When the medical device industry is considered, most people immediately think about the main hotspots which exist across America, in New York, the twin cities, and across the state of California. However, alternative innovation hotspots have recently come into the limelight as emerging areas of device development, such as the Nordic region, Israel, and, the focus of this article, Ireland. Through a mixture of increased investment, entrepreneurial founders and academic resources, Ireland has emerged as one of the focal points for medical device innovation in recent years. Currently, eight of the 10 largest medical device companies in the world have offices located in Ireland, with names including Abbott, Bayer, Becton Dickinson, Boston Scientific, Johnson & Johnson, Guidant, Medtronic and Stryker. The majority of the companies are located in the Galway region in the West, however smaller start-up companies exist across the nation. In total, the sector employs over 24,000 people making it the second-largest medtech employer in Europe on a per capita basis, second only to Switzerland. In total, over 160 medical device companies are based in Ireland, with the industry generating sales in excess of €6 billion annually.* Government and private investment has seen the creation of over 100 innovation-led companies along the entire Medtech value chain - from R&D intensive technologies, to proprietary products, contract design and manufacturing, packaging and sterilization. In turn, Ireland has recently become regarded as a leading centre of excellence for medical devices. However, as the medical device industry constantly evolves as newer technology emerges, a few have cast doubts over the capabilities of Ireland to match this landscape.
Government support in device development
Government investment in the Irish device industry can be seen as the main reason for the thriving industry that can be seen today. In 2013, the Irish Government committed to an €8.2 billion investment in science and technology research. This helped fund various centres of excellence such as the Regenerative Medicine Institute (REMEDI), a world-class biomedical research centre focusing on gene therapy and stem cell research, and the Biomedical Diagnostics Institute (BDI). It also helped develop important Academic sites which collaborate with smaller medical device companies and provide a more affordable alternative to vendor-run clinical trials. New centres include the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland (RCSI) and the Colles Institute which currently consists of three centres: the National Surgical Training Centre (NSTC), the Centre for Innovation in Surgical Technology (CIST) and the Centre for Clinical Research and Development (CCR&D) which provides clinical research services to industry, clinicians and researchers. All these facilities help promote the study and development of devices within Ireland, whilst also training and educating more people within Ireland on the handling and development of medical devices.
Spotlighting Irish Devices
So, what have these centres resulted in? How does the device industry shape-up? A prominent area of Ireland's medical device industry is the development and innovation of cardiovascular products. In particular, 80 per cent of global stent production is carried out in Ireland, presiding in significant investment from Boston Scientific, Medtronic and other companies. In addition, there are a number of dedicated research facilities which are tailored specifically for medical device companies. Galway, the hub of Irish medical device companies, holds the Medical Devices Centre of Excellence (GMedTech) and actively focuses on cardiovascular research across the discipline. Importantly Ireland is also a large manufacturing hub, and there are a number of Orthopaedic companies with manufacturing facilities within Ireland, including Stryker, J&J and DePuy. Furthermore, the country has a large Diagnostics centre with six of the top 7 global diagnostics companies being located in the country, including Abbott Diagnostic and Beckman Coulter. Evidently the thriving academic centers have led to a well developed industry which covers a variety of therapeutic areas. Alternative areas of research also exist in the fields of devices for the human musculoskeletal system, dentistry, urology and reconstructive surgery. Evidently, Ireland not only has the clinical resourced, but also them manufacturing facilities to grow its medical device industry.
The Future for Ireland
However, the industry can't afford to remain stagnant. Director at the Irish Medical Devices Association (IMDA), Sinead Keogn, is among many who have criticised the existing business model for medtech firms as being unsuited to standing the test of the time. She notes the rapid progression in technologies used alongside devices are making the regulations and methods of development highly complex.* For example, a newly developed diabetic syringe may have a smart component attached which relays data to the patient's physician. This is now standard issue in some countries, and therefore needed for any new devices. However, the new regulations which the medical device company must now include are not necessarily considered. In turn, the IMDA has recently launched a new four-year plan which aims to maintain Ireland's leading position as a hub for medtech companies. The new plan will ensure a close cooperation between the med-device companies, ICT and also pharma firms who are embarking on producing combination products containing their drug candidates. Many agree Ireland's infrastructure makes it an ideal place to thrive, and embrace the technological progression within the med-device world. In addition to this, many agree that capitalizing on the strong academic presence within the Ireland is very important to help develop smaller companies. If advice from those working within the changing med-device industry is acted upon, Ireland looks set to continue its growth as one of the leading medical device hubs.