Think global, act local – Ireland’s opportunities in global med tech

24 Sep 2012

Helen Ryan, CEO, Creganna-Tactx Medical

Creganna-Tactx Medical is one of the great success stories of the Irish medical technology sector. We talk to CEO Helen Ryan about the challenges Irish med-tech businesses face in the global market, and the opportunities that lie in wait.

Ireland’s medical-technology sector is robust now, but to keep it that way it needs to evolve, and a greater focus on product development and scale-up could open up rich opportunities in the country. That’s according to Helen Ryan, who during her tenure as CEO of Creganna-Tactx Medical has witnessed – and been part of – the burgeoning med-tech sector in Ireland in recent years.

“Medical technology has grown here, and it’s great to see that,” she says in her office in Galway, where Creganna-Tactx Medical has its headquarters.

“I think the sector here is very robust. It’s not without its challenges but it is holding up very well.”

Given the strong export focus of the sector in Ireland, it’s not surprising that the challenges facing Irish med-tech companies are the ones also being felt globally. And one of the foremost hurdles Ryan identifies is that in the current economic climate, businesses, consumers, insurance companies and governments have less to spend.

“There’s a lot of cost pressure at the end market,” she says. “There’s also a regulation pressure that is impacting cost and time to market of new products, which impacts growth for all businesses.”

Rising to the challenges

So far, the Irish med-tech sector has generally been rising to the challenges, notes Ryan. “The industry in Ireland has evolved quite well with the market needs. It has benefited from the strong cluster and infrastructure and the skill base that is here and also the Government support, particularly around research and development,” she says.

“Overall, I think there is this really good culture of driving efficiency in what we are doing, and I think that is particularly key to the success of large operations and to keeping large operations in Ireland.”

That said, Ireland resting on its laurels won’t keep it ahead, and Ryan comments that the industry needs to keep transforming as the market changes: “That is going to be key in making sure we have a strong industry here in 10 years.”

Emerging markets

One of the biggest factors impacting the global med-tech sector is the ageing demographic, according to Ryan. “That drives the need for healthcare – people are living longer and they need a good quality of life.”

And although overall growth in more established markets in Europe has slowed, the emerging ‘BRIC’ countries (Brazil, Russia, India and China) are now ramping up the appetite for med-tech products and services.

“As those countries open up it is having a huge impact on the sector; it’s driving demand for current products and the need for new products for those markets,” says Ryan. “We have started to see a bigger impact in the last 12 to 18 months of those markets opening up. It’s helping a lot of companies balance growth, as well – there is significant growth potential in those markets.”

On the clinical side, the trend towards minimally invasive procedures has been an important shaper of products in medical technology, and again the emerging markets look set to adopt the approach.

“There are some indications that in certain emerging markets the trend might be even quicker,” says Ryan. “They may not go through the surgical cycle, because the [minimally invasive] products are available.”

Opportunities for Ireland

Ireland is well placed to capitalise on the trend towards international companies using Europe as a base for development, says Ryan.

“Historically, the industry was very US focused, but now with regulation and some of the requirements around data and efficacy that is needed for products, there’s a shift towards developing those products in Europe, getting your clinical data and registration done in Europe and using that as your platform,” she explains.

“That has to present an opportunity for Irish companies. We are very well positioned to be an active part of that cycle.”

In particular, Ireland would do well to attract more R&D, she comments, and to supply into that chain by offering development and regulatory support.

Scale-up is another area where Ireland can strengthen its hand, and Ryan believes this is often overlooked.

“The whole scale-up phase is hugely important and that is something that as a country we have a strong skill set in,” she says. “We could do very well in that chain in the early-stage pilots and effective ramp up. A bit more focus on that area might help us to get more projects, get more products on the market and drive the industry in the country.”

Lab work

Creganna – from Ireland to the world

In the medical technology field, Creganna-Tactx Medical is a household name. It is ranked among the top 10 companies in the medical-device outsourcing sector worldwide, supplying products, technologies and services in the area of minimally and less-invasive delivery and access devices.

Founded as Creganna by Ian Quinn in 1980, it originally provided a range of engineering solutions to the electronics industry. But in the late 1990s/early 2000s, it shifted its focus to the medical-device market.

Helen Ryan, who joined the company in 2003 and has been CEO since 2005, describes how during that period Creganna transformed from a supply company to a medical-technology company.

“It was about recruiting people who had medical device experience and bringing in higher standards,” she says.

Based in Galway, the company then went international, opening a facility in the US. And in 2010, it acquired Tactx Medical Inc, which had facilities in California and Singapore.

That acquisition increased Creganna’s global manufacturing footprint, workforce and revenue by 50pc. “It brought a new scale and a global network, and it allowed us to be closer to our customer base,” says Ryan. “It also brought us a new set of skills and technologies that we are leveraging now for the next set of products and services we are providing to our customers.”

Today, Creganna Tactx-Medical has facilities in three continents, it serves more than 400 customers in 30 countries and it employs around 1,200 people. 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