The CEO of the country’s most powerful medical device trade group says U.S. companies are meeting the demand for products to address the COVID-19 pandemic.

Scott Whitaker, who runs the U.S. Advanced Medical Technology Association, or AdvaMed, said during a virtual news conference Friday that he could not “think of any areas where we can’t meet demand.”

His comments came as the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) published a list of 20 items in short supply.

Among them were “ventilator-related products,” “testing supplies” and “personal protective gear.”

Several hospitals also say they are hurting for some supplies, and communities are still saying there are not enough tests available.

Whitaker said U.S. device makers could supply what was needed. As proof, AdvaMed board chair Kevin Lobo, CEO of Stryker, pointed to huge increases in production of protective masks and major jumps COVID testing supplies.

Molecular tests for COVID are running 32 million to 35 million per month, Whitaker said. Those tests use nasal and throat swabs or saliva to search for the coronavirus in genetic material and diagnose if you currently have COVID-19.

The device industry expects “a massive scale-up of antigen testing in the fall,” according to AdvaMed. Antigen testing measures whether you once had COVID and now have built up antibodies to fight the virus.

“I can see why the government remains concerned because the disease is unpredictable,” Whitaker said in assessing the year ahead.

The trade group, which includes hundreds of Minnesota-based companies, will expand a supply network developed with Google to help match ventilator makers with parts suppliers. It will now include other coronavirus-related products.

Lobo praised government efforts to stockpile COVID supplies.

The “key issue,” he said, “is to make sure devices are available.”

Beyond COVID, there is the issue of trade restrictions designed to bring manufacturers back to the U.S. Both President Donald Trump and his Democratic challenger, former Vice President Joe Biden, have promised to restore U.S. manufacturing.

But tariffs and other trade strategies that might do so can also disrupt current global supply chains maintained by all of Minnesota’s major med tech players and increase production costs.

“We’ll deal with that when the election occurs and discuss policies with them and search for the best outcome,” Whitaker said.

But Stryker’s Lobo warned of the challenges of “nationalistic” policies.

Stryker, he said, operates on a global supply chain, as do many other device companies.

“There’s products we export and products we import, components that we import and components that we export,” he said. “Medical devices are complex. They’re not sort of singular items. Any kind of challenges that are presented by any nationalistic policies, whether they are in the United States or whether it’s China or whether it’s other countries are things that we will work thorough and we’ve been able to do that throughout this pandemic.”

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