Duncan Hand, director of the Medical Device Manufacturing Centre explains why an integrated ecosystem, combined with natural innovative spirit, are essential to the future of Scotland’s medical device manufacturing sector.
The global medical device manufacturing market was valued at $489 billion in 2022 and the UK’s market was projected to reach $17.5 billion by the end 2023. Now, it is simply not realistic to suggest that Scotland can become the leading global player on this stage but if we look across the sea to Ireland, a similar sized country, there is great cause for optimism.
By engaging with industry, healthcare professionals and patients, Galway has now firmly emerged as an internationally recognised medtech hub, mentioned in the same breath as San Francisco, Boston, Minneapolis, Singapore, and Berlin. Giving companies access to world-class facilities and top young talent has certainly paid off. Eight of the world’s top ten medtech companies have a physical presence in Galway and, overall, Ireland is the second-largest European exporter of medical devices. The Irish created an integrated ecosystem and that’s a model we can certainly follow here. We have some of the world’s finest universities in Scotland, developing graduates in key engineering and science disciplines who are keen to stay in Scotland.
The Scottish Enterprise funded Medical Device Manufacturing Centre (MDMC) might be headquartered at Heriot-Watt University, but it is a consortium of institutions including the University of Edinburgh, the University of Glasgow, and Robert Gordon University. We have also recently added the University of Dundee to the group. Their state-of-the-art facilities, including the Thiel Cadaver Facility, which offers a novel and revolutionary experience for testing innovative medical devices in human material that can be ventilated, sutured, perfused, or insufflated, thus closely simulating a living person, strengthens our offering considerably.
There is no shortage of ideators and innovators here. We get a lot of requests for support from clinicians drawing on first-hand experience, engineers with novel new approaches to existing problems, and people simply motivated by personal experience. A great example of that last point is the Dunfermline-based firm Optos.
When his five-year-old son went blind in one eye after a regular eye exam failed to spot a retinal detachment, Douglas Anderson made it his life’s work to help eye care professionals by revolutionising retinal imaging. For humble beginnings, Optos was founded and today, millions of patients around the world have benefited from its retinal imaging technology. You will find their systems in many independent high street optometrists, as well as eye clinics at Great Ormond Street Hospital in London and Harvard Medical Centre in Massachusetts.
Optos is exactly the sort of business we exist to help develop. The new £3.35 million worth of funding from Scottish Enterprise will help us transition into a facility which can support larger companies and projects, as well as start-ups. Even some of those bigger companies with significant resources don’t have access to all the equipment we have at the MDMC. Scottish Enterprise will also allow us to work with people before they’ve even formed a company so we can have a significant impact at an early stage. At Heriot-Watt, we are in the process of creating a global research institute in Health and Care Technologies to turn cutting-edge research into impactful and practical solutions to make a positive impact on peoples’ lives, the NHS and health and care globally. There is already some fantastic work going on in this field and we are looking forward to working with researchers and engineers whose ideas could do with support from the MDMC.
Importantly, some of the new funding we’ve received will go towards developing more sustainable manufacturing processes. The NHS already has sustainability targets, but they will only become more stringent over the coming years, so we’ll be exploring the inclusion and development of degradable or reusable polymers. Designed to have reduced environmental impact, use of these polymers could help to cut the industry’s carbon footprint. Embedding sustainable principles into manufacturing from the outset will save companies money, as redesigning products after manufacturing to meet sustainability goals is a costly and time-consuming process which can delay getting tech to the marketplace and end user.
Greater engagement with the NHS will be vital as we grow the sector here, but we also need to look to external markets, particularly the US. The American market is an early adopter of new tech and healthcare providers are prepared to pay a premium for it, so we need to ensure that as a country we invest in companies sufficiently to get them access to that market.
Scots discovered quinine as a cure for malaria, pioneered the use of chloroform in anaesthesia, developed the first hypodermic syringe, discovered penicillin, and created Dolly, the world’s first proper clone. As Optos and others have proved, we are as innovative and impactful now as ever, and at the MDMC we see applications for support from companies and individuals whose ideas and products have the potential to change medicine forever. The next few years are going to be very exciting.