Charting the impressive rise of the medtech sector in Ireland

As one of Europe’s largest Medtech hotspots, Ireland is a globally recognized center of excellence and one of the five global emerging hubs. Home to more than 400 companies in the medical technology sector, Ireland is the second largest employer of medtech professionals in Europe, employing 27,000+ people - the highest number of medtech personnel per capita in Europe.

Ireland may be a small country, but we are a big player in the industry with 18 of the world’s top 25 medtech companies located here and the sector has become one of the leading clusters for medical device products globally. Ireland is one of the largest exporters of medical products in Europe with annual exports of €8.5 bn and companies here directly export to over 100 countries worldwide. Exports of medical devices and diagnostic products represents 8.5% of Ireland’s total merchandise exports. Ireland can also boast an incredibly strong services and contract research and manufacturing base as 50% of the companies located here are in the business to business space.

Ireland’s closely knit cluster of 400 medtech companies is supported by industry, academic, clinical and government agencies. This integrated and progressive community has already encouraged an increasing number of companies to expand operations across multiple facilities. With the highest number of personnel per capita employed in Medtech in Europe, Ireland has a deep pool of experienced and highly trained technical and managerial talent.

Key areas of specific excellence include mechanical, electronic, materials engineering and science specialists. Ireland is ranked number one globally for the most highly employable graduates. The medtech sector benefits from this flow of skilled graduates produced by Ireland’s seven universities and 13 Institutes of Technology. Close co-operation between industry and academic institutions ensures the evolving skill needs of sector are constantly met. As the second largest exporter of medtech products in Europe, Ireland supplies 95 of the world’s top 100 countries (ranked by GDP). Over 25% of the world’s population that have diabetes rely on injection devices made in Ireland; 50% of ventilators in acute hospitals worldwide are manufactured in Ireland and 33% of the global supply of contact lenses are made here.

Ireland’s exemplary regulatory environment continues to play a key role in attracting global Medtech companies. Regulation agencies work closely not only with the industry as a whole but also with individual companies to ensure compliance and trouble-free start-ups. Ireland has five clinical research facilities, which support patient-focused research and is ranked number one globally for the exchange of technology and ideas. This supportive environment and generous government grant assistance is responsible for 60% of medtech companies in Ireland engaging in research and development activities. The key driving force behind the stunning success of Ireland’s globally recognized medtech sector has been active collaboration between companies.

Over 25% of companies have a shared services mandate, helping the sector develop world-class operations and technology solution development. The industry is also closely integrated with key academic centers of excellence, including AMBER, Tyndall National Institute, BDI, SEAM and APT. Ireland’s status as a global medtech player – through its continuous development of a skilled labor pool, its international reputation through the success of top medical device companies such as Johnson & Johnson, GE, Medtronic and Boston Scientific, the growth of supplier firms and knowledge transfers establishing new start-ups – was further reinforced last month when the Global Medtech Compliance Conference was held here for the first time. IMDA, the Ibec group that represents the medical technology sector, with Medtech Europe and international association AdvaMed hosted a major international three-day conference on ethica business practices in the medical technology industry, for the first time in Ireland.

Nearly 300 people attended the event which explored the latest trends and best practices in business ethics and compliance. The vision of the IMDA Ireland - included in its recently launched Statement of Strategy 2016-2020 - is that Ireland will be a global leader in innovative patientcentered medical technology developments, products and solutions. Specifically, it will be a globally significant medical technology hub and the location of choice for the industry due to its expertise and pro-business environment, while Irish medical technology developments, products and solutions will be major contributors to global healthcare and the global economy.

The Irish government has identified the medical technology sector as one of the key drivers of industrial growth for the future and provides a wide range of supports to encourage and foster this growth. Government’s investment in R&D through Science Foundation Ireland over the past five years was paying dividends as it had allowed Ireland to develop significant facilities for medtech research, including Ireland’s first stem cell manufacturing center at NUI Galway which opened in January, 2015. The SFI CÚRAM Center for Research in Medical Devices - will position Irelan as the leader in developing medical device technologies which will provide affordable transformative solutions for chronic diseases.

