When most investors think of Samsung (OTC:SSNLF), they inevitably think of smartphones, tablets, and TVs. Yet over the past several years, Samsung has also beefed up its presence in the health care industry through investments in medical devices, pharmaceutical products, and wearable devices.
Let's take a closer look at Samsung's growth in these three areas, and how the tech giant could also disrupt these markets, as it did with mobile devices.
$10 billion in medical device revenues by 2020
Samsung's big push into the health care market started in 2010, when it acquired a controlling stake in ultrasound device maker Medison. It then acquired health care equipment maker Nexus the following year and medical imaging company NeuroLogica last January. Samsung then launched GEO, its own line of medical imaging devices, last June.
By 2020, Samsung expects to generate $10 billion in revenues from medical devices, which would account for 2.5% of its projected annual revenue of $400 billion. By comparison, General Electric (NYSE:GE), one of the largest medical equipment companies in the world, reported $18.2 billion in health care revenues last year.
General Electric has already launched a pre-emptive strike against Samsung in South Korea, which accounts for roughly a third of its output of ultrasound products. In 2013, GE made its first move in South Korea by acquiring the mammography assets of Rayence for an undisclosed amount. It also intends to invest approximately $180 million to expand its R&D and manufacturing base in the country. GE initially entered the South Korean market in 1984 through a joint venture with Samsung, but that partnership has since ended.
A $2 billion investment in a $23 billion industry
Samsung is also investing at least $2 billion in the biotech industry, with a specific focus on biosimilars, the generic versions of biologics -- drugs made or derived from living organisms.
The global market for biosimilars is expected to grow from $1.2 billion in 2013 to over $20 billion in 2019, according to a research firm Frost & Sullivan. That growth is expected to be fueled by patent expirations for major blockbuster drugs, deeper penetration in developed markets, and higher demand in lower income emerging markets.
Samsung is entering the biologics and biosimilars market through two joint ventures -- Samsung Biologics and Samsung Bioepis. Samsung Biologics, a joint venture with Quintiles Transnational, currently holds agreements with Roche to manufacture biologics. Samsung Bioepis, a joint venture with Biogen Idec (NASDAQ:BIIB), is focused on developing biosimilars.
Samsung plans to launch its first biosimilar version of Amgen's (NASDAQ:AMGN) Enbrel in Europe in 2016, and a version of Johnson & Johnson (NYSE:JNJ)/Merck's Remicade by 2017. Both drugs, which can cost over $20,000 per patient per year, are blockbuster treatments for rheumatoid arthritis and other inflammatory diseases.
Samsung will face competition for both biosimilar versions. Hospira and Celltrion's biosimilar version of Remicade was approved in Europe last September, while Novartis' Sandoz unit is testing a biosimilar version of Enbrel in late-stage trials.
Licensing the foundations for modular wearables
Last but not least, Samsung recently laid out the groundwork for a new generation of modular fitness trackers.
The Simband, which the company unveiled at the end of May, is a reference design for a wearable device consisting of customizable sensors that can be swapped out by third-party companies. For example, one sensor might be used to monitor heart rate, while another could be used to measure hydration levels. Manufacturers can create their own sensors, or mix and match existing ones to create their own branded devices.
Although Samsung doesn't intend to sell the Simband directly to consumers, it plans to profit from licensing its design to other companies. This could help the company gain market share in the wearables market by unifying a fragmented universe of fitness bands with a single hardware foundation.
That would be a far more ambitious effort than Samsung's consumer-facing Galaxy Gear smartwatches, which are frequently criticized for their high prices, weak app support, and dependence on Galaxy smartphones. Demand for smart watches and fitness bands is expected to surge soon -- research firm Canalys forecasts global shipments will rise from 8 million in 2014 to over 45 million by 2017.
The Foolish takeaway
Medical devices, biosimilars, and wearable fitness trackers represent three key ways that Samsung could become a force to be reckoned with in the health care industry. Investors should keep a close eye on Samsung's efforts in all three areas to understand how the tech giant could become less dependent on consumer electronics in the near future.