Dundalk is at the heart of Ireland’s digital health ecosystem

15 Nov 2022

Image: © Feodora/Stock.adobe.com

Dundalk IT’s connected health cluster hopes to solve many challenges within the industry, from limited interoperability to long waiting lists.

Click to read more stories from Future Health Week.

In 2019, a new Regional Technology Clustering Fund (RTCF) was launched by Enterprise Ireland.

Three years later, the fund now supports 14 clusters around the country, focusing on a range of industries such as advanced technologies in manufacturing, cybersecurity and agritech.

As part of Future Health Week, SiliconRepublic.com heard from Breanndán Casey who heads up the Connected Health and Wellbeing cluster based at Dundalk Institute of Technology (DkIT). Like other clusters around Ireland, the aim is to boost engagement between businesses and local knowledge providers.

Casey has worked with companies across multiple sectors, and said his current role as education and outreach manager at the health cluster cuts across many disciplines including software development, artificial intelligence, data analytics, cybersecurity, clinical trials, commercial development, telemedicine and more.

“My role is to facilitate and encourage collaboration across the ‘quadruple helix’ framework of industry (indigenous and foreign direct investment), public sector healthcare, academia and citizens,” he said.

“Clusters thrive on effective co-opetition, which is the ability to work with other members when it is mutually beneficial due to synergies, cost-savings or complementary skills, whilst also recognising that an ancillary competitive element can also co-exist in the partnership.”

‘The digital health ecosystem in Ireland is very supportive’

DkIT applied to create the Connected Health and Wellbeing cluster due to its existing research centres, which include the Netwell CASALA Living Lab, the Regulated Software Research Centre and the Smooth Muscle Research Centre.

The institute also has a strong track record of digital health spin-outs such as Nova Leah and work with StatSports.

“We currently have 35 members ranging from multinationals like IBM, BD and AWS to start-ups and scaling companies including Wellola, xWave Technologies, Taoglas, Heart Rhythm Ireland, and Spryt. Membership is currently free, and we expect to grow to about 50 members companies in the coming six months,” said Casey.

“Our nationwide members tend to have a focus on one of our niche strategic priorities, which include sustainable health-tech, personalised healthcare including sports-tech and wearables, and regulatory or interoperability issues.

“Those members are supplemented by companies and organisations from the wider connected or digital health sector, which enables a greater level of shared expertise and potential for collaboration.”

One programme the cluster has launched is eHealth Embark, which supports early-stage digital health companies seeking to target the healthcare system that need support across technical, commercial, clinical and regulatory headings.

The programme was created in partnership with Amazon Web Services (AWS) and the dConnect Digital Health Innovation Hub, with the winner receiving up to €100,000 of AWS credits and access to additional supports.

Cymantic, a computer vision-based platform that analyses body tissue for the presence of cancer, was the overall winner.

“The digital health ecosystem in Ireland is very supportive and the companies also received expert advice from Health Innovation Hub Ireland, RCSI and HSE procurement. We will be launching the next phase in January 2023, and companies can register their interest now,” said Casey

Addressing trends and challenges

There are many challenges within the healthcare sector that companies are hoping to solve with technology. Casey said some of the biggest issues are around waiting lists, lack of centralised electronic health records, limited interoperability across technology suppliers, and the fallout from the HSE cybersecurity attack in May 2021.

He added that one of the biggest trends in health-tech is the move away from acute care and providing greater access to personalised health monitoring and preventative care.

“There has been a huge growth in telemedicine over the past two years due to Covid-19 restrictions. The combination of cultural changes, and increased access to technology has seen a strong growth in wearable health technology for personal use such as Fitbit, but also across clinical and homecare health settings where patients and medical experts can monitor and access live information,” he said.

“This has also led to an increase in opportunities across electronic patient platforms, data analytics and artificial intelligence solutions that can predict the healthcare need before it occurs.”

He added that a challenge for scaling Irish health-tech companies is around moving from regional pilot tests to national and international solutions. “It tends to be a slow process and companies need to address funding, cashflow issues and potentially secure multiple revenue streams in order to stay economically viable.”

However, Casey said these and other challenges within the sector are the kinds of issues the Connected Health and Wellbeing cluster is trying to solve.

“Our members see internationalisation as a priority, and we are working with clusters from across EU to identify potential customers, partners, collaborators or suppliers,” he said.

“We also hold a number of webinars and events that focus on upskilling our members or providing access to expertise. Past sample events include workshops on traceability in healthcare, building digital health apps, advanced manufacturing for digital health, and starting and scaling a digital health company.”

Casey said the cluster also aims to ensure that digital health companies have access to skilled graduates by encouraging third-level students to consider the myriad opportunities within the sector.

“On 25 and 26 October, we hosted 80 multidisciplinary students at Dundalk as they examined real-world health challenges as part of the EIT Health I-Days competition. The I-Days included examples of innovation from cluster member, Hey Mylo, and hands-on mentoring from facilitators from the HSE, academia and industry,” he said.

“The winning team examined the ‘Managing a chronic illness’ challenge and chose to work on arthritis. The team proposed a robotic splint that can be programmed to enable patients to control their own condition and will compete against 25 EU universities at a final in Vienna on 24 November.”

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Jenny Darmody is the editor of Silicon Republic