Tom Kelly, Divisional Manager for life sciences at Enterprise Ireland, defines the world-class ecosystem that has allowed Ireland to emerge as a global hub for medtech developments.
The Irish medtech sector has grown from a small group of just 50 companies in the early 1990s to become one of the industry’s leading global hubs with a cluster of 350 companies employing 38,000 people. This makes Ireland the largest employer of medtech professionals in Europe per capita. Ireland is also the second largest exporter of medtech products in Europe, with annual exports of €12.6 billion to over 100 countries globally
The indigenous sector is a key component of this medtech cluster, with over 200 companies employing 6,500 people. These companies are world-class, highly innovative and dynamic, delivering complex technologies, products and services throughout the world.
Emergence of a winning medtech ecosystem
According to Enterprise Ireland Divisional Manager Tom Kelly, the emergence of this vibrant and highly successful indigenous sector is due to a number of factors, including a deep commitment to innovation and the existence of a highly connected ecosystem comprising the world’s leading multinational medtech companies, a first-class academic research sector, and a network of world- leading State-funded research centres.
“Ireland is very much to the forefront of global medtech and life sciences industries,” says Kelly. “Ten of the world’s top ten pharmaceutical companies and nine of the top ten medtech companies have a significant presence. We also have a large number of Irish companies that have grown up in the shelter of the global industry. People who started out working for multinationals have gone on to found their own companies, which have become an integral part of the supply chain for global industry. More and more of those companies are developing their own intellectual property and innovative new products.”
Fertile ground for innovative life sciences start-ups
Ireland offers fertile ground for innovative medtech and life sciences start-ups. “All the fundamentals are in place,” Kelly points out. “We have the people with the capability, experience, and market understanding required. We also have funding available from major Irish-controlled venture capital funds. Irish medtech start-ups also have the ability to access international venture capital. That’s part and parcel of what’s happening. As well as that, there is a comprehensive range of State supports in place to assist the industry.”
Those supports include the Enterprise Ireland Commercialisation Fund, which assists the creation of technology-based start-up companies and the transfer of innovations developed in Higher Education Institutes and other research organisations to industry in Ireland.
Connecting clinicians and the medtech sector
Support for connections with clinicians and the healthcare sector also plays a key role. Health Innovation Hub Ireland (HIHI) was established to drive collaboration between the health service and enterprise. It offers companies the opportunity to carry out pilot and clinical validation studies, and it offers the health service access to innovative products, services and devices that it may not otherwise be exposed to.
BioInnovate Ireland is a national medical technology innovation training programme in which academia, clinicians and industry can collaborate to develop novel medical technologies. The programme is a partnership between several universities and hospitals throughout the country and is supported by Enterprise Ireland, the national export agency, and a large number of industry sponsors.
“These linkages between enterprise and the clinical community are very important,” says Kelly. “At Enterprise Ireland we also lead visits of Irish medtech firms to internationally renowned centres such as the Cleveland Clinic and the Mayo Clinic. This aids Irish companies’ awareness of the international demand for new technologies. Our team based in our international offices is also in regular contact with health systems worldwide and provides knowledge and information on their needs to the industry here.”
Small size is an Irish advantage
Interestingly, Ireland’s small size works in its favour when it comes to the development of a global medtech hub. “Because we are small there is huge interaction between the multinational and indigenous sectors of the industry,” says Kelly. “This is a significant advantage. The highly connected nature of the industry allows relatively small Irish firms achieve global success quite quickly.”
Irish firms are increasingly becoming integral elements of the global medtech supply chains. “Irish medtech companies are not only becoming suppliers of choice to multinational customers here in Ireland but they are doing so globally as well,” says Kelly. “That applies to companies supplying services as well as components. Our approach is to encourage companies to become not just sub-suppliers but become co-developers and value adders. Enterprise Ireland can provide R&D support to companies that collaborate with customers in this way.”
One of most important initiatives in this area is the €500 million Disruptive Technology Innovation Fund. “This offers an opportunity for SME-type companies to collaborate with multinationals and research centres to develop new products and technologies which in turn will help them create even deeper relationships with partners.”
The critical ingredient in the global success of the indigenous Irish medtech sector is innovation, according to Kelly. “Irish medtech companies are very much committed to innovation. This is not just a case of continuous improvement. They have to constantly innovate if they are to meet unmet clinical needs. The market is continually evolving and only companies that can supply the new products, technologies and services to meet the changing needs of medical practice will succeed. They also have to be committed to investing in growth and scale as well as the capability of their people. That’s how the Irish medtech industry is succeeding and will continue to succeed.”