From an artificial pancreas to needle-free injections, medical technology makes healthcare more efficient and allows people to live healthier, longer lives. The use of technology will keep healthcare manageable, affordable, and accessible in the future. In East Netherlands, three robust ecosystems – Health Valley, MedTech Twente, and Health & High Tech Region Nijmegen – contribute to developing valuable medical equipment. During the annual Health Valley Event, they met with many parties from home and abroad. “Healthcare has to change. Waiting for the next crisis is not an option,” said Maroeska Rovers, scientific director of the TechMed Centre, in her keynote during the healthcare innovation event.
Healthcare is in a state of flux. Within the healthcare sector, digitalization and e-health are taking off. The corona pandemic has accelerated this development, proving that new forms of care and prevention can be used in some instances. Home monitoring is an example of this. Medical technology also provides advanced diagnostic and screening techniques deployed in the hospital using artificial intelligence.
However, medical technology is often still an add-on rather than a substitute for procedures and other technologies. Rovers, scientific director of the TechMed Centre and professor at Radboudumc, elaborated in her keynote at Health Valley Event (2023 edition).
Technology on the agenda
“By 2030, the shortage of healthcare personnel will reach 135,000. At the same time, countless tools and devices can improve our healthcare and make it more efficient. But a change must take place for them to reach their full potential,” Rovers stressed. For example, early (re)evaluation of the applicability of the technology in companies and institutions must be higher on the agenda. “Dare to engage in discussions at an early stage of product development. Involve critics, especially the patient himself: is your solution valuable to him or her? And how will your idea help the healthcare professional? By thinking about this already at an early stage, we ultimately keep healthcare manageable and affordable.”
The fact that MedTech is booming in the Eastern Netherlands is striking to Rovers. “From medical products such as biodegradable bio-needles to the development of an artificial pancreas, it all originates in East Netherlands. I am sometimes surprised at how closely the different ecosystems are connected. Everyone wants to help each other and that makes the region successful.”
East Netherlands has it all
In East Netherlands, companies, knowledge institutes, healthcare institutions, and up-and-coming talent collaborate to develop the latest medical innovations. Chris Doomernik, director of Health Valley, explains why this region can make a difference. “It is vital that all players within the healthcare system, large and small, are closely connected. The three MedTech ecosystems in the region – MedTech Twente, Health Valley, and Health & High Tech Region Nijmegen – reinforce each other. They all have their own R&D focus and community. All three ecosystems are incubators for and accelerators of solutions that make a difference for patients and healthcare providers. At the same time, they boost business activities in the region.”
East Netherlands has it all, she says. “We not only have powerful knowledge centers but also put it into practice through the established MedTech companies and healthcare institutions.” Technological innovations and ideas for improvement are cleverly matched to healthcare challenges through targeted programs and events. Fast-growing companies find the necessary facilities, knowledge, business support, and talent to develop and produce innovative solutions.
In Twente, the medtech sector is growing rapidly. Successful companies such as Demcon, Medspray, U-Needle, and Micronit, based at the Kennispark Twente innovation campus, have emerged and grown in the region. The source of new activity and innovations in MedTech is the University of Twente, within which the TechMed Centre plays an important role. MedTech startups, scale-ups, and established industries find each other within the MedTech Twente business community. Together, they accelerate healthcare innovations, for example, through joint grant applications. Besides access to lab facilities, support on internationalization, and financing instruments, they also find the connection between high-tech research and the challenges of healthcare institutions in Twente.
Health Valley Netherlands
The Health Valley Netherlands ecosystem also accelerates innovations in the medical world. The ecosystem identifies healthcare issues and connects them to the business community to accelerate innovative technological solutions’ development, application, and scaling up. For example, the European project dRural, aimed at improving citizens’ quality of life in rural areas, was launched thanks in part to Health Valley. “All ecosystems, both in our region and elsewhere in the Netherlands and beyond, should be connected as much as possible. Innovation knows no boundaries,” Doomernik concludes.
Health & High Tech Region Nijmegen
In addition, Health & High Tech Region Nijmegen is distinctive on an international level in the field of medical technologies and (bio)pharmaceuticals. MedTech is practically applied in healthcare institutions such as the Radboudumc. A wide variety of healthcare startups can also be found in the region, and the Noviotech Campus is at the heart of this ecosystem.
Innovations from East Netherlands
Several companies from Easth Netherlands grew into global players over the years. The artificial pancreas, developed by the Twente-based Inreda® Diabetic, is a good example of a solution in which that patient’s perspective has been taken into account, according to Rovers. Some 100,000 people in the Netherlands have type 1 diabetes. With the artificial pancreas, diabetes patients can control blood sugar fully automatically for the first time. Currently, more than a hundred patients already carry the device with them and the device is expected to become widely available in 2024.
Flux Robotics, a spin-off from the University of Twente, is also taking healthcare a step further. The company provides surgeons with tools and develops innovative magnetic robotics technologies that enable more precise and less invasive procedures. They can be used by clinicians to improve their surgical dexterity, reduce procedure duration and improve positioning accuracy. The system is easy to operate so less qualified personnel is able to operate it.
In addition, Micronit is an icon in East Netherlands. The Enschede-based company focuses on microchips, more specifically ‘microfluidic’ chips. These are used in hospitals and laboratories around the world, including for conducting cancer research and, more recently, COVID-19 research.