In a year dominated by Covid-19, disease control and medical technology innovation have taken centre stage. In the German state of Saxony-Anhalt, scientists, entrepreneurs and major multinationals are working together to drive medtech and eHealth advances in areas such as prevention, diagnostics, therapies and service, and products.
The state covers an area of 20,451 sq km and has a population of around 2.2 million. It is connected to the rest of the country and beyond via an extensive network of motorways, railway lines, waterways and the Leipzig/Halle International Airport. Home to two universities and eight universities of applied science, it also boasts 29 research facilities.
“It’s a good location, close to well-known economic centres such as Berlin, Hanover and Leipzig,” says Sonnhild Dombrowski, product manager at magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) systems development firm Neoscan Solutions.
The global export of medical products from Halberstadt has helped put the central Saxony-Anhalt town on the map. According to Investment and Marketing Corporation Saxony-Anhalt, almost 30 medtech firms have taken up residence in its business parks, including Dahlhausen Medizintechnik and Novoplast Schlauchtechnik.
Thomas Rimpler, deputy lord mayor and head of department business, urban planning and culture of the city of Halberstadt, reports that Halberstadt is a centre for the production of single-use medical products used in operations, and in inpatient and outpatient areas, with ample manufacturing capacity. “We have over 16,000 sq m of clean room space and the largest and most modern gas sterilisation system in Europe,” he says.
One of the town’s leading businesses in this sector is the primed corporate group with the HA2 Medizintechnik company, which operates the gas sterilisation facility and has space for 170,000 pallets. “This, coupled with Halberstadt’s central location, enables fast and logistically efficient supply to customers in Germany and throughout Europe,” explains Mr Rimpler.
Saxony-Anhalt supports eHealth and telemedicine innovation. Its computer scientists and doctors are working together on a raft of projects targeted at improving diagnoses and the efficiency of healthcare delivery. These include Otto-von-Guericke University Magdeburg’s telemedical acute stroke care research, which enables stroke patients to receive rapid treatment when no specialist hospital care is available locally.
Over in Halle, software company Celloon has created a cardio care app, which enables hospitals to remotely monitor postoperative cardiac patients on a daily basis.
Another company active in the local eHealth sector is Innocon Systems, which has developed software to improve efficiency in hospitals. This includes medpaper, which automatically generates digital documents for information, treatment and documentation; and webOrder, a communication portal that enables patients to access diagnoses, doctor’s letters and X-ray images securely online.
There are a range of opportunities for the state’s medtech organisations to work together, through clusters and networks such as Cluster Med-Tech Saxony-Anhalt and InnoMed Network for Medical Technology Saxony-Anhalt.
Saxony-Anhalt is also home to 12 centres of excellence for science, research and industry, including the ‘Stimulate’ research campus in the state capital of Magdeburg. This public–private partnership between Otto-von-Guericke University Magdeburg, Siemens Healthcare and the Stimulate Association brings together 35 partners from business and science, and is funded by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research.
Stimulate’s focus is on technologies for image-guided, minimally invasive medical methods that can help improve treatment for age-related diseases in specialties such as oncology, neurology and vascular disease.
Ms Dombrowski reports that Neoscan Solutions’s MRI systems will enter clinical use in 2021. The firm works closely with Stimulate in what she describes as a win-win collaboration linking academic research with private industry. “We profit from each other,” she says. “Projects become better known, and Magdeburg becomes a more popular location and attracts more interested students, specialists and new companies.”
Marcus Prier is research group leader of the MRI system engineering group at the Otto-von-Guericke University Magdeburg. He is involved in projects linking Magdeburg and the US city of Boston. Although Boston is the world leader in medical imaging, he opted to stay in Magdeburg because of its excellence in medical engineering, and the way in which the research campus Stimulate is making such an important contribution to the local medtech ecosystem.
“We have great support from Saxony-Anhalt and the EU in the form of grants for our own prototyping lab,” says Mr Prier. “As one result, we’ve built up one of the finest electronic labs for rapid prototyping over the past three years. Our output of clinical imaging technology prototypes has achieved almost product-like quality, which is very special for a university facility because prototypes from universities are mostly far from product quality.”
Dr Bennet Hensen is a radiologist at Hanover Medical School (MHH), which is a member of the Stimulate Association. “The Stimulate research campus is an excellent location to set up a medtech company,” he says. “It offers access to medical universities such as University Hospital Magdeburg and MHH. It also offers a platform for clinical and usability studies, and provides links between clinical experts, developers and company founders in our field of minimally invasive therapies.”
Dr Hensen believes that Stimulate has been key to the collaboration needed to improve interventional MRI scans. “It aims to drive innovation until companies can take it and create superior and competitive products,” he says. “The numerous company collaborations that we have built up over the past few years will enable us to transform the prototypes developed on campus into clinical reality over the next few years.”
Access to talent
People living in Saxony-Anhalt say that local universities and skills availability are a plus. “We have two large university cities, Halle and Magdeburg, which are known for their scientific and engineering focus,” says Ms Dombrowski. “For us, as a start-up, this is a welcoming environment and well-trained graduates easily find their way to us. Additionally, the state is very interested in innovative developments and growing businesses, and there is a good chance of getting support and funding for future-orientated projects.”
Mr Prier agrees: “Medical engineering is complicated. Products need to be medical grade, and document processes to ensure medical product qualification are extensive. You need a critical mass of knowledgeable people covering many different disciplines to start something in the medical sector.”
Mr Rimpler is optimistic about prospects for the sector: “Medical technology is fundamentally innovative,” he says. “This has a positive effect on local economic development and beyond. The medical technology sector is a growth industry, is less prone to crises and will continue to provide stability in the mix of industries in Halberstadt.”
In association with Investment and Marketing Corporation (IMG) Saxony-Anhalt. Writing and editing were carried out independently by fDi Magazine
This article first appeared in the December/January print edition of fDi Intelligence. View a digital edition of the magazine here.