Medical technology alleviates pain, injury and handicap and represents a huge market: in 2007, medical technology sales in Europe alone amounted to €72.6 billion. Billions of patients worldwide depend on medical technology, at home, at the doctor’s, in the hospital and in nursing homes. According to Eucomed, more than 500,000 products (10,000 generic groups) are available today: wheelchairs, pacemakers, insulin pens, MRI scanners, pregnancy tests, surgical instruments, bandages, syringes, life-support machines, tissue engineered skin for burns or ulcers and more besides.
There is high quality research in the BioAlps cluster that may lead to novel medical technology. Biomedical research will increasingly rely on quantitative approaches and high-end technologies, and the future of life sciences lies at the crossroads of biology, basic sciences, informatics and engineering.
The Universities of Geneva and Fribourg offer degrees in biomedicine, medicine and pharmacology. There are regular and close interactions between the different institutions in Western Switzerland and Bern’s University of Applied Sciences.
The EPFL has several institutes and programmes that are at the intersection between biology and engineering. The School of Life Sciences at the EPFL hosts more than forty research groups pushing for integrated approaches that span a range of disciplines from functional genomics to high-tech bioengineering, and from computer neurosciences to structural modeling to apply to cancer, infectious diseases and mental or neurological disorders.
The Brain Mind Institute (BMI) works with clinical and industrial partners, notably in sports neuroscience with a transfaculty center for sports rehabilitation and engineering. The BMI is immersed in the ideal super-technology playground for which the EPFL is so famous, and has multiple initiatives to develop new technologies ranging from the use of nano/microtechnologies to virtual reality to explore brain function, and to apply neuroscientific knowledge to develop applications and therapies.
Within the BioAlps cluster, the Medical Faculty of the University of Bern, the University hospital (Inselspital) and affiliated research institutes, are recognized as leaders in medical research. In the context of its current strategy, the University of Bern has identified medical technology as a particularly important development focus, a decision based on the leading role of its clinical interventional disciplines and the strong presence of the medical technology industry in the greater Bern area. It has been decided to establish a medical technology platform termed Artificial Organ (ARTORG) Center for Biomedical Engineering Research.
The Center brings together researchers from various biomedical institutes and clinical departments thematically focused on artificial organs. It actively collaborates with research and development groups of the Bern University of Applied Sciences and other Swiss institutes of technology. Furthermore, knowledge and technology transfer is promoted by involving partners from the Swiss Medical Technology industry.
The University Hospitals of Geneva (HUG) have opened a school for minimally invasive robotic surgery. The Da Vinci robot, a sophisticated robotic platform designed to enable complex surgery using a minimally invasive approach manufactured by Intuitive Surgical, has been used since 2006 by the visceral surgery unit and a second robot is used to train 50-85 surgeons a year on visceral surgery.
This platform, created under the auspices of the Fondation pour les Nouvelles Technologies Chirurgicales (FNTC) aims to assemble all the skills in the different hospitals, industries and universities in Western Switzerland.
The BioAlps life science cluster hosts many medtech companies, large and small, who both provide and profit from expertise in the region. Companies such as Komax Systems LCF (former known as Ismeca Automation), a world class supplier of turn-key automatic assembly systems with over 40 years of automation expertise, bridge the step from a prototype to manufacturing.
Komax in La Chaux-de-Fonds provides custom engineered turn-key assembly systems for manufacturers in the medical device, electrical component and consumer goods industries.
Multinational companies such as Stryker, specialised in orthopaedic medical technology, Dentsply Maillefer, a dental technology company, Heraeus, a medical technology company all sit in the BioAlps cluster.
The European headquarters of market leaders Medtronic and Edwards Lifesciences are based in the BioAlps cluster, and companies such as B. Braun have several offices in Switzerland. Johnson & Johnson companies in the DePuy family – DePuy Orthopaedics, Inc., DePuy Spine, Inc., DePuy Mitek, Inc., and Codman & Shurtleff, Inc. – have been pioneers in the fields of orthopaedics, spinal care and neuroscience therapies for decades.
From non-surgical pain management to complete surgical solutions, the range of treatment options include those for treating or reconstructing damaged or diseased joints, caring for traumatic skeletal injuries, treating spinal disorders and deformity, and repairing injured soft tissue. Global medical device company Synthes develops, produces and markets instruments, implants and biomaterials for the surgical fixation, correction and regeneration of the human skeleton and its soft tissues.
Debiotech develops highly innovative medical devices for therapeutic and diagnostic purposes such as disposable programmable micropumps, miniaturized infusion pumps, contrast media injectors, drug reconstitution devices, cyclers for peritoneal dialysis, flow regulators and nano delivery systems.
Phonak Acoustic Implants, owned by Sonova Holding, designs and manufactures partially implantable hearing instruments severe to profound hearing losses. Acoustic Implants notably develops the Direct Acoustical Cochlear Stimulation (DACS) partial implant hearing instrument based on the proven DACS actuator and the signal processing capability of the Phonak hearing system.
Promising start-ups such as Endoart and Obtech Medical have been acquired by larger companies: Allergan and Ethicon Endosurgery respectively. The progress of other promising start-ups, such as Sensimed, who design, develop and commercialise integrated micro-systems for medical devices, is closely followed by the market as well.