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Trends Defining the Medical Polymers Market in the New Decade

Prized for their biocompatibility, safety and performance, medical-grade polymers will continue to experience robust demand from medical device OEMs. The global medical polymers market is projected to surpass $24 billion by 2024.

Medical-grade polymers are a critical component in the global healthcare ecosystem. From surgical instruments to implants and catheters, polymers are used in an array of devices. The global medical polymers market is projected to surpass $24 billion by 2024.

Biocompatibility and durability are the essential attributes of raw materials used to manufacture medical plastic products, and metal replacement is a continuing trend in the medical space. Single-use devices are less likely to cause healthcare-associated infections than reusable instruments, which need to be sterilized after each use. Plastics also provide radiolucency, enable lightweighting and reduce stress-shielding. Because they are radiolucent, polymer-based surgical devices allow surgeons to have an unobstructed view.

Here are some of the trends that we believe will define the medical polymers space in the first half of this new decade.

3D printing will make way for 4D printing. 3D printing technology is helping medical device manufacturers and pharmaceutical firms to develop treatment-specific drugs and patient-specific implants as well as bringing surgeons novel new tools for planning procedures. Adoption of 4D printing is just around the corner as it enables the development of smart materials. State-of-the-art 4D-printed products reportedly can change their color, shape, and properties; minimize production time; and reduce post-processing requirements. Both 3D and 4D printing will enhance understanding of disease states and advance patient-specific design of surgical tools and implantable products.

Bioresorbables continue to gain traction. Forward-looking companies are expected to adopt bioresorbable materials and expand applications within the realms of reinforcement meshes, surgical sutures, and cardiovascular stents. Bioresorbable polymers expedite the healing process and will continue to gain traction throughout the forecast period. The seemingly harmless decomposition of these polymers in the body and their chemically neutral nature will shape the medical polymers industry in the future.

PVC will witness sustained demand in the years to come, despite concerns raised in some quarters about its potential impact on human health. The transparency of plasticized PVC enables uninterrupted monitoring of fluid flow. Owing to its cost-efficiency and unparalleled performance characteristics, PVC is highly sought for pharmaceutical, surgical device, and drug-delivery applications. There are more than 300 types of plasticizers, up to 100 of which are in commercial use. Phthalate plasticizers are used in many PVC-based products, including lifesaving medical devices such as blood bags and medical tubing. Some studies suggest that DEHP phthalate may leach out of medical devices made of flexible PVC, although the findings are far from conclusive in terms of the impact this may have on human health. Nevertheless, the perceived downside may slightly affect demand for PVC products. PVC will prevail, however, because of its multiple benefits, and the material is poised to play a considerable role in the rising popularity of medical fibers and resins. As a matter of fact, the medical fibers and resins segment of the medical polymers market is estimated to grow more than 8% at a compound annual rate through 2024.

PEEK polymers are not affected by lipids or blood — most of the solvents and enzymes in the body — and consequently have become widely used in long-term orthopedic implant applications, including plates and pins, bone screws, suture screws, and tissue anchors. PEEK is replacing metal as a hip stem component, as this polymer is more compatible with the flexibility of native bones than titanium or steel.

Medical packaging is geared for continued growth, as environmental packaging films are being introduced that combat the harmful conditions the contents and packaging are exposed to in the supply chain, including humidity, heat and cold, microbes and contaminants, and water. Medical polymer films and barrier packaging shield products from exposure to ambient conditions and protect them from vibration, stress, magnetic fields, and compression. Polystyrene is a popular material, owing to its light weight, stability, versatility, insulating properties, and low cost. Expanded polystyrene (EPS) reinforces reliability and wards off contamination. EPS is considered to be non-toxic, as it is made with merely 2% material and is composed of 98% air.

Sustained research and development activities and innovation will inform the medical polymers market outlook. Metal replacement will continue to be a driving force. Indeed, advances in medical polymers will continue to disrupt the ceramic-, metal- and glass-based device sector.

Global Market Insights Inc. has published a business report dedicated to the global medical polymers market. It can be purchased on the organization's website.

About the author

Sunil Kumar Jha is Research Content Developer at Global Market Insights.

Image: Olivier Le Moal/Adobe Stock

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