From the high-tech respiratory solutions of tech giant Demcon, to the artificial pancreas of Inreda: in recent years, the MedTech cluster from Twente has proven its worth to the world. Last summer, the cluster in the region received over €11 million in REACT-EU funding. This will accelerate medical technology in the region. Among other things, new biomedical laboratories are coming to the Kennispark Twente (Knowledge Park Twente), which will provide start-up companies with affordable laboratory space. “Within a year, we hope to welcome the first companies to our MedTech Factory,” says Anne-Wil Lucas, area director of the Kennispark.
A vibrant university, a healthy start-up climate and MedTech giants establishing themselves in the region. Even before the European funds were awarded, the medical technology sector in Twente was doing well. Twente can be seen as a ‘Med Tech hotspot’. The Kennispark forms an important part of this. Of the more than 150 technology companies at Kennispark, around 30 are now affiliated with the medical technology sector.
At this innovation hub in Twente, healthcare institutions, rehabilitation centers and companies are working together with knowledge institutes on the latest innovations in healthcare. Leading MedTech companies such as Demcon, Micronit, Medspray and Lipcoat, all of which first originated in Twente, have gained widespread national and international recognition during the pandemic.
Medspray from the Dutch town of Enschede, for example, came up with a method whereby medication against corona can be administered via the nose and mouth via an atomizer. Together with the Swedish pharmaceuticals giant Recipharm, one of the world’s top five drug manufacturers, the company is now bringing the spray to the market. However, you can actually see that more and more med tech companies are establishing themselves throughout the province of Twente and not just at Kennispark. These range from Benchmark in Almelo, Inreda Diabetic in Goor to new start-ups on the Connect-U campus in Enschede. The European financial support is providing an additional boost to the region.
The REACT-EU grants to Twente consortia further strengthen the MedTech cluster. But who has received a contribution for what exactly?
The MedTech Factory is receiving €3.1 million. This is where start-up and fast-growing companies in medical technology can make use of affordable and high-quality microbiology labs.
Over €1.5 million will be awarded to the ‘reMIND’ initiative, which involves Demcon, Micronit and Locsens as consortium partners. The initiative brings together four different technologies to treat dementia more effectively.
€2.6 million will go to the consortium that comprises PA Imaging, Hemabo and the University of Twente in partnership with RadboudUMC in Nijmegen. The consortium is dedicated to bringing photoacoustic mammography to the patient: a safe and painless way to diagnose breast cancer through the use of light and sound.
The consortium formed around LioniX International, which includes Bronkhorst High-Tech, SurfiX, Qurin Diagnostics and PHIX, is the recipient of €2.5 million. They are working on the SensorChip which is geared towards the development of different types of bio-, gas- and liquid sensors.
ILT Fineworks from Enschede is receiving €1.7 million. The company is working on the industrialization of the ELENA Heart Technology: a revolution in cardiac surgery whereby a bypass can be applied to the heart without having to open up the chest and without using a heart-lung machine.
MedTech Factory: desperately needed for future growth
Thanks to funding from REACT-EU and an additional investment of €2 million by the Twente Board, the MedTech Factory can now be built and rolled out. This is a facility for medical technology companies, not only those from Twente, but from the entire Netherlands and Western Europe. That its establishment will lead to further growth of MedTech in the region cannot be disputed, as Anne-Wil Lucas, area director of Kennispark Twente, also predicts. “You can see that the government is investing a lot of money in key technologies, but we sometimes forget that we also need to invest in the development of campuses and good facilities where science and business can meet. That’s partly why I’m glad we are able to set up the MedTech Factory,” says Lucas. The lack of affordable lab space for business was becoming an increasingly pressing issue. “The university may have these kinds of labs, but there is a limited amount of space available for companies there. The new lab offers space for companies to test and validate their biomedical solutions.”
‘Serving the international market’
In addition to Dutch companies, the MedTech Factory should also eventually serve the international market. Lucas explains: “Companies from abroad were often already interested in coming to Twente. For example, because the TechMed Centre is also located here. But we had to say ‘no’, because we were unable to offer them any lab space. We can now solve that problem. It is great to be able to welcome new companies from other countries since they bring new knowledge and insights along with them. We are building an increasingly stronger cluster this way. In addition, international students often find it interesting to work for an international start-up. By offering these students a worthwhile job after their studies in Twente, we hope to be able to keep them here over the long term as well.”