Other notable initiatives include collaboration between Enterprise Ireland and the Mayo Clinic, USA will see the commercialization of up to 20 novel medical technologies in Ireland over the next five years with the aim of creating several high value medical technology spin-out companies. The establishment of the national medical technology innovation fellowship training program; BioInnovate, based in Cork, enables participants to work directly with clinicians to develop new innovative therapies. The medical technology industry in Ireland is changing from being prominently manufacturing to being more complex and driven by R&D. It now involves intensive collaboration between a broad range of partners, including research institutions, clinicians, manufacturing companies and government agencies. One of the world’s leading medtech companies, Stryker, which is currently employing more than 2,200 people in its five sites between Cork and Limerick, has been building its R&D function in Ireland for the past 17 years. Offering a diverse array of innovative products and services in Orthopedics, Medical and Surgical and Neurotechnology and Spine that help improve patient and hospital outcomes, Stryker has built considerable R&D capabilities in Ireland to serve multiple market segments. Stryker opened its new Surgical Innovation Centre in Cork in January which will, explained Spencer Stiles, Global President of Stryker’s Instruments Division, “expand our global R & D footprint and increase our ability to engage with our European customers as we drive global growth.” Martin Shanahan, CEO of IDA has said that this center will position Stryker for next generation research and development, enhancing its reputation and status as a world leader in medical technology innovation while further consolidating the company’s strong presence in Ireland and significantly boosting Ireland’s reputation as an excellent location for medical technology companies.

At the end of 2013, Cook Medical opened its new state-of-the-art research and development (R&D) Innovation Center at its plant in Limerick, a dedicated space enabling the company to collaborate closely with physicians in its research and development efforts. Equipped with the latest technology to recreate and simulate clinical conditions, it enables improved device testing and better product design outcomes.

This commitment to innovation and R&D investment is keeping Ireland at the forefront of research and development in new technologies and products in the medical device sector. The medtech cluster which Ireland has developed has been helped by the European regulatory system which allows innovative solutions to be brought to market expeditiously in a way which benefits patients. And the huge growth in the medtech sector in Ireland is due, in part, to this innovationfriendly environment. Other world leaders whose innovative work in Ireland is being recognized internationally include Abbott as the company’s Longford site has been awarded the top Shingo Prize®, an international award for operational excellence, by the Shingo Institute at the Jon M. Huntsman School of Business at Utah State University. Abbott’s diagnostics manufacturing facility in Longford, Ireland, received the award, recognizing the site’s initiatives to develop and maintain continuous improvement to achieve operational excellence.

The Longford facility, which develops and manufactures tests for use in hospitals and laboratories around the world, has also been recognized with two top national awards in Ireland: the Medtech Company of the Year and the National Business Excellence Award. This is the first year that Abbott’s diagnostics business has been recognized with this award. Abbott’s vascular manufacturing site in Clonmel also received the top Shingo Prize in 2014. The medtech cluster in Galway was central to Medtronic’s decision to locate its new facility to manufacture its marketleading IN.PACT® Admiral® drug-coated balloon (DCB) for the treatment of peripheral artery disease (PAD) as its existing Galway operations of more than 3,000 staff have very specific expertise in this area. Once fully operational, this facility will be the only DCB manufacturing area of its kind in Medtronic worldwide. Tony Semedo, Senior Vice-President and President of the Aortic & peripheral Vascular Business at Medtronic explained that the organization is on an expansionary path, “with a notable amount of this growth to be fueled by products coming out of Ireland.” Other leading global medical technology companies from Becton Dickinson (BD) in Drogheda, Co. Louth and Dun Laoghaire, Co. Dublin to Boston Scientific, the largest medical device employer in Ireland, are all committed to continued growth and investment in research, development and innovation in the Irish medtech sector.

BD has continually invested in technology, innovation and training since it established in Ireland in 1964 and between 2009 and 2014, it invested nearly €73M in its two manufacturing plants. Through its three Irish facilities in Cork, Galway and Clonmel, Boston Scientific exports approximately 10 million medical devices worldwide annually, including stents, balloons, platinum coils, catheters, inflation devices, pacemakers and ICDs. Boston Scientific’s Irish manufacturing operation is an integral part of the corporation’s manufacturing strategy and capability. Its newest plant, established in Cork in 1998, is where leading edge manufacturing technologies are combined with the capability to quickly commercialize new products. Irish Medical Devices Association (IMDA) Director Dr. Sinead Keogh recently stated that: “As a global medtech hub we are unique in Ireland. In a day’s drive you can visit 18 of the world’s top 25 medtech companies. And of the 400 medtech companies 80% are SMEs.