The high-tech health cluster in the Brabant region is a comprehensive and lively ecosystem that includes specialist research, sophisticated production capability and 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.
The foundations for the medical technology sector in Brabant can be traced back about a century, to the pioneering work of three men from three different disciplines, who combined science with entrepreneurial flair. Gerard Philips’s production in 1891, in Eindhoven, of his company’s first light bulb, ultimately resulted in technological developments that include MRI scanners, electron microscopes, semiconductor technology and active medical implants, that have been generated by dozens of large, mid-sized and small companies such as Philips Healthcare, Thermo Fischer Scientific, Innoluce and the start-up Sapiens Steering Brain Stimulation.
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.
Thijs Taminiau, Senior Project Manager at BOM Foreign Investments, whose portfolio is focused on MedTech and Life Sciences & Health, says there has been a rapid transformation of Brabant over the past century. The region has changed from being a poor farmer’s province to now being the fastest-growing region in the Netherlands – which moreover generates a third of all Dutch patents.
We grew fast thanks to strong companies, such as Philips, and because of a willingness to work hard. Also of importance is the extent to which open innovation takes place in centres such as the High Tech Campus and Pivot Park. When we talk to companies from elsewhere, such as from the US, they are always surprised at how open we are amongst ourselves about R&D and innovationThijs Taminiau - Senior Project Manager BOM Foreign Investments
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 Foreign Investments, whose portfolio is themed around high-tech systems.
He cites the example of Bambi Belt Solution, 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. “We have good R&D facilities in the region that are really focused on production, and we have production capabilities for small and large-scale options. It is a really pragmatic approach,” Hoeve says.
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