To mark European Medtech Week, we take a look at just 15 remarkable medical devices coming out of Ireland.
European Medtech Week kicked off on Monday (19 June) and a series of events will be taking place to mark the occasion across Ireland. For 52 weeks of the year, though, Irish businesses, institutions and start-ups are hard at work developing the medical devices of the future, from sensors to implants to soft robotics.
In European terms, Ireland’s medical technology industry is one of the largest. Out of the world’s top 15 medtech companies, 13 have found a home here. According to IDA Ireland figures, more than 300 companies employ 29,000 people in the Irish medtech sector, while our medical devices and diagnostic products export market is worth €12.6bn annually (that’s 8pc of the country’s total merchandise exports).
Below are just some of medtech marvels being developed across the whole island of Ireland, stemming from scientists and entrepreneurs, to early-stage start-ups and academic research projects.
In the Star Trek universe, the tricorder is a medical device that can quickly scan a patient and diagnose just about anything. Last month, a research team from Ulster University led by Prof Jim McLaughlin collaborated with a number of companies, including medical device spin-out Intelesens, to develop a tricorder-like device to diagnose everything from strep throat to urinary tract infections as an entry to the Tricorder XPrize competition.
The Ulster University tricorder finished in the top five of this global competition, making it the best-placed European team. The invention allows patients to check their symptoms using a smartphone and supporting equipment, with all of the medical data transmitted to the cloud for interpretation.
“Our sights are now set on progressing the solution to secure improved outcomes for patients, as well as significant cost savings for healthcare providers,” said McLaughlin.
Wearing your heart on your sleeve is one thing, but what about wearing a sleeve on your heart? Inspirefest speaker Dr Ellen Roche is working on a soft robotic sleeve that could help ailing hearts to keep pumping.
Roche is a postdoctoral researcher at NUI Galway and this work evolved from her PhD research at Harvard University. The silicone sleeve was described in a paper in Science Translational Medicine, and it will ultimately seek to help the millions of patients each year who present with heart failure where the organ cannot pump blood effectively.
The research and regulatory approval needed mean that the device will not be widely used in patients for a long time yet, but the proof of concept is a positive step.
Cork-based PMD Solutions has become one of the region’s most influential medical device manufacturers, particularly for its premier device, RespiraSense, which discreetly measures a patient’s chest and gut movement when breathing. Using RespiraSense, medical staff can better diagnose the earliest signs of possible patient deterioration, such as increasing severity of sepsis, worsening pneumonia or oncoming heart attacks.
The device was developed by medical engineering graduate Myles Murray during his final year at Cork Institute of Technology (CIT) in 2011. Since then, the Enterprise Ireland High Potential Start-up secured €4.2m in Horizon 2020 funding in November 2015, just as RespiraSense was about to enter use at University Hospital Galway and Cork University Hospital. The device has also been embraced by the NHS in the UK and the company is now eyeing hospitals in the US, Australia and Denmark.
Safer CF inhaler
Prof Colum Dunne at the Graduate Entry Medical School in University of Limerick (UL) leads an Enterprise Ireland-funded commercialisation project that aims to deliver a disposable positive expiratory pressure device to patients suffering from cystic fibrosis (CF), emphysema and COPD. The team recently developed a new medical device – SoloPEP – which it believes will help reduce infection and, therefore, antibiotic usage among people with cystic fibrosis.
Ireland has the highest rate of CF in the world, and these patients often use an inhaler-type percussion device to help remove mucus from the airways. There are many of these devices on the market but, according to Dunne, these “can sometimes become reservoirs for the bacteria that cause infections in cystic fibrosis patients”. However, SoloPEP is disposable, and so it poses no threat of reinfection, resulting in shorter hospital stays and a better quality of life for CF patients.
One-second grommet inserter
More than 2m grommet procedures are carried out throughout Europe and the US every year, but this typically requires general anaesthetic, hospital appointments and some time in an operating theatre. As an alternative, Cork-based start-up AventaMed has developed a simple-to-use, handheld device for inserting grommets into the ear. AventaMed’s device aims to be simpler, safer and quicker, enabling clinicians to insert grommets in the doctor’s office in under one second and without anaesthetic.
The company raised €1.3m for clinical trials and, since then, the device has been approved in Europe and is set for launch later this year. Readying for expansion, the company recently opened up recruitment for 15 jobs.
Blood clot trapper
The EmboTrap targets blood clots, capturing them within the device and allowing for immediate restoration of blood flow while also cleaning up any particles disturbed during the clot removal. This incredible device comes from Galway business Neuravi, which is no stranger to headline news.
In the summer of 2015, it raised €19m and clinical trials that same year resulted in a bunch of partnerships throughout Europe. This year, Neuravi was acquired by Johnson & Johnson’s Codman Neuro business for an undisclosed sum.
Founded in 2009 by CTO David Vale and CEO Eamon Brady, Neuravi has invested extensively in scientific research on the varieties of clots that cause acute ischemic stroke in order to develop its revascularisation device.
Tinnitus protection headset
As any good doctor will advise, prevention is better than cure. That’s the approach of Restored Hearing founders Rhona Togher and Eimear O’Carroll, who are getting tough on tinnitus – a chronic ringing in the ears.
Starting out as a BT Young Scientist project, Restored Hearing was initially set up to develop and distribute the founding duo’s tinnitus-tackling technology, which uses a simple sound-therapy app to reduce the severity of symptoms within the first month of treatment.
