Assembly Government urged to boost Wales
An industry representative explains the opportunity Wales has to take advantage of rising health standards, writes Robert Llewellyn Jones.
Wales’ life science industries could miss out on the world’s fast-growing medical technology market without more support from the Assembly Government, according to a leading expert in the field. Gwyn Tudor, Forum Manager for MediWales, said the global market for health technology is growing at 10% per year as the populations of China and India are exposed to Western standards of medical care.
This is creating a huge demand for technology and purchasing on an unprecedented scale that Wales’ life sciences sector could take advantage of.
But Mr Tudor said: “Only the WAG has the resources to represent Wales plc and improve the opportunities for Welsh companies to prosper in these markets.
“This revolution in those countries could pass us by since there are organisations all over the world only to happy to service those requirements. If we want to be there we have to act fast.”
MediWales was established in 1992 as a collaboration between the now defunct Welsh Development Agency (WDA) and the life sciences sector. It currently has 1,200 members comprised mostly of private companies. MediWales ensures that its members are aware of what is going on around them and know that academic expertise is on their doorstep in various university departments.
For its part academia can understand the industrial perspective which is important when companies are looking to engage in and commercialise intellectual property.
Mr Tudor said: “Wales has a flourishing life science sector. “Having our own National Health Service, shorter lines of command and smaller management structures means we have significantly greater opportunity to impact on research and development in terms of clinical trials, evaluation and procurement.”
Commercially, life sciences encompasses products involving biological systems either in their manufacture or use. This includes pharmaceutical products, biological technologies and diagnostic equipment for use in surgeries or laboratories. Mr Tudor said: “We have some superb companies in the diagnostic business making equipment which is used to diagnose illness or infection in a patient. Companies like Clinical Diagnostics in Bridgend and a division of Siemens in North Wales are some of the larger companies.
“We also have small clever companies coming up with new diagnostic tools which can be bought over the counter and used at home rather than sending tests off to a laboratory. This is an example of the close interaction between universities and the spin-out companies that emanate from them.”
The medical schools of Cardiff and Swansea are the most significant players in the delivery and use of medical technology and diagnostics but others have a role to play. Mr Tudor said: “The electrical laboratories at the University of Glamorgan have a long history of working with industry while Uwic has a product development centre in Cardiff. So the connections between universities and companies is absolutely intrinsic.” He added: “That said companies stand on their own two feet, and within the diagnostic and medical device sector those we are talking about are revenue earning and employ significant numbers of people.“In total this is worth about £1.3bn to the Welsh economy and employs 15,000 people.”
Mr Tudor said the life science sector has three roles. “It’s not just about making money for its business elements, it provides economic benefits, improves patient care. Everything our companies do in the health sector relates to improving patient care otherwise there wouldn’t be a market for it.” He added: “It reduces the cost of health care to the taxpayer since every single product our members try and sell the NHS has to provide a benefit to the patient and improve health care costs.”
MediWales has moved from being a deliverer of networking activity to a more strategic role. This has involved asking members what, in difficult economic times, MediWales can do that really impacts on their success.
Mr Tudor said: “Their response is ‘access finance’ when relevant and ‘access to clinical expertise’ at the earlier stages of product development. When launching a company they need to know if they have a good product, which is essential in raising investment capital, and one that will withstand rigorous testing in the laboratory and on patients. Companies can go anywhere to get this done but if they can do it in Wales it reduces the cost, and to have trials carried out in the UK carries kudos throughout the world.”
By Chris Kelsey, Western Mail