In the 1980s, Ireland’s manufacturing industry suffered a downturn. To safeguard the sector, the Irish government and its manufacturers turned to MedTech. From just a small group of 50 companies in the early 1990s, the MedTech landscape in Ireland has rapidly expanded to become a leading global hub that’s home to 350 companies employing over 38,000 people. For example, Pfizer was one of the first pharmaceutical companies to move to Ireland in 1969 and now has five sites in the country employing over 4,000 people.
Drivers for success
A key factor in the success of Ireland’s MedTech industry is the support shown by the Irish government, which still continues today. IDA Ireland, a government body designed to encourage investment into Ireland, provides valuable consultancy and support services to help MedTech organisations establish and expand.
In addition, the Irish government has provided financial support for MedTech companies in the form of various government grants and the 25 per cent R&D tax credit, which also encourages foreign MedTech companies to establish a base in Ireland.
The success of Irish MedTech wouldn’t be possible without local talent feeding into the industry. NUI Galway’s BioInnovate Fellowship programme equips aspiring innovators with the necessary skills to identify unmet clinical needs, innovate a novel solution to address them and implement those solutions into patient care.
Pharmaceutical drug discovery
Irish MedTech’s focus on R&D and innovation has been fundamental in its rapid growth and global success. This is particularly true for Ireland’s 85 plus pharmaceutical companies, where continuous innovation is necessary to produce new medications that can enhance recovery and quality of life for patients.
Typically, it takes at least ten years for a new medicine to reach the market, with clinical trials alone taking up to seven years. But in recent years, there has been demand for development to be sped up — most notably, the first COVID-19 vaccine was delivered less than one year after the first case was identified. Much of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine manufacturing is conducted at the company’s sites in Ireland.
Keeping development times for new drugs to a minimum is essential to ensure patients have access to the best, most innovative care and treatments. But drug discovery is a long and complex process, from initial discovery to preclinical and clinical trials through to approval. Fortunately, many of these stages can be sped up, and with increased precision, through automation. Using motorised equipment to undertake many of the simpler, more repetitive tasks allows scientists to have more time to focus on innovation and analysis of results.
Motorised immunoassay tests
For example, the preclinical and clinical stages of drug development involve an immunoassay — a test that measures the presence and concentration of analytes such as large proteins and antibodies. Immunoassay tests can evaluate drug response biomarkers, immunotherapy success and toxicity.
Pharmaceutical companies can use an immunoassay analyser to carry out these tests, which automatically and quickly runs multiple samples in parallel, saving vital time and enabling the high throughput screening of samples. To ensure the speed and reliability of the test, the analyser must be powered with motors such as brushless DC-servomotors. These motors are ideal for the extreme, repetitive operating conditions as they are precise, dynamic and long lived.
Automated cell analysis
In the later clinical trial stages of drug development, cell analysis is frequently used as a safer alternative to human testing. Cells are grown from human tissue in an incubator to provide sufficient material for drug testing.
Cell culture testing is a time consuming, repetitive job that requires great precision from the technician to ensure there is no contamination. Pharmaceutical companies are increasingly using automated testing systems to both save time and improve accuracy and quality.
For example, a robot can pick up a sample and scan its barcode using an onboard camera to identify the type of analysis that’s required. Using its motorised arm, the robot then places the sample in the appropriate piece of laboratory equipment to conduct the required test.
Supporting motors EMS is the sole UK and Ireland supplier of FAULHABER motors, which provide a superior combination of high performance, precision and low weight, ideal for use in medical and laboratory equipment. FAULHABER motors are made in a finely controlled manufacturing process that ensures they perform with high repeatability and reliability, ensuring all testing in drug development is conducted accurately.
They also deliver high power in a small space envelope, ideal for keeping research equipment compact, which is beneficial when trying to fit a range of equipment into a laboratory.
Alongside government support and excellent local talent, it is the investment in R&D and the constant drive for innovation that has cemented Ireland’s position as a world leader in MedTech. By helping to automate and accelerate the drug discovery process, precision motors certainly play a vital part in the Irish MedTech industry.