Cúram: The Galway medtech centre you might want to keep an eye on

22 Jun 2017

Array of medical devices in an operating theatre. Image: nimon/Shutterstock

The Cúram medical devices research centre at NUI Galway has big plans for the future, after securing €22m in EU funding within 10 months of opening.

The life sciences sector in Ireland is the place to be, it seems, with biopharmaceutical giants firmly ensconced within the Irish economy, both as a producer and exporter of a variety of drugs.

In fact, one of those companies, APC Technologies, has gone so far as to describe Ireland as a ‘phenomenal place’ to be right now.

But behind the world of biopharma is another exciting field where medicine and machines combine to create devices capable of these medications in a variety of ways.

It is just a matter of trying to find new, interesting and more efficient means to create devices that can, say, help diabetes patients monitor their blood sugar levels with unprecedented accuracy.

One such research centre is Cúram at NUI Galway (NUIG), located in a region that has established itself as a life sciences hub over the past few decades.

Opened as recently as September, the €68m centre for medical devices research has 24 industry partners and works with six of Ireland’s largest universities.

Internationally, this expands to 403 collaborators and, in just a matter of 10 months, the centre has accumulated €22m in EU funding under various research projects, nine of which it is leading.

“The money invested in Cúram is pretty close to be repaid from exchequer and non-exchequer funding,” Cúram director Prof Abhay Pandit told Siliconrepublic.com.

Island mentality

“We also have collaborations in the US with National Science Foundation (NSF) centres like the metallic biomaterials centre in North Carolina, where we have an NSF and SFI [Science Foundation Ireland] joint project, which has just commenced.

“Although Ireland is an island, we don’t have an island mentality because we can’t.”

The Galway effect can’t be denied, Pandit added, noting that there are 25,000 people employed within the medtech sector in Ireland, a third of whom are based in the county.

“The population of Galway is around 250,000 people so, when you walk on the streets of the city, maybe nearly every tenth person is going to be in the medical devices sector,” he said, with a sense of pride.

Prof Abhay Pandit, scientific director of Cúram. Image: Andrew Downes/Xposure

What a difference 14 years make

Pandit has been closely involved with the Irish life sciences sector since he moved here back in 2003 and, in that time, he has seen the country go through some major changes, economically and culturally.

Within medtech however, he has seen only an upward trend, despite the 2008 crash.

“When I moved to Ireland in 2003, there were only two medical start-up companies in Galway – now we have 20,” he said.

One area that Pandit and Cúram will be particularly focused on is chronic diseases. Other growing sectors include tissue engineering, intermediary medicine and neuromodulation.

“We don’t have a big critical mass yet [within minimally invasive devices] but we would like to be in that space,” he said, “but we should be there because that’s where the sector is moving.”

Curam centre

The Cúram centre. Image: NUIG

Growth of IoT in medtech

One thing becoming more apparent, however, is the need for all medtech device manufacturers to embrace the potential of the internet of things (IoT).

Even now, tech giants such as IBM are using machine learning platforms such as Watson to gather medical data to cure disease, while Apple is collecting health data from iPhones and other devices.

With this in mind, other makers need to step up to the mark to allow their devices to be better utilised, for both the patient and the doctor.

Where Cúram comes in, Pandit said, is to try to find where the sector is lacking, in order to make a splash in an otherwise competitive space.

“[IoT] is a highly competitive space and industry is very interested in it,” he said.

“It is going to be a hot area in the future and we are going to be a part of it, but we’re going to need to find a niche to be competitive within it.”

Cúram has already undergone collaborations with its sister centre, Insight, on a number of projects.

“The process [of setting up Cúram] has been quite exciting and there has been a lot of interest,” Pandit concluded.

“It is now a matter of moving that research chain along in terms of what the next generation of products are out there that we could develop.”

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic