UK Trade and Investment

Yorkshire Boasts Healthy Medical Technology

The UK's healthcare sector is widely acknowledged to be a world leader, with the NHS considered to act as a benchmark for clinical excellence.

According to UK Trade & Investment figures, the British market for healthcare products was worth £111.42 billion in 2004, with exports of goods and services reaching a value of £14 billion in 2006. Particular sub-sectors the country thrives in, it is noted, are diagnostics, advanced wound care and orthopaedics.

Capitalising on this record, Yorkshire and Humberside has emerged as a region which is leading the UK's success in the industry.

Yorkshire Forward

Regional development agency Yorkshire Forward suggests the area has "a robust, diverse and bullish" business environment, with a gross domestic product in excess of £81 billion and ranked among the top third of the world's economies.

In addition, Yorkshire has a 2.5 million strong workforce with aptitude in advanced engineering, bioscience and digital technologies, the agency claims, while it generates 13 per cent of the country's graduates and has Britain's largest financial and professional services centre outside London, in Leeds.

Factors such as this, combined with its position in the heart of the country and transport links to all parts of the UK, make the region an attractive place to do business in, with healthcare technologies being one sector which has flocked to the area.

The organisation claims Yorkshire and Humberside has "one of the UK's highest concentrations of medical device companies, exceptional access to clinical trials, pioneering [research and development] and Europe's largest teaching hospital".

Yorkshire Forward acknowledges that the region is home to a healthcare cluster, citing the Office of National Statistics' Annual Business Inquiry 2003 which discovered 227 firms from the sector have a base there, employing some 6,943 staff and producing an output of £450 million.

Medical Technologies in the UK

Firms which manufacture orthopaedic and medical devices are particularly active in Yorkshire, it notes, with global players such as Smith and Nephew, Swann-Morton and Tunstall having major presence.

DePuy International, which is a Johnson & Johnson company, manufactures a range of products for reconstructing damaged or diseased joints, reconstructing traumatic skeletal injuries and devices for the treatment of soft tissue injuries in sports medicine.

The firm has located its orthopaedics headquarters in Leeds, where it creates prostheses and tissue regeneration therapies.

International firms have also gained access to the benefits of Yorkshire's healthcare sector by acquiring locally-grown enterprises. Last year, the Doncasters Group announced the sale of its medical wing to Swedish firm Sandvik Materials Technology.

Commenting at the time of the sale, Eric Lewis, CEO of the Doncasters Group, claimed: "Doncasters Medical Technologies is very successful, with impressive facilities in the UK and the USA, strong customer relationships, a good management team and a reputation for excellence and innovation.

Manufacturing firms in the region have support available to them through the Medilink scheme. The membership-based professional association provides companies in the area with services such as networking opportunities, chances to promote their products at major national and international medical exhibitions and advice on funding which is available to them.

Earlier this year, the organisation promoted Yorkshire achievements at the Medilink UK National Health Technology Awards in Birmingham. The event saw Leeds-based Brandon Medical Company win the Health Technologies KTN Innovation Award for developing the world's first fully integrated medical tele-video system for healthcare, known as Symposia.

Graeme Hall, Managing Director of the firm, commented: "It is fantastic to have our achievements in innovation recognised not only at a regional level but also in a national competition such as the Medilink UK awards.

It is this innovation, not just the manufacturing capability, which has made the region successful in gaining the attention of the firms in the healthcare technology industry.

Innovative healthcare in Yorkshire

Yorkshire Forward notes the capacity of the area, pointing to the fact that it attracts £340 million in academic research. In addition, it has one of the largest university concentrations in Europe, with three of them - Leeds, Sheffield and York - having research spending comparable to that of Oxford and Cambridge.

Other organisations noted by the development agency include Bradford's Institute of Cancer Therapeutics, the Kroto Research Campus in Sheffield and Leeds' Centre for Health Informatics. However, innovation in not just confined to the laboratory, with the support in place to turn research into commercial products.

Yorkshire Forward reveals that there are 12 centres of industrial collaboration (CIC) in the area, which work to bridge the gap between academia and the market. Spanning a range of disciplines, the CIC's have been involved in more than 1,700 projects.

The organisation draws attention to Polymer CIC which works with firms to develop new miniature biomedical products such as cochlear ear implants and nanoceramic bone replacement agents, while Design Future CIC looks at ways to improve healthcare products, examining systems to boost communication in hospitals between patients and staff.

An example of the results of the region's innovative culture is York-based Neotherix, a spin-out firm from Smith and Nephew. The company is developing pioneering technology to help surgical lesions to heal without the need for skin grafts. Known as bioresorbable scaffolds, the treatment could be of benefit to patients such as those with skin cancer or disfigurement.

Dr Mike Raxworthy, CEO of the company, said the new technology, which is being part funded by Yorkshire Forward, will avoid the need for stitching up wounds or using skin grafts.

Commenting on the innovative products development, he said: "The first six months will focus on evaluating the technology and adapting it for this clinical application. After that we will be seeking backing to commercialise the treatment and we hope to have the product on the market by 2010.

In addition, Yorkshire Forward cites projects such as University of Sheffield spin-out CellTran which developed Myskin, a dressing made from the patient's own cells, and the Institute of Wound Care, a University of Hull, Smith & Nephew and NHS joint venture, which is developing advanced treatment pathways as a testament to pioneering research in the region.

Healthcare technology in Yorkshire, it seems, is set to thrive as the region works to build a solid research base and a bustling manufacturing sector, allowing it to accommodate academic study, local firms and global giants.