Ireland must invest to lead regenerative medicine field

Ireland has the potential to be a world leader in regenerative medicine, but we must invest in upskilling engineers to meet future skills needs, Engineers Ireland president Dr John O’Dea told delegates at the organisation’s Annual Conference.

Ireland can play a leading role in the international biomedical market – but, in order to do so, we must invest in the sector now, according to Dr John O’Dea, president of Engineers Ireland and chief executive officer of medical devices company Crospon.

 

Ireland can play a leading role in the international biomedical market – but, in order to do so, we must invest in the sector now, according to Dr John O’Dea, president of Engineers Ireland and chief executive officer of medical devices company Crospon.

O’Dea was speaking at the Engineers Ireland Annual Conference, which took place in the Sligo Park Hotel last week (15-16 May). He added that Ireland – and especially Irish engineers – must upskill now if the country is to lead the progress in the regenerative medicine field.

“Ireland is now the second-largest exporter of medical technology in Europe – second only to Germany. The medical device industry is heavily manufacturing-focused and the sector has grown rapidly over the last decade, particularly from inward investment,” said O’Dea. The medtech sector currently employs in the region of 25,000 people – the highest number of people working in the industry in any country in Europe, per head of population – and exports close to €8 billion worth of products annually.

However, a number of challenges remain to be tackled. Delegates at the conference heard that in Ireland, there is a relatively low overall level of engagement by clinicians in research. Engineers Ireland encourages more collaboration between engineers and clinicians, as significant medical devices innovations frequently emerge informally from the application of engineering principles to clinician insights.

In addition, the medical devices sector owes much of its growth to overseas investment. This record of growth is now being challenged by rising costs, unfavourable exchange rates and the improving manufacturing capabilities of competing, low-cost economies.

“Over the last number of years, the numbers employed in the sector have remained stable and we can’t become complacent,” said O’Dea. “Ireland must ensure its strategic focus is awarded to ensuring that the right skills and facilities exist in order to be at the forefront of this game-changing advancement in medicine and medical technology.”

Ireland is one of five recognised centres of biomedical excellence globally, an industry which is entering a new era of regenerative medicine. A recent study by Johnson and Johnson suggests that the regenerative medicine market will exceed $10 billion by 2020.

Delegates also heard from Prof Tim O’Brien, director of the Regenerative Medicine Institute (REMEDI) at NUI Galway. Following the recent Irish Medicines Board approval of the Centre for Cell Manufacturing Ireland (CCMI) in Galway, Ireland boasts one of only six regenerative medicine institutes in Europe, which is approved to manufacture stem-cell therapies for human use.

O’Brien said that the custom-built CCMI can help position Ireland “as a global player in the regenerative medicine field”. His work focuses on adult bone-marrow stromal cells and diabetic critical limb ischemia, although Galway also carries out work in the areas of vascular, musculoskeletal and orthopaedic medicine.

REMEDI developed the CCMI in order to expand stem cells for use in human clinical trials. As the centre has now been successfully accredited and opened in January, it is now in a position to start supplying stems cells for this purpose.

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