The pivot that the pharma and life science sectors took in response to the Covid-19 pandemic was nothing short of dramatic. But what lies ahead for the medtech industry in Ireland, and what might the next wave of innovation look like?
Ireland is leading the way as a medtech hub, according to James McMahon, who leads the tax incentives team at Grant Thornton. He says Ireland is recognised as a global medtech hub, with 450 companies employing 42,000 people to deliver €12.6 billion in medtech exports.
“The past five years has seen the Irish medtech industry experience tremendous growth, with the industry’s role being further highlighted by the global pandemic,” McMahon says. With almost 200 digital health companies in Ireland, it is forecasted that the digital health market will exceed €300 billion by 2024, according to Enterprise Ireland, he adds. “As we continue to live with the global pandemic, it is our opinion that digital health will play an increasing role in the medtech sector.”
The global medtech sector is evolving rapidly, with Ireland well placed to play a pivotal role, agrees Sinead Keogh, Ibec director of medtech and engineering and network promoter of the Connected Health Skillnet and Irish Medtech Skillnet.
“Ireland’s established medtech ecosystem continues to lead as a centre of excellence for advanced manufacturing, product development, digital innovation and of course R&D,” she says.
Keogh points out that as well as being home to nine of the world’s top 10 medtech companies, Ireland is home to all 10 of the world’s top 10 biopharma and technology companies. “The medtech sector in Ireland has added more than a half a billion euro in investment and financing in the past 12 months. The industry now has the ambition to leverage its success as a global medtech hub with a vision to grow the level of R&D in Ireland. Ireland’s unique ecosystem with leading digital health, medtech, pharma and tech companies can make us a global digital-health powerhouse.”
Earlier this year, the Irish Medtech Association launched its strategy “The Global Medtech Hub 2025: Dedication to the expected, the unexpected and everything in between”. The report charts Ireland’s strengths as a global medtech hub, and maps out how it can use these to achieve its full potential in helping to transform healthcare across the world while growing as an industry.
“We have developed a new vision for the industry in Ireland to be strongly positioned as a global leader in innovative patient-centred medical technology solutions, helping to set the future global healthcare agenda, with a proven ecosystem that is a major contributor to the economy,” Keogh notes. Continued investment in the sector as well as nurturing of the necessary world class talent will be essential, she adds.
Stagnation is not an option — the area of digital health is growing exponentially, tapping into trends such as the move towards personalised healthcare, according to John Shaw, country head for Legato Health Technologies Ireland. Medical-grade wearables, sensors, apps and other devices are being embraced by all stakeholders as they become increasingly integrated into modern healthcare. “By tracking critical health parameters in real time, it is possible to build a clear picture of health risk much earlier,” Shaw notes, adding that it has been well documented that four key parameters drive most chronic health issues; namely exercise, sleep, hydration and diet.
Marrying this new wave of technology-enabled disease prevention and a health service designed around treating ill people poses some obvious and some not-so-obvious challenges. Yet the pandemic saw groundbreaking digital technologies adopted almost overnight by the Health Service Executive by virtue of necessity. Shaw namechecks the HSE’s head of innovation, Dr Martin Curley, saying Curley has been key to this development. “He is working to implement his vision of ‘Stay left, shift left’, which is essentially all about preventive healthcare,” Shaw says, adding that Curley has also been instrumental in the establishment of the HSE’S “Living Lab” network, whereby digital health solutions are tested in real time in real patients.
Legato specialises in utilising digital tools to simplify healthcare; Shaw says its “total health, whole health” approach prioritises disease prevention as Ireland moves towards a health assurance model. This will be achieved only by using technology, in particular artificial intelligence, to predict and prevent health Issues, he says. “We can all expect to live to be 95, based on current demographic trends. We need to think about how we will spend our 95th birthdays.”