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Supporting a thriving Belgian medtech industry: dedicated initiatives for an innovative ecosystem (Part 1)

With 200 companies and close to 17,000 jobs, the medical device industry in Belgium is one of the most active and innovative in Europe. As part of its strategic objectives, BioWin is actively driving dedicated initiatives, along with its partners, to continue boosting the ecosystem and its companies.

Medical equipment and systems, in vitro diagnostics, implantable devices, e-health, medical consumables: the medtech industry is a diverse and evolving sector that continues to thrive in Wallonia, and in Belgium in general, as demonstrated in the beMedtech 2022 industry report.

With a yearly turnover of €3.4 billion (not including export), the medtech sector represents over 500,000 technologies with 200 medtech companies, including 80 companies in Wallonia representing around 5,000 full-time employees.

In this series of articles, we explore the Walloon and Belgian medtech ecosystem, its challenges and opportunities, and the collaborative initiatives put in place by BioWin and its partners.

Belgium, a recognized innovation hub for the medtech industry

Rapid healthcare market changes are continuously challenging the medtech industry across the world. The recent COVID-19 pandemic has forced the biotech and medtech industry to accelerate and push its innovations forward. The medical diagnostics sector, especially in vitro diagnostics (IVD) technologies, has been at the forefront of this critical battle.

The IVD sector represents close to 40% of the Belgian medtech industry and has applications in various therapeutic areas, as Thierry Ferain, Innovation and Growth director at BioWin, explained: “In vitro diagnostics has always been an integral part of our project portfolio, targeting very diversified therapeutic areas and technological approaches. Among major examples, we can highlight the development of a test to detect Group B Streptococcus (GBS) in pregnant women at the time of delivery based on rapid immunochromatography technology. Another research project aimed at developing a test for patients suffering from triple-negative breast cancer in order to assess the possible benefit of a specific chemotherapy treatment by measuring the T-cells having infiltrated the tumor.

The innovation path in medtech is indeed shaped by the constantly evolving technologies but also by the continued investment in the sector, from the very early-stage, to ensure that patients have access to novel therapeutics and diagnostics solutions: 35.8% of companies invested over €2 million each during 2017-2021, setting up one or more medtech or IVD activities in the country; almost 30% are committed to investing more in the next five years.

Belgium, and Wallonia in particular, is represented by a strong network of highly skilled companies, one of the most flourishing in Europe. International groups, SMEs and startups can benefit from the dense and well-developed ecosystem that BioWin nurtures.

Trasis, specialized in the design and development of radiopharmaceutical medical equipment and a BioWin member since 2006, is a perfect example of continued innovation thanks to collaborations and the cluster’s support: “Trasis is active in the synthesis of radiopharmaceuticals used in medical imaging and therapies. BioWin has supported us through four projects already, one of which has allowed us to develop QC1, which is about to reach the market. This device allows the quality of radiolabeled substances to be controlled prior to patient injection. The QC1 instrument merges up to 14 analytical features, replacing nearly as many analytical devices, facilitating and securing the tasks of radio-pharmacists through its fast, easy set-up and self-generated analytical report. This instrument will complement our range of synthesis equipment, answering a long-awaited need in our field,” explained Jean-Luc Morelle, CTO at Trasis.

Supporting e-health innovators in Wallonia

Digital technologies are recognized as a key force in transforming industries, and we can see the healthcare sector dramatically shifting to a digitally driven world. Digital health includes tools and services that use information and communication technologies to improve prevention, diagnosis, treatment, monitoring and management of a person’s health and lifestyle.

In Belgium, 26.5% of medtech companies are developing at least one digital health tool or service.

Unleashing the full potential of digital technologies and patient data, Comunicare Solutions, a BioWin member since 2019, is developing an innovative platform that aggregates information provided by the hospital to the patient and collects the patient reported outcomes. Brice Van Eeckhout, co-founder and CEO at Comunicare, explained: “Wallonia is a strong and fertile ecosystem for innovative medtech companies, and we believe that BioWin plays a great role by supporting networking and funding activities for its members. This has enabled Comunicare Solutions to develop its ambition to empower patients and foster shared decision-making between patients and caregivers. Most recently, working with BioWin has enabled us to participate with regional partners in the set-up of two ambitious projects that aim to accelerate the development of target-specific cancer treatments and engaging in preventive care using genomic data.

Digital health members are also in need of more international visibility and networking to foster innovation and partnerships. To that end, BioWin collaborates with AWEX on international events and meetings.

NeuroClues, a young medtech startup specialized in neurological disorders and a BioWin member since 2020, explains how international meetings and partnerships have been critical in its development. Antoine Pouppez, CEO of NeuroClues, said: “We have benefited from BioWin’s support from the very start. Their invaluable support has helped us understand the American market. Thanks to a dedicated mission to Minneapolis in May, we will have the opportunity to meet leading US players and other Walloon companies with similar ambitions. In addition, BioWin’s partnership with French cluster Medicen has allowed us to enter the French market and gain access to the Parisian medtech ecosystem. BioWin is a key player in this thriving industry, acting as a network enabler and establishing connections with all the experts in the sector.

Sylvie Ponchaut, managing director, BioWin, said: Wallonia has the potential to become an important European ‘medtech valley’. I am convinced that collaborative innovation is the key to the future of medtech in Wallonia and in Europe, with our committed cluster partners. Medical technology, including digital health and its endless possibilities, is one of BioWin’s strategic areas of focus. 2023 will be a decisive year for us in this area, with dedicated initiatives and missions to deploy for our members.”

SAVE THE DATE – International health technology event

BioWin members can join the health technology focused meeting in Minnesota, USA, on May 8-12, 2023, to visit leading medical innovation companies, accelerators, research centers and hospitals in the renowned medtech ecosystem in Minnesota and participate in networking events.

This mission organized by AWEX is a great opportunity for BioWin to continue the efforts engaged in the European ‘MAGIA’ (Medtech Alliance for Global Internationalization) program, which brings together four European healthcare clusters including BioWin. Following two successful missions in 2019 and 2022, the alliance recently