Jon Wood Column: A Medtech sector fit for the present and the future

Thought Leadership

I have been hugely impressed with our region’s meditech businesses during this present crisis. This has been the greatest national emergency that most of us can remember, and our businesses – like many people in the Cardiff Capital Region – have responded by doing whatever they can to help.

The Life Sciences Hub Wales and MediWales have both issued appeals for companies to help out with supplying the things desperately needed by the NHS and other emergency, health and social care providers. Things such as ventilators, hand sanitisers and personal protective equipment (PPE) can be made by companies that normally work in other sectors, such as distilleries for sanitisers. But some urgently needed things, such as data driven systems to allow rapid analysis and diagnosis from test results, require more specialist companies.

As Strategy Lead for Clusters to the City Deal, one my main priorities is medical devices and diagnostics. The Cardiff Capital region has more than 200 businesses working in the field. Along with its three universities and access to both the world’s first compound semiconductor cluster and NHS Wales, it makes for a strong and vibrant cluster operating in a supportive ecosystem.

We were already convinced before the pandemic that this sector would be of vital importance to the future economic success of the region. So we were already committed to doing what we could to help businesses in it prosper and grow.

What does innovation in medical technologies look like? Imagine virtual reality ultrasound headsets that allow sonographers to view the ultrasound images directly on the patient before them. Endoscope devices that not only allow surgeons to see internal organs, but also allow them to cut tissue and seal blood vessels, at the same time with the same device. 3D-printed titanium bone replacements, identical to the bones they replace, preventing the need for multiple rounds of surgery to remove screws and plates.

All these innovations already exist in South Wales, made by companies such as Intelligent Ultrasound, Creo Medical and the Centre for Batch Manufacturing.

So imagine what could happen if we connect the cutting-edge businesses that are already here with the future of electronics, and provide the resulting innovations an easy route into the NHS.

The pieces already exist for the Cardiff Capital Region to be recognised as a world leader in medical devices and diagnostics, and home to next generation meditech firms. With the right support, it could become the place to set up a new company, and for high school leavers with an interest in medtech to come to train, study or work in one of the thriving local businesses.

My role is to work with businesses, universities, Welsh Government, and support agencies such as Life Sciences Hub and MediWales, to develop a roadmap and strategy for how we realise that vision.

There are some key questions we have to answer:

  • What barriers do businesses in the region face?
  • How can we align the cutting-edge research to local business need, and in doing so grow the economy?
  • How can we ensure that the universities and colleges are helping to train students with all the skills businesses require?
  • How can we ensure medical devices and diagnostics companies can work with and best access the outputs of the compound semiconductor cluster?

Our priority right now in Cardiff Capital Region is to do what we can to help all our businesses get through these difficult days. But we also have an eye to the future, and remain convinced that the medical diagnostics and devices sector will be a hugely important one in our region’s economic life – just as it is in our present fight against Covid-19.


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