Connecting the Australian Medical Devices Sector to Fast-Track New Technology

Pictured (L-R): the MDPP team - Aaron Mohtar, Debbie Cocks, Professor Karen Reynolds, Olivia White, Dr Andrew Milligan and Stephen Blakeney - at the SA Science Awards in Adelaide in February 2021.

What began as an ideas incubator for the South Australian medtech sector has expanded nationally - setting a new benchmark for the translation of medical device technology in Australia.

Any innovator aspiring to bring their idea for a medical device to life requires input from a veritable army of experts. Researchers, clinicians, end-users, manufacturers, commercialisation organisations: establishing relationships with these and other stakeholders is imperative, yet for start-ups and small companies in particular, it can be difficult to know who to approach, let alone how to engage them on a project. As a result, many potentially ground-breaking ideas are left unexplored.

Hoping to streamline this process, Professor Karen Reynolds and her team from Flinders University created the Medical Device Partnering Program (MDPP): an initiative that connects medical device innovators with a network of experts who can help turn their ideas into market-ready products. Since its inception in 2008, the program has leveraged the expertise of South Australia's medical device and manufacturing community, fostering collaborations between researchers, end-users and government to drive the early-stage development of innovative medical and assistive technologies. To date, the program has considered more than 680 ideas for new medical devices and completed over 170 workshops and 100 R&D projects. In recognition of its impact on the medtech sector, the MDPP was recently presented with the Excellence in Science and Industry Collaboration award at the 2020 SA Science Excellence and Innovation Awards, which honour the depth and diversity of scientific endeavour and research in South Australia.

In 2017, the MDPP was awarded an MTPConnect Growth Centre Project Fund grant to investigate a national expansion of the program. In March 2019 the MDPP expanded nationally establishing a Victorian node at Swinburne University of Technology, with more support from MTPConnect, the South Australian Government's Department for Innovation and Skills and the Victorian Government's LaunchVic initiative. MDPP has built upon the connections already established in South Australia; to nurture an extensive network of expertise that can help fast-track technology development and achieve stronger commercial outcomes for the medtech sector nationwide. The program's ultimate goal is for Australia to set the global standard for the rapid translation of medical devices, from concept through to finished product.

This first step towards national expansion has been an undisputed success. Between March 2019 and November 2020, enquiries to the idea's incubator increased by over 150 percent and more than 250 ideas for novel medical or assisted devices were assessed by the MDPP Innovations team. In addition, 54 entrepreneurs were given the opportunity to present and have their ideas validated at a multidisciplinary stakeholder workshop. Of these, 26 were awarded an MDPP R&D project grant.

The launch has likewise delivered considerable benefits to Victoria, creating employment opportunities and connecting start-ups and existing companies with the stat's robust research and development community. As Victorian Minister for Jobs, Innovation and Trade, the Hon. Martin Pakula MP, said: "MDPP is designed to add significant value to a rapidly growing medtech sector, strongly connecting university capabilities with health entrepreneurs."

As part of its national expansion, MDPP has also launched the first dedicated online capability directory, which lists the details of more than 2,600 Australian organisations relevant to the medical device industry. Bringing together expert research, clinical and manufacturing capabilities, the directory can be used by businesses to identify research organisations that can help them develop new products, or by start-ups looking for advanced manufacturers to build new products.

MDPP Director Professor Karen Reynolds has revealed that the aim of the directory is to cultivate Australia's position as a global leader in the growing medical devices market. 

"Our new capability directory is going to make it a lot easier for innovators to tap into the rich sovereign ecosystem that exists here and get the support they need to develop, commercialise and locally manufacture a new medical device," she said.

The directory is particularly useful for teams working on time-sensitive projects and has already proved valuable during the recent coronavirus pandemic, Professor Reynolds added. 

"As we move into a new era of adaptation and flexibility, driven by extraordinary challenges such as the COVID-19 pandemic, manufacturers can pivot into new markets when given the opportunity and connections to do so and our capability directory can help," she said.

"We experienced this firsthand when setting up a PPE testing facility with UniSA to support a COVID-19 face mask testing facility for Australia. The connections to experts in materials science, medical device research, clinical validation and therapeutic product regulation in the directory made it possible to do so rapidly."

For more information, visit MDPP and check out the Capability Directory.