The term ‘medical technologies’ refers to those biomedical engineering applications that support the broad sweep of non-pharmaceutical products that are used to diagnose, monitor and treat virtually every disease or condition that affects humans. These products are ubiquitous, ranging from everyday objects such as sticking plasters and latex gloves, through to electronic and mechanical devices such as hearing aids and wheelchairs, and complex systems such as body scanners and pacemakers.
The medical technologies business sector is very important to the UK, with more than 2,000 companies generating more than £6 billion in sales per annum. The large number of companies arises from the fast-to-market nature of the sector, where light-touch regulations (compared to drugs) mean that spinouts and SMEs can realistically bring a new product all the way ‘from the bench to the clinic’ in two or three years. In principle this leads to a diverse and vibrant spectrum of academic, clinical and commercial activity in the field.
At the same time, the sector is seeing unprecedented growth. The January 2011 TSB Stratified Medicine call is just one of many indications in the UK and abroad of a shift towards front-loaded treatment pathways. Medical devices and diagnostics are increasingly being relied upon as gating factors on the choice of drugs to treat chronic and acute conditions, signalling a shift in the balance of power between ‘pharma’ and ‘med tech’.
Medical Technology Sales in Europe 2009 (% of total): Source: World Bank, EDMA, Espicom and Eucomed calculations, 2009 Europe refers to EU – 27 plus Norway and Switzerland