Why Ireland’s west coast is making waves in medtech

29 Oct 2019

Image: © Dan/Stock.adobe.com

Medtech is revolutionising healthcare, and the deep-rooted supports buried beneath Ireland’s west coast are keeping it ahead of the curve.

Medtech is widely recognised as the logical next step in healthcare, promising to enable better lifestyles and outcomes for patients through harnessing data and technology innovation.

Ireland is the largest employer of medtech professionals worldwide with 350 companies employing more than 38,000 people here, according to the Irish Medtech Association. We export more than €12.6bn in the industry annually. Per capita, Ireland also employs the highest number of medtech personnel in Europe.

In the west of Ireland in particular, the medtech ecosystem is abuzz with advancements. This is thanks to a suite of different financial, institutional and knowledge supports, driven by dedicated people passionate about futureproofing Ireland’s health system.

The opportunities that exist in Galway, for example, are only growing in number, with such well-regarded names as Medtronic, Merit Medical, Loci Therapeutics, NuaSurgical and HidraMed Solutions among the city’s impressive catalogue.

In fact, just this month, 100 new medtech jobs were announced for Galway by Complete Laboratory Solutions.

Looking at the medtech landscape

Speaking to Galway’s vibrant medtech scene, George McCourt, head of innovation and enterprise at Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology (GMIT), said: “The medtech sector of innovative, high-growth companies in Galway will continue to provide fertile ground for entrepreneurs to start and develop enterprises in this sector.

“These start-ups design and develop solutions for unmet clinical needs. Ultimately, these medtech startups save lives!”

One of the central players in this medtech start-up scene is BioInnovate, a national training programme in NUI Galway. It brings researchers, clinicians and industry reps together to collaborate and develop novel medical technologies. BioInnovate is carving out a unique space in the medtech environment by encouraging trainees to pursue needs-led approaches to innovation, rather than depending on technology to power the ideas.

NUI Galway is also home to medtech accelerator programme BioExel, providing participant companies with seed funding for six months alongside a co-working environment.

The Met Centre at GMIT is another one to note. This interdisciplinary technology centre is creating novel tech for both clinical research and medtech companies.

Carving conduits

Something that has spurred innovation throughout Galway and the wider west coast is the channels that organisations such as Health Innovation Hub Ireland (HIHI) have carved out. This has installed in the region an effective network of conduits that drives dissemination of expertise and knowledge.

Having engaged with more than 160 healthcare companies over the past three years, HIHI’s goal is to help medtech start-ups access the Irish healthcare system. To achieve that, it offers assistance in identifying the best clinical teams and locations for them to carry out pilot studies on their products.

The team at HIHI welcomes ideas from prospective companies, offering assistance on such things as validating the problem and identifying funding sources.

Although HIHI began as a pilot, it’s now a national programme, headquartered in Cork with offices in University College Cork and Cork Institute of Technology, but now based also in Dublin and, as of a short time ago, NUI Galway.

Speaking about its growth, its national manager, Tanya Mulcahy, said: “By opening our offices in NUI Galway, we can continue to support these start-up companies while promoting and encouraging new ideas from our healthcare teams, fuelling the future start-up pipeline.

“Equally important is that as a national entity, we can share learning and expertise that has supported this success in the west to other locations in Ireland.”

Mulcahy also discussed some of the more recent successful company projects, including a prescription error-minimising tool called MedDeus, and Feeltect, a product that determines the tightness of bandages for leg ulcers.

Personalising medicine

Something at the front and centre of health and medtech innovation is the concept of personalised, tailored medicine, and Galway is certainly making strides in that arena.

Just last month, the city’s Meyrick Hotel was home to an information and networking event hosted by Companion Diagnostics Expedited for Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (Codex4SMEs).

The organisation is passionate about improving healthcare through driving personalised medicine. Through establishing a network of support for SMEs in that area, Codex4SMEs partners with such institutions in the west of Ireland as WestBIC and Cúram, the SFI research centre for medical devices, to make its vision a reality.

‘Innovating intelligently’

EIT Health is another stitch in the tightly knit weave supporting Galway’s medtech activities.

A a subsidiary of EIT, the European Institute for Innovation and Technology, its priority is tackling the silos that often impede medtech innovation, whether it’s between different countries, different institutions or different companies.

Its business creation manager, Rosemary Gallagher, described the team’s mission as bringing different key players across the ecosystem together to “innovate intelligently” by “giving projects a passport”.

‘The one thing I see that is really special in Ireland, and particularly in the west, is an extremely supportive innovation community’

Based at the heart of the city in the PorterShed – which Gallagher calls “a really cool place to work” – EIT Health works to “match the right partner with the right start-up”.

A couple of the organisation’s success stories listed by Gallagher include Adelie Health, a project aiming to empower children with diabetes through granting them more autonomy, and Tympany Medical, which has created a revolutionary tool for ear surgery.

In relation to the prominence of tech innovation in Galway, Gallagher said: “When you create an innovation ecosystem and it gets quite busy, it means that you have the right elements in the same area. You have the experts and the developing expertise, and you have teams who have gone through the process early on and have learned from them.

“But the one thing I see that is really special in Ireland, and particularly in the west, is an extremely supportive innovation community.

“And I use the word ‘community’, because a community works together. In an ecosystem, you can have many competing parts. But when you have a community, it means that people are working very holistically.

“In Galway, there are start-ups working on similar things, but because they’re all coming from a needs-led background, and because it’s a tight-knit community, it tends to be extremely collaborative.”

Accelerating innovation

Meanwhile, GMIT’s iHubs are acting as a catalyst for some of the “fastest-growing medtech start-ups in the city”, according to McCourt.

One example is Bluedrop Medical, which recently received funding of €3.7m. Using that financial support, the start-up is developing an internet-of-things device that can predict the formation of diabetic foot ulcers.

AuriGen Medical is also supported by the iHubs, where it’s working on the first heart implant to treat atrial fibrillation, something that puts patients at risk of stroke and arrhythmia.

Other challenges in patient care being addressed by iHub-housed start-ups include child-friendly solutions for kidney reflux developed by Kite Medical, and feed delivery systems to improve quality of life for people on tube feeding being brought to life by Rockfield Medical.

Finally, there’s i360medical, an accelerator hub encompassing the skills and expertise needed to take new healthcare ideas and medical technologies to market.

Updated, 10.25am, 30 October 2019: A previous version of this article referenced European project D4Kids, but this was amended to reference Galway-based Adelie Health instead.

Lisa Ardill was careers editor at Silicon Republic until June 2021