Though Ireland may be better known for its scenery, culture and public houses (“pubs” in the vernacular), it is also a leading cluster for medical device and diagnostic products, and the second largest exporter of medical products in Europe. Housing 15 of the world’s top 25 medical technology companies, Ireland is the largest medtech employer in the EU per capita. Enterprise Ireland is a state body which oversees much of the indigenous research and development in the Irish medtech sector. We were fortunate enough to interview Dr. Brian O’Neill, Manager of Life Sciences at Enterprise Ireland about the medical device ecosystem in Ireland, the latest Irish medtech innovations and what the future holds for medgadgets of the Emerald Isle.
Gavin Corley, Medgadget: What is Enterprise Ireland’s role in the Irish medical device industry?
Dr. Brian O’Neill: Enterprise Ireland is a key enabler of the industry, providing both direct funding to companies at all stages of development, as well as playing a pivotal role in building a supportive eco-system. We help these startups find funding, access an unparalleled network of industry contacts, source suppliers, and get their products on the path to market, quickly.
Medgadget: What are some examples of advanced medical devices being produced in Ireland?
Dr. Brian O’Neill: Ireland produces several of the leading and most innovative medical devices on the market, including:
- Injectable devices used by 30 million diabetics around the world (25% of the worlds diabetic patients)
- Ventilators used by 50 percent of acute hospitals worldwide
- 33 percent of the world’s contact lenses
- 80 percent of global stent production
Enterprise Ireland has helped spur and maintain the drumbeat of innovative medtech activity by helping numerous medical device companies bring their solutions to market. A sampling of these companies includes:
- Vasorum – a medical device company focused on the interventional cardiology and radiology markets. Vasorum has developed a biocompatible stainless steel implant used to close an arterial puncture site after percutaneous catheter based vascular interventions.
- Alta Science – a company that has devised a novel implant to provide permanent female contraception.
- Marvao Medical – Marvao Medical’s NexSitetm technology aims to manage the exit sites of Central Venous Catheters by promoting the formation of a biological seal around the catheter. This seal is intended to create a natural barrier around the catheter exit site.
- Aerogen – Aerogen is an innovative medical device and drug delivery company specializing in the design, manufacture and marketing of aerosol drug delivery systems, aimed at the critical care respiratory market. Aerogen’s patented OnQ™ aerosol technology is an integral part of its drug delivery systems as the technology allows drugs to be nebulized into a fine particle mist that can be absorbed through the lungs while maintaining drug integrity.
Medgadget: What are some of the major clinical problems currently being addressed by indigenous medical device companies in Ireland?
Dr. Brian O’Neill: A good example is Apica, which is changing the face of cardiovascular surgery. The company is commercializing a novel access and closure device to facilitate the transapical delivery of a prosthetic valve in a patient with aortic valve stenosis. When commercially available, it will be compatible with all approved transapical valve delivery systems and will standardize the access and closure of all transapical TAVI (TA-TAVI) procedures.
A second example is Neuravi, an early stage company in the emerging acute ischemic stroke thrombectomy device market. The company designs and develops products for restoring blood flow in patients who have suffered ischemic strokes due to blockage of an artery to the brain.
Novate Medical is focused on developing unique inferior vena cava filter devices (IVC filters) for the prevention of pulmonary embolism (PE) in patients at transient high risk for pulmonary embolism. IVC filters are designed to capture clots, preventing them from reaching the lungs and causing PE. Novate Medical’s product is the world’s first, and only, bio-convertible IVC filter. The device is unique in that it contains a bio-absorbable element that allows for protection during the period of PE risk. It eliminates the need for a second, follow-up procedure which is required to remove currently available temporary IVC filters.
A final example is Cappella, a company that develops novel solutions for the treatment of complex coronary artery disease (CAD) based on its Sideguard® platform, and for the treatment of peripheral artery disease (PAD) based on its proprietary balloon product platform.
Medgadget: What types of university-based medtech R&D projects are currently underway in Ireland?
Dr. Brian O’Neill: There is a wealth of R&D projects underway in the universities, funded by Science Foundation Ireland, Enterprise Ireland, the Health Research Board, the European Union, and by private companies. Enterprise Ireland has a strong focus on state funded research which is destined for commercialization through licensing into new or established companies in Ireland. Projects are primarily housed in Bio-medical and Engineering schools, with input from clinical and industry colleagues to enable the delivery of new technologies, platforms and devices.
Additionally, it is worth noting that a number of start-ups have emerged or are emerging from Ireland’s higher education institutes, and they typically maintain close contact and ongoing collaboration with the academic groups. These include:
- Mutebutton: is a spinout company from the National University of Ireland Maynooth that is pioneering a treatment for tinnitus. The company is a result of over ten years of collaborative research between Irish universities and hospitals that involved teams of leading neuroscientists, surgeons, audiologists and biomedical engineers.
- Mitamed: an emerging company from University College Cork that is developing a minimally invasive approach to target internal cancers by utilizing an energy-based technology called electroporation. This treatment approach is currently in clinical trials and essentially causes tumour tissue to become up to a 1000-fold more porous and capable of absorbing certain chemotherapy drugs without damaging healthy tissues.
- i360medical: is a spinout company from Royal College of Surgeons Ireland that acts as an international and national innovation enabler, providing the expertise necessary to take new healthcare ideas and medical technologies to market. The company has strategic partners across the higher education institutes, both in Ireland and abroad.
Medgadget: What are the factors that have contributed to making Ireland one of the major med-tech hubs in Europe?
Dr. Brian O’Neill: Ireland has been very reactive and adaptable to the needs of the medtech sector as it has evolved. While maintaining a competitive manufacturing environment, the country adopted educational systems to produce graduates with the skill sets needed to innovate in medtech. All of the major medtech companies operating in Ireland have significant R&D operations attached.
This is complemented with an indigenous base of companies spanning the spectrum from those innovating new technologies to those with advanced manufacturing capability. This is all enclosed within an ecosystem where Ireland has an excellent reputation internationally in terms of corporate governance, good tax policies, regulatory compliance, intellectual property management and investment.
Medgadget: What do the next five years hold in store for the medical device industry in Ireland?
Dr. Brian O’Neill: The Irish medical device industry sees significant opportunities for growth as more entrepreneurs and startups from around the world—and most notable from the US—come to launch their medtech businesses. The regulatory pathway under the European CE mark process is very defined and transparent when compared to the equivalent FDA. Under the CE process, entrepreneurs and early stage medtech companies can achieve a market approval for a new device faster and more efficiently.
As more medtech companies launch in Ireland, it is likely that we will see a jump in the number of medical devices available to the public and therefore more solutions for various diseases and complicated medical procedures.
The mix of close interaction between academia, business (SMEs and multinational companies), clinicians, financial and regulatory and multi-disciplinary high level skills in the Irish ecosystem is truly unique. It positions Ireland well to become ‘the’ location of choice for medtech entrepreneurs and early stage businesses wishing to succeed in global markets.
Link: Enterprise Ireland…