Med tech in Ireland paints a healthy picture

3 Sep 2012

With Ireland fast becoming a global epicentre for the med-tech industry, today we are launching a new series to explore how the sector has evolved in the country, taking a look at key areas, such as connected health. Here we provide an overview of Ireland’s med-tech sector.

Do you wear contact lenses? You probably know someone with diabetes who needs to inject themselves with insulin. Perhaps a loved one has had a new lease on life thanks to a hip implant or a stent. Medical technology improves and saves millions of lives around the world each year.

But did you know that Ireland is a global hub for the industry? The medical technology sector on the island has been leaping up the charts: it now employs around 25,000 people directly. In addition, 2011 saw exports of €7.3bn – up 16pc on the value for 2008, despite the global economic downturn. So how has Ireland managed it, and where to now?

Ireland is leading the field when it comes to medical technology, according to Barry O’Leary, CEO of IDA Ireland.

“Seventeen of the world’s top 25 medical-technology companies have invested significantly in Ireland and there is a strong established cluster incorporating foreign and indigenous companies,” he said recently. “A number of these indigenous companies have been acquired by multinationals, demonstrating the capability and innovation of the sector.”

Tax, talent and technology

Looking back, the strength of medical technology in Ireland today emerged thanks in part to the foreign direct investment encouraged by the IDA in the final decades of the 20th century. The combination of tax, talent and technology helped to develop a strong capability in medical device manufacturing in Ireland – but it didn’t stop there.

Recent years have seen a move towards higher-value manufacturing and global companies siting international support services in Ireland, as well as a mushrooming of indigenous businesses. Irish sub-supply companies, in particular, have thrived in an environment where they can work with multinationals and build their own strengths in design and development, explains Brian O’Neill, head of life sciences at Enterprise Ireland.

“We have hosts of Irish companies that are now not just supplying the multinationals but they are being the innovators; they are designing, developing and commercialising – this is a real evolution of the sector,” he says, citing recent figures that reflect the growth.

“Our indigenous exports last year were up about 14pc in the sub-supply space and about 15pc in the OEM product space, plus employment growth was up 8pc in both segments. It’s a highly vibrant area.”

The relatively clear-cut regulatory landscape makes Europe an attractive market, adds O’Neill, and Ireland’s reputation draws attention. “Internationally, anybody who knows the medical-technology industry knows Ireland is a global hub of excellence,” he says. “We get calls every week from entrepreneurs, businesses and funds asking about the Irish system and Irish support for medical technologies.”

Ireland’s key med-tech strengths

Vascular, orthopaedics, ophthalmics, diagnostics and hospital and home products are some of the sub-sectors where Ireland is doing particularly well, according to Sharon Higgins, director of the Irish Medical Devices Association, a business sector in IBEC.

One of the big, overarching trends she is seeing at the moment is convergence, where technologies are coming together in new products or services. The emerging field of connected health is a case in point, where information technology opens up possibilities, such as remotely monitoring patient health.

“That is bringing new people and players to the sector,” says Higgins.

Staying competitive

But while Ireland may boast impressive metrics and green shoots, med tech is a global business and healthcare systems are under pressure, so remaining internationally competitive is key. Various programmes in Ireland are now looking to boost innovation by encouraging entrepreneurs and businesses to link with academic researchers and with clinicians who can see the opportunities for new products and solutions.

There’s also a drive in Ireland to continue to build international relationships with industry and organisations, such as the Cleveland Clinic and the Mayo Clinic in the US, which have global reputation and reach.

Over the coming months, in this series we will be talking to experts in Ireland and overseas, to entrepreneurs and innovators, to companies large, medium and small about their work and their insights on the sector. Because med tech is part of Ireland’s future.

As the IDA’s Barry O’Leary puts it: “It is clear from the trends in the industry that Ireland is well placed as a global player in the medical-technology sector and will be a major contributor to global healthcare and the global economy in years to come.”

Med-tech image via Shutterstock

Med tech and Ireland

Med tech in Ireland

  • More than 200 companies have a presence in Ireland, about half are multinational, half are indigenous. You can see a map of them here.
  • The sector directly employs around 25,000 people – that’s the highest number per capita for any European country.
  • In 2011, the medical-technology industry in Ireland rolled out investment plans worth more than €170m and announced 875 jobs.
  • About half of medical technology companies in Ireland expected to recruit additional employees during 2012, according to a sentiment survey. is hosting Med Tech Focus, an initiative which over coming months will cover news, reports, interviews and videos, documenting Ireland’s leading role in one of the hottest sectors in technology.

Dr Claire O’Connell is a scientist-turned-writer with a PhD in cell biology and a master’s in science communication