Irish Medtech sector ushering in better healthcare

Ireland’s medical technology industry is one of the largest in Europe with 13 of the world’s top 15 companies in the field having operations here.

With more than 300 companies employing 29,000 people in the sector, the Irish medical devices and diagnostic products export market is worth €12.6bn annually and represents 8% of the country’s total merchandise exports, according to the IDA.

Advances in technology are driving innovation in this area, and in addition to the economic advantages, there are long-term benefits for healthcare systems in terms of improved patient outcomes, reduced surgical risks, increased efficiencies and reduced costs.

One Irish medical device company which aims to have an impact on waiting lists for children suffering from a common condition is AventaMed. It makes a simple handheld device which allows ear, nose and throat surgeons to place grommets in children’s ears in a less invasive way to the current procedure which involves general anaesthetic.

Co-founder Olive O’Driscoll says the device reduces the risk to the patient as the procedure can be carried out with sedation or topical anaesthetic. It also makes it more cost effective as it does not require a sterile operating theatre and post-operative care is reduced. With around 3,400 of these procedures carried out every year, the current one-year waiting list can result in developmental delays, Ms O’Driscoll says.

“The reason why children need grommets in the first place is because they’ve got fluid build-up in their ears and it affects their hearing.

“The cases that are usually referred for grommets are about two to three years of age, so they’re at a really important developmental stage and if their hearing is affected their speech and language is often very delayed,” she says.

Use of more sophisticated surgical devices can also significantly improve patient outcomes.

One of the leading causes of death and disability in Ireland is stroke, when a blood vessel bursts or becomes blocked by a clot causing a lack of oxygen to the brain. One in five of us will suffer from a stroke during our lifetime, according to the Irish Heart Foundation; and the most common type of stroke is ischaemic, accounting for 87% of all strokes.

Neuravi’s EmboTrap is intended to treat patients who have had an ischaemic stroke. The device is placed into a catheter which is threaded from the groin through the aorta. A micro catheter is placed across the clot, and the EmboTrap is delivered through this.

David Vale, the co-founder, and chief executive of the Galway-based company, which was recently acquired by healthcare giant Johnson and Johnson, explains that the device is a huge improvement on earlier mechanical devices.

Rather than try to enmesh the clot to the outside of a device, the EmboTrap grips the entire clot and pulls it into the catheter, reducing the risk of fragments breaking off and causing blockages in other blood vessels.

Mr Vale says recent studies show that devices like EmboTrap are significantly more effective than the most widely used stroke drug treatment, tissue plasminogen activator .

Other Irish companies which are pioneering advances in medical and bio technologies are Nuritas, founded by Dr Nora Khaldi, which uses genomics and artificial intelligence to develop a product which will prevent Type 2 diabetes.

Mr Vale believes the next big thing in Medtech is connected health, where consumer data tracking behaviours, dietary habits, and environmental factors will empower patients to take preventative action. He uses the example of a smart heart stent measuring heart rhythm which could detect the beginnings of atrial fibrillation years before it causes a stroke.

AventaMed’s device has already been approved in Europe and is set for launch later this year.