The award-winning Sligo start-up has since created and crowdfunded Sound Bounce, a smart acoustic material for use in the automotive, aerospace and construction industries. Restored Hearing has put this unique, naturally occurring active soundproofing material to work in a hearing protection headset. Sound Bounce can be tuned to different frequencies in order to protect wearers from ever developing tinnitus.
Smart sharps bin
HealthBeacon aims to help patients adhere to their medication requirements with a digital platform to help them keep track of their injectable treatments as well as a smart sharps bin for those who self-inject at home. The specially developed bin is digitally connected and programmed with the patient’s personal medication schedule, and uses customised reminders to keep them on track.
Earlier this year, HealthBeacon announced the opening of a Boston office and, this month, added 20 positions to its Dublin HQ to support this global expansion.
Galway-based NeoSurgical is developing innovative products to make laparoscopic abdominal surgery safer and easier. The company has received FDA and CE mark approval for its flagship product, NeoClose, which semi-automates the closure procedure following laparoscopic abdominal surgery. NeoClose assists surgeons in closing port-side defects up to 3cm by using bio-absorbable anchors and a Vector-X closure.
NeoSurgical is targeting both the US and European markets with this system, which has now been used more than 25,000 times in hospitals across the US.
Founder Barry Russell previously worked with both Boston Scientific and Johnson & Johnson. Just weeks ago, a Series B funding round netted $5.5m for the company.
Simplified, destigmatised STI test
Sex Positive is the company behind a smart diagnostic device for sexually transmitted infections (STIs). This early-stage start-up was recently inducted into the latest RebelBio accelerator programme in Cork.
As well as the testing itself, Sex Positive hopes to change the stigma around STIs and getting tested. By empowering people to test themselves at home, with results in under an hour, it hopes to make STI screening cheaper, less time-consuming and significantly less awkward. With this simple, elegantly designed device, all it takes is a small sample and the click of a button to detect the presence of an STI with – according to the creators – the same accuracy as clinical tests.
Healing implant for perianal fistulas
Signum Surgical is developing a medical device to heal perianal fistulas (small tunnels that develop between the end of the bowel and the skin near the anus), a condition reported 180,000 times annually in the US and Europe combined.
Founders Eoin Bambury and Moshe Zilversmit met on the BioInnovate programme at NUI Galway and noted a lack of innovation surrounding the treatment of perianal fistulas. They started work on a device that could be implanted post-surgery to prevent reinfection and to allow for a faster healing process.
In November 2016, Signum Surgical closed a €2.6m Series A funding round. This funding is being used to further develop the technology, and to submit it to the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to seek regulatory approval.
Stoma skin soother
Ostoform is the name of both a company and a medical device that has been proven to manage and effectively reduce skin complications for stoma patients. A stoma is an opening created surgically on the abdomen for the elimination of either bowel or bladder waste, which comes with a high risk of skin complications.
Developed by Kevin Kelleher and Rhona Hunt, the device has been tested on 20 patients with very encouraging results, and commercialisation is planned for Q4 2017.
In April, the UL spin-out added to its awards cabinet after winning the AIB Start-up Academy competition. Following that, a campaign to raise €1.5m in seed funding was launched in May 2017.
Diabetic foot ulcer scanner
Last summer, Bluedrop Medical landed €600,000 in funding, allowing the Galway-based start-up to increase its headcount and get its device to market. The product in question is an internet of things invention that can predict the formation of diabetic foot ulcers.
Bluedrop’s home-based device performs a daily scan of a patient’s feet and sends the data to the cloud for analysis. The underlying technology has been proven to reduce the rate of ulceration by 70pc.
Up to one in four diabetics develop foot ulcers and, if left untreated, they could result in the need for amputation. In Ireland alone, around 440 amputations are required each year and Bluedrop’s device could drive that figure down through early diagnosis.
Speedy bone healer
Cork company OrthoXel is focused on the development and commercialisation of orthopaedic trauma technologies to treat fractures of the tibia (shin bone), femur (thigh bone) and hip – which represents a $1.6bn global market. OrthoXel’s devices and surgical instruments are designed to accelerate fracture healing time. Its first product, the Apex Tibial Nailing System, is said to reduce tibia fracture healing time by 20pc and is expected to be launched this year.
The company is also developing the Apex Femoral Nail System based on the same principle. Both systems will offer surgeons an improved, wider range of locking options for all fracture types.
The basic R&D and proof of principle of the flagship product was completed in CIT’s MEDIC centre over five years.
Minimally invasive BPH treatment
ProVerum Medical was dubbed One2Watch at the FutureScope competition last month, after pitching its minimally invasive treatment for benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH). This is a common condition, with about half of all men over the age of 50 suffering from the condition in some way.
In BPH, the prostate gland enlarges and compresses the urethra, resulting in frequent urination, weak urinary flow and, in severe cases, kidney failure. The medication to treat this condition has unwanted side effects, while a surgical solution involves general anaesthetic, catheterisation and, typically, three days in hospital.
The ProVerum Medical device is built to expand the urethra and can be implanted under local anaesthetic. This unique device is made using a biocompatible material and structure to ensure that it will not migrate or become encrusted.
Next steps for the team are underway, as they begin trials at St James’s Hospital in Dublin and seek investors to raise €2.5m.