From lightbulb to robotic surgery: Life Sciences in Brabant thrives on scientific innovations generated from within the region.
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The high-tech health cluster in the Brabant region is a comprehensive and lively ecosystem that includes specialist research, sophisticated production capability and willing investment capital. A golden thread is an open innovation taking place amongst the various public-sector, academic and industry stakeholders, which is exemplified through a number of collaborative platforms that involve co-location and collective research initiatives. Judging by volumes of patent applications, the number of start-ups boldly finding commercial viability and the way in which local health-tech corporates lead their sectors in world markets, it seems that Brabant is well on its way to achieving status as a globally recognised medical-technology cluster.
At more or less the time that Philips was fine-tuning its medical X-ray tube technology, a different type of medical science was being exploited further north in the province, in Oss. Saal van Zwanenberg, the owner of a thriving meat-processing business, combined forces with pharmacist Ernst Laqueur to find a commercial use for animal by-products: In 1923 they established Organon, which became the first European manufacturer of insulin, and soon moved on to produce a range of hormone-treatment pharmaceuticals. Following various acquisitions and spin-offs over the decades, the original business is now included in MSD and in MSD Animal Health. Today Oss is home to Pivot Park, an open innovation biopharmaceutical campus that houses a network of large and smaller pharmaceutical manufacturers and suppliers.
Thom Frielink is Innovation Advisor at Health~Holland, the executive office for the Dutch Top Sector Life Sciences & Health; from his national vantage point, he sees new nodes of specialisation emerging across the Brabant province. “Given the historically large role played in medical technology by Philips in the region, the eastern side of Brabant has a more dominant position in medical technology innovation compared to the west of the province. Nevertheless, there are some important healthcare initiatives coming up in West Brabant, such as the Care Innovation Center (CIC) in Roosendaal. This is a cooperation between the municipality, a local healthcare school and a number of local innovators, that together help to quicken the innovation trajectory of their medical technologies”.
In Brabant, collaboration across silos has been the key to getting ideas tested, funded and into the market. “Although we don’t have medical research hospitals in Brabant, we have close cooperation with local top clinical hospitals, which is one aspect enabling us to bring innovations and companies quickly to market,” says Frits Hoeve, Project Manager at BOM, whose portfolio is themed around high-tech systems.
He cites the example of Bambi medical, a medical startup that is partnering with the Holst Centre, which makes heart monitoring belts for neonatal babies; another is Preceyes, which provides robotic solutions for eye surgery.
The Holst Centre is an R&D institute most of whose research applications are in the medical field, and which conducts research on an open-innovation basis, in cooperation with industry and academia. Its work complements that of the Eindhoven University of Technology, which has identified health as one of its three strategic focus areas, and which has nine health-themed faculties. Moreover, Tilburg, Breda and Eindhoven have universities of applied sciences – Avans and Fontys – which offer health-related research and training.
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