Professor David Lowe, clinical director for health innovation at the Scottish Health and Industry Partnership (SHIP), emergency medicine consultant at Glasgow’s Queen Elizabeth University Hospital, and West of Scotland Test Bed lead, discusses the effect Scottish medtech is having overseas.
With growing demand for innovative tech-based solutions in line with the NHS recovery plan, Scotland’s rich medtech and digital health expertise is putting the country firmly on the map.
The figures make for good reading – 250 companies working within Scotland’s vibrant medtech industry; 9,000 employed in the sector; and a Scottish medtech industry growth rate of 8% per annum over the last decade. An exceptional research community, innovative thinking among a skilled workforce, and a highly collaborative ecosystem are driving the growth, and it shows no signs of slowing down.
There is an incredible amount of opportunity with a huge repository of knowledge and expertise to tap into within Scotland. I’ve been fortunate to spend 15 years within the NHS, working with extremely talented teams, all truly committed to delivering the excellent patient care.
My frontline role as an emergency medical consultant remains a significant part of what I do, but as West of Scotland test bed lead and clinical director for the newly formed Scottish Health and Industry Partnership (SHIP), I am committed to doing more to truly capitalise on our potential to improve the quality, efficiency, and sustainability of healthcare, not only in Scotland but around the world.
Medtech is an area focus resulting in significant growth– that is why James Blackwood, AI lead at Scottish Health and Industry Partnership and I, joined colleagues at Scottish Development International to showcase Scotland’s capabilities at an information event hosted by BIOPRO Baden-Württemberg. This organisation provides support for healthcare industry-drive issues and helps companies from Baden-Württemberg (BW) in Germany and the UK secure greater access to each other’s economic and research ecosystems.
At the event we provided insight into priorities and opportunities to work with Scotland such as our test beds enabling infrastructure, providing access to the clinical environment, plus expertise to support development of evidence of benefit including improved patient/clinical outcomes, as well as looking at prospects in Germany for Scottish medtech companies.
Germany is the biggest market in Europe while the UK is the third biggest with respective market shares of 25.6% and 12.1% (2020) so both offer attractive markets for medical technology companies. Understanding more about the healthcare systems in each country, how medical devices may be introduced in these markets, as well as highlighting innovation adoption, opportunities and trends can help to accelerate future collaborative opportunities.
Medical devices are a significant driver of healthcare innovation, and we have a strong model for developing medical devices for use in NHS Scotland, which help improve healthcare delivery on home soil but equally provide opportunities to extend the benefits internationally.
The case studies are numerous, but PillCam is a standout example. This capsule contains two tiny cameras and is designed to enable pictures of the lining of the bowel to look for problems or signs of disease. Once swallowed by the patient, it takes up to 400,000 images (32 per second) on its journey which are remotely reviewed and analysed. Through significant collaboration a colon capsule endoscopy service is now established, and Scotland is the first country in the world (1) to provide this technology as a routine service for patients, and the first in the United Kingdom to mark the milestone of 2,000 patients. The technology has the potential to be cost effective, less invasive, and more acceptable to patients than existing procedures providing an alternate diagnostic pathway for some patients. The environmental impact compared to existing diagnostics is also much better thanks to less travel requirement resulting from the ability to investigate at home.
Whilst patients in Scotland are benefitting from PillCam right now, we have other examples of NHS-led medtech innovation positively impacting lives around the world. Touch Bionics – the first spin out of Scottish Health Innovations Ltd (SHIL) – is one of Scotland’s most successful medtech companies. Starting life in NHS Lothian it was the first company to develop an electrically powered prosthetic hand with five independently powered fingers. In 2016 it was sold to Icelandic firm Ossur – a global leader in the development, production, and sale of non-invasive orthopaedics and the company remains a pioneer in upper limb prosthetic solutions 20 years later.
We must replicate that success with further innovative ideas – and it’s the reason why SHIP was set up – to capitalise on advances in medtech, artificial intelligence, precision medicine, digital health, robotics and maximise opportunities to work collaboratively.
I have been personally involved in a range of medical device projects and the innovation test bed environment set up in Scotland is vital to this. It allows innovative solutions to be tested in a real-world environment and ensure they are fit for purpose – clinically, financially, and operationally – before being brought into wider use. This model is vital to enable the NHS to adapt and respond to new ways of working. Multiple projects have been accelerated through this pathway during the pandemic and we can use this experience to reach further and share those learnings while planting Scotland’s flag on the global innovation map.
Our strengths shouldn’t be understated. As well as innovation test beds embedded within NHS Scotland, additional significant investment has been made in the country’s overall medtech infrastructure. The opening of the Medical Device Manufacturing Centre (MDMC) in Edinburgh is testament to this, supporting Scottish SMEs with the development, manufacturing, and commercialisation of medical devices.
It complements established facilities such as Cuschieri Skills Centre in Dundee, Strathclyde Institute of Medical Devices in Glasgow, and innovation centres such as Digital Health and Care Institute (DHI), Stratified Medicine Scotland (SMS-IC) and the Centre for Sensor and Imaging Systems (CENSIS).
It all adds up to a really strong landscape, underpinned by strong partnerships across the triple helix of NHS, industry and academia. This three-way exchange of skills, expertise, and resource. I believe this is vital to realising our ambitions and helping our relatively small nation take a lead in the adoption as well as the development of innovation across public sectors.
Critically, this approach also responds to the needs of healthcare systems worldwide by working in partnership with everyone from SMEs to global multinationals.