Lucas also predicts that the MedTech Factory will be as successful as the High Tech Factory: a shared production facility for micro- and nanotechnology that has been in operation at Kennispark for years. “The High Tech Factory functions as a breeding ground for great initiatives. Some wonderful companies have now grown out of it, including Micronit Microtechnologies.” The company produces and develops biochips and MEMS. This enables body fluids to be analyzed and processed on an extremely minute scale. “Soon Micronit will be moving into its own production location with clean rooms at Kennispark. I hope that we shall also be able to welcome the first companies to the MedTech Factory within a year. We already have a list of interested companies, one of which is the biotechnology company Orthros Medical. They moved to Raalte at some point because there wasn’t any space available at Kennispark. They are keen to come back once the MedTech Factory opens its doors.”
Read more about the redesign and new focus of Kennispark Twente here
Eddy van Hijum (of the Dutch Christian Democratic Appeal party), a member of the Eddy van Hijum (of the Dutch Christian Democratic Appeal/CDA party), a member of the Twente Board and representative of the province of Overijssel for the Economy, Finance and Europe portfolio, is pleased with the European support for the MedTech Factory and the other consortia. He predicts that MedTech in the region will continue to flourish in the coming years. “We have challenged the sector to come up with ambitious plans and you can see that a lot is happening. In the region, you will find medical laboratories as well as innovation programs for business, and you will see students committing themselves to the different medical centers. That overall picture looks very promising.” and representative of the province of Overijssel for the Economy, Finance and Europe portfolio, is pleased with the European support for the MedTech Factory and the other consortia. He predicts that the growth of MedTech in the region will continue strongly in the coming years. “We have challenged the sector to come up with ambitious plans and you can see that a lot is happening. In the region, you will find medical laboratories, innovation programs for business, and see that students committing themselves to the different medical centers. That overall picture looks very promising.”
Victor-Jan Leurs, director of Twente Board, also sees the allocation of European funds as a step in the right direction. ” The REACT-EU funds are of crucial importance to the medical world. The greatest challenge is to keep healthcare affordable and properly staffed. This is where new technologies play a key role. Robotics, advanced manufacturing, photonics, artificial intelligence and nanotechnology are prime examples here. We see that many start-ups from our region develop innovations from these technologies for medical applications, among other things. Innovations that have the potential to solve some of our societal challenges in healthcare.”
First steps back in the 1960s
By the way, the success of the sector in the region has not come out of the blue. Jaap Beernink, CEO of Novel-T, an organization dedicated to high-tech start-ups and innovative business development in the region, outlines the growth of the MedTech Twente cluster. “The first steps towards a well-functioning ecosystem were taken decades ago, back in the 1960s. At that time, there was a lot of lobbying from the university to establish a medical faculty here. Ultimately, labs were built, nanotechnology began gaining momentum, and a biomedical institute was established. Since then, you can see that the ecosystem has undergone tremendous growth. We see more and more spin-off companies coming here with a medical technology background. In addition to the unique research positions at the university, companies are establishing themselves here that are entering the market with radical innovations.”
The University of Twente is also historically an important player when it comes to supporting Med Tech start-ups. MESA+, a leading research institute for nanotechnology headquartered at the university, encourages entrepreneurship among its employees and offers them support in setting up their own companies. By doing that, it is the breeding ground for high-tech spin-off companies that bring new technologies for the medical sector to the market, with MyLife Technologies as a recent example. The company just raised €3.5 million for the development of a technology for administering vaccines: a simple vaccine patch, ideal for people who have a fear of needles.
Regions in the Netherlands need to join forces
For med tech to thrive and expand in Twente, innovation is not the only thing that matters in the region itself. Van Hijum: “We are trying to connect Twente with Brainport from Brabant and also with other European networks. This is how we strengthen med tech in the region and remain at the forefront of the world.” Beernink also stresses the importance of entering into collaborations with hotspots outside of the region. “I think we need to join forces on a national and international level. The healthcare sector is facing a formidable challenge: how do we keep our system affordable and staffed? Medical technology offers solutions that affect the whole world. We need to partner with Brainport from the south and take a look at bottlenecks and the costing of products, together with health insurers.”
In any event, Twente’s ambition to exacerbate it’s growth in this area is substantial, adds Leurs. “Medical technology in Twente needs to grow into one of the leading clusters in Europe. That is our goal. The European funds are a step in the right direction. Our MedTech Twente cluster is now drawing up a comprehensive plan to achieve our goal. Over the coming years, we will prioritize the expansion of the number of companies in the MedTech cluster, international collaborations and the strengthening of the ecosystem.”