Featured Article 03 Sep 2012

Silicon Republic
September 3rd 2012

With Ireland fast becoming a global epicentre for the med-tech industry, today we (Silicon Republic) are launching a new series to explore how the sector has evolved here, taking a look at key areas such as connected health. Here we give 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 of 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 here 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."

Key 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 keeping 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."

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