Recently, I had the pleasure of a media tour to Ireland. While weather-wise, the Fall is not the ideal time of year to visit the island (although as I was informed, you don’t go to Ireland for the weather), it was fantastic timing in terms of having the opportunity to meet with several companies that help to facilitate medical device innovation and to attend the MedinIreland event, which is put on every other year.
My host, Enterprise Ireland, is a government entity that is tasked with helping private businesses across an array of industries to establish themselves in Ireland, and then to aid in their growth and success. The medical device sector is very much on their radar as an area upon which they focus. Turning Ireland into an epicenter of medical device innovation is certainly a goal for them (although, one could argue that they are simply maintaining that status quo at this point as the region is very much engaged in the development of cutting edge healthcare technologies). Ireland strives to be a “gateway to Europe” for medical device manufacturers, much in the same way that I found Singapore looking to be the “Gateway to Asia” in that region. In fact, agencies from Singapore have traveled to Ireland to learn more about the interrelationships between government, academia, and private enterprise and to learn more about the successes.
Enterprise Ireland isn’t the only “sponsor” of medical device innovation in the region. A private entity, i360 medical, works with healthcare organizations, such as the Mayo Clinic and the Cleveland Clinic, as well as leading medical device manufacturers, including Medtronic and Covidien, to help facilitate the development of product ideas. Derek Young, CEO of i360, has established extensive relationships across the industry to enable the company to review medtech ideas and select the very best ones to move into development and commercialization. As part of the arrangement, i360 maintains a stake in the company that is generated from the project, which sets up in Ireland. i360 offers a unique proposition that is typically tied to government organizations, like Enterprise Ireland, but since it is a private entity, it is able to move swiftly with ideas, avoiding potential “red tape” that may come from government sponsored organizations that offer similar services.
Another innovation opportunity I was introduced to was tied to academia (National University of Ireland in Galway). The Bioinnovate program is not an innovation incubator like i360, but rather more of a training program to “create” medical device professionals or even to generate medical device start-ups. Dr. Paul Anglim, Programme Manager for Bioinnovate, took time out to speak with me about the scope of the initiative, goals, and successes so that I could better understand this unique opportunity. This program takes applicants who are already in their respective industries (engineers, business professionals, and doctors) and teams them together. The goal of the team is to identify a clinical problem and then align that problem with market opportunities. Basically, their approach is to narrow down to one potential application and develop a solution, keeping market feasibility in mind. It’s an exercise in product development including concern for true marketability. However, several projects that have been generated in this program are moving on to commercial development. Additionally, several Fellows who have emerged from the program have gone on to positions within industry, including one who has an R&D position with Medtronic. The program, which is in its third year of existence, is very selective in terms of applicants and there have only been a handful of teams each year.
Finally, the MedinIreland event was a great opportunity to see other developments that are happening around the country. Many of the issues being addressed would have been quite familiar to U.S. companies, including an aging population, rising obesity rates, increasing healthcare costs, and chronic diseases. The unique take-away from the event was to see how Ireland, as a collaborative community, addresses these medical challenges, from academia to government to private device companies. It truly is inspiring to see such synergies between different organizations, all looking to enhance the medtech offerings of Ireland. It is something I’d very much like to see happen within the U.S. more prominently than the rare collaborations I hear about currently.