Big Ideas in Irish medtech sector

Enterprise Ireland’s annual Big Ideas event highlights Irish university research projects with high commercialisation potential but that require additional investment to become fully market ready.

More than half of the 12 projects showcased at Big Ideas 2018 involved new developments in the medtech sector. The figure isn’t so surprising when you remember that Ireland is the largest employer of medtech professionals in Europe per capita, with 450 medtech companies employing 38,000 people, and producing annual exports worth €12.6 billion to more than 100 countries worldwide.

Ireland has also worked to support connections between clinicians and the healthcare sector, with the Health Innovation Hub Ireland (HIHI) established to drive collaboration between the health service and enterprise. It offers companies the opportunity to carry out pilot and clinical validation studies, and offers the health service access to innovative products, services and devices that it may not otherwise be exposed to.

Tom Kelly, divisional manager for life sciences at Enterprise Ireland argues that Ireland’s compact geographic scale is to its advantage in becoming a medtech hub: “Because we are small there is huge interaction between the multinational and indigenous sectors of the industry. The highly connected nature of the industry allows relatively small Irish firms achieve global success quite quickly.”

Irish innovation in life sciences continues

SepTec, winner of the One to Watch Award at Big Ideas 2018, is among the newest wave of innovative applications to emerge from Irish universities.

The SepTec team, based at Dublin City University, developed a revolutionary diagnostic device for sepsis that can provide a diagnosis within minutes – a big improvement on the five hour minimum wait for a diagnosis using current sepsis testing technology. This is potentially life-saving, as for every hour that a patient has sepsis their life expectancy decreases by 8%. SepTec hope to have their device on the market in 2020.

The other medtech solutions presented at Big Ideas 2018 were:
•AtriAN Medical – developers of a new treatment for atrial fibrillation
•Atturos – who have a proteomic-based test that can help prostate cancer patients and their doctors decide whether to operating or not
•ChemoGel – a thermoresponsive drug-delivery platform for use in treating pancreatic cancer
•Cortex Analytics – a predictive analytic solution to help more accurately gauge patient perception of value during drug trials
•itremor – a hand-held concussion-detection device that can diagnose brain injury in seconds
•Prolego Scientific – who have developed unique algorithms to make better genomic predictions about livestock and crop performance.

While it is not yet clear how many of these projects will pass through full commercialisation, many of Ireland’s universities and institutes of technology have developed spin-out companies that are either thriving or have been acquired by larger entities.

“Some people say that it is a pity if an Irish pharma or medtech spin-out doesn’t go on to become an international player in their own right,” says Dr Ciaran O’Beirne, UCD’s technology transfer manager.

“But in all cases when a spin-out was bought out by a larger partner, the Irish personnel didn’t migrate to the States.  American companies used these acquisitions to set up a presence in Ireland, to take advantage of R&D opportunities here. They have made further investments and created further employment opportunities. It has been a win-win.”

Ireland also boasts a strong services and contract research and manufacturing base; 50% of companies located here are in the business-to-business space. As pressures on healthcare systems have resulted in a greater focus on enhanced efficacy of treatments and cost reduction, there is no sense of complacency across the sector in Ireland, where industry and Government alike are constantly looking for new ways to enhance competitiveness, develop new capabilities and ultimately generate new sustainable growth.