The world of healthcare is evolving at an unprecedented pace, and one of the most significant areas of advancement is the world of drug delivery and connected healthcare devices. Drug delivery devices have come a long way from traditional pills and injections.

Ahead of the 20th PDA Universe of Pre-Filled Syringes and Injection Devices Conference, Senior Design Engineer, Will, reviews developments of the past 20 years, and where he thinks medical device innovations will be heading in the next 20 years.

With the rapid convergence of technology, pharmaceuticals, and medical devices, the next two decades promise even more groundbreaking innovations that will transform the way we administer and receive medication. In this article, we’ll explore the exciting prospects and trends that are shaping the future of drug delivery devices.


A Glimpse into the Present:

Before diving into the future, let’s take a moment to understand where we stand today:

  • Smart Inhalers: Inhalers equipped with sensors and connectivity have enabled patients and healthcare providers to monitor and manage respiratory conditions like asthma and COPD more effectively.
  • Implantable Drug Pumps: These devices can deliver a steady supply of medication over extended periods, improving treatment outcomes for chronic conditions

Devices used for diabetes care including blood glucose meters, prefilled syringes and autoinjectors


The Next 20 Years: What to Expect

Now, let’s explore the exciting possibilities that await us in the realm of drug delivery devices over the next two decades:

How to Build a Successful Digital Healthcare Product

Drug Delivery and MedTech

The intersection between a medical device and a consumer device is increasingly getting larger, more complex, and more difficult to classify between the two. Advancements in sensor technology, battery longevity and overall device form-factor is producing incredibly ‘smart’ devices that can function like your personal doctor.

These devices already exist in the form of jewellery-like objects of desire; smart watches, bracelets, earrings, etc. In the next 20 years, we foresee the ‘medical’ elements of devices becoming more invisible, but being twinned with consumer-type tech devices. Just how the Apple Watch has grown from a ‘smart’ watch, to each new release featuring an impressive cutting edge medical utility. We’re starting to see this with glasses and various visual devices, first it’ll be VR/AR/XR goggles, then as the technology matures and miniaturised, it’ll take the form of prescription glasses and/or sunglasses, perhaps developing further from simple visual correction, to include additional medical benefits such as; novel retinal imaging, eye strengthening techniques or early corneal, cataract or glaucoma detection.

From our perspective it’s clear that the medical industry is interested in the technology space, with MedTech being a popular term to classify electro-mechanical and software based medical devices. However, very few medical companies are truly capable of developing MedTech devices. Why? Because they’re hard, they’re complex, and they require a completely different set of expertise to develop, than conventional mechanical-based medical devices. We predict that there will be a lot of collaboration in this space, and multi-industry collaboration and/or acquisition, whether it’s big tech buying a medical company, or vice versa.

Personalised Drug Delivery

One size does not fit all, especially in medicine. The next 20 years will see a significant shift toward personalised drug delivery. Pharmacogenomic data will be used to customize drug formulations and dosages for individuals, maximizing therapeutic benefits while minimizing side effects. Nanotechnology will play a crucial role in tailoring drug carriers to target specific cells or tissues within the body.

This approach not only enhances the effectiveness of treatment but also reduces the burden of side effects on patients. An example is the drug Herceptin (trastuzumab), which is used to treat certain types of breast cancer. It targets cells that over express the HER2 protein, a common feature in some breast cancers, making it a personalised treatment.

Another example is the antidepressant medication Cymbalta (duloxetine), which is metabolised differently in individuals with specific genetic variations. Pharmacogenomic testing can help determine whether Cymbalta is an appropriate choice for a particular patient.

There no doubt will be challenges with personalised drug delivery, such as regulatory control, and cost the cost to conduct the genetic testing of tailor drug formulations, but it certainly has the potential to revolutionise how we approach treatment across a wide range of medical conditions, ultimately improving patient outcomes and quality of life.

Implantable Devices

Implantable drug delivery devices will become more sophisticated and versatile. These devices will offer precision and convenience for long-term treatments. Imagine a painless, invisible device that not only delivers your medication but also monitors its effectiveness and adjusts dosages accordingly.

Some examples from today include, the Nexplanon implant, a widely used contraceptive device. It’s a small rod inserted under the skin of the upper arm and releases a hormone (etonogestrel) to prevent pregnancy for up to three years. This eliminates the need for daily birth control pills.

In cardiology, drug-eluting stents like the Xience V are used to treat coronary artery disease. These stents are placed in narrowed or blocked arteries to keep them open and release drugs like sirolimus to prevent restenosis.

For individuals with diabetes, implantable insulin pumps like the Medtronic MiniMed 770G offer continuous subcutaneous insulin infusion. These devices provide better blood glucose control compared to multiple daily injections.

Devices like Probuphine are used to deliver buprenorphine, a medication for opioid dependence. This subdermal implant provides a consistent and long-lasting release of the drug, reducing the risk of relapse.

Medtronic MiniMed™ 770G System

Implantable drug delivery systems are a rapidly advancing field in healthcare. With ongoing research, innovation, and refinements, they have the potential to improve the lives of patients by offering more precise, targeted, and convenient drug delivery options across a range of medical conditions.

AI and Machine Learning Integration

Artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning algorithms will be at the heart of drug delivery innovation. These technologies will analyse patient data, treatment outcomes, and drug responses to make real-time adjustments in drug delivery. For example, AI-powered insulin pumps will anticipate and prevent hypoglycaemic events in diabetes patients.

Much like personalised drug delivery, AI and ML is a powerful force in modern medicine. These technologies are driving drug discovery, optimizing drug delivery systems, and enhancing patient care through personalized treatment regimens. As they continue to evolve, AI and machine learning will play an increasingly vital role in improving the safety, efficacy, and precision of drug delivery across a wide range of medical conditions.

There are promising developments in this space such as Atomwise, a drug discovery company, who are employing AI to predict how existing drugs might be repurposed to treat new diseases. By simulating the interaction between drugs and target proteins, they have identified potential treatments for conditions like Ebola and multiple sclerosis.

Google’s DeepMind used machine learning to develop an AI system that can predict acute kidney injury up to 48 hours before it occurs. Early detection allows healthcare providers to take preventive measures.

It’s difficult to predict the rate of progress with AI, as it typically follows a logarithmic pattern, things can suddenly become possible on a month-to-month timescale, let alone a multi-decade timescale.

Environmental Sustainability

Environmental sustainability in drug delivery is an emerging concern within the healthcare industry. As the demand for pharmaceuticals and medical devices continues to grow, so does the environmental footprint associated with their production, use, and disposal. Incorporating sustainable practices into drug delivery can help mitigate these environmental impacts.

The concept of environmental sustainability in drug delivery encompasses various aspects, including: Reducing Waste, Eco-friendly Materials, Energy Efficiency, Carbon Footprint, and responsible end of life management.

In the future, we can expect further efforts to integrate environmental sustainability into drug delivery, such as Lifecycle Assessments per product being mandatory, macro–Pharmaceutical Supply Chain Sustainability, and Eco device and device Packaging.

Pharmaceutical companies, healthcare providers, and regulatory agencies are taking steps to reduce the environmental footprint of medications and drug delivery devices.

As awareness of this issue grows, we can anticipate more innovative solutions and practices to make drug delivery more environmentally sustainable while maintaining the highest standards of patient care.

The next 20 years of drug delivery device innovation promise a revolution in how we receive and administer medications. These devices will not only enhance treatment effectiveness but also improve patient comfort and adherence. Smart, connected, and personalized drug delivery devices will empower both patients and healthcare providers with real-time data and insights.

Looking more generally, the devices will be focused on proactive health support vs reactive health and pain management. The design or potential use case scenarios will result in users probably not recognising when they’re interacting with a medical device. As we move forward, it’s crucial to address regulatory, ethical, and privacy concerns to ensure that these innovations are safe and secure. Additionally, global health challenges will drive the development of accessible and affordable drug delivery solutions for diverse populations.

Devices will be responsibly developed from both a people and planet focused perspective, with significant reduction in non-recyclable, single use high GWP polluting devices, and more focused on recyclable or multi-use, high-longevity advanced medical devices. Predicting the exact transformation of medical devices over the next 20 years is challenging, as it depends on various factors including technological advancements, healthcare policies, societal changes, and medical breakthroughs. However, at Haughton Design, we’re continually living and working in the future, we’re continually anticipating trends and potential medical transformations. After all, the devices that we’re designing today, are built for the world tomorrow.

William Morris - Senior Design Development Engineer & Business Development Manager at Haughton Design Will Morris 28 September 2023


Get in Touch with Will Morris

Senior Design Development Engineer & Business Development Manager

Will graduated from the University of Wolverhampton with a degree in Product Design. Prior to Haughton Design, Will worked for Renishaw, where he led the industrial design for the current and next generation metal Additive Manufacturing machines. Will has a strong interest in Design for Sustainability, and the Circular Economy, looking to reduce companies’ environmental impact and often teaches about design engineering at local STEM events. Outside of work, Will enjoys Formula 1, rugby and travelling with friends.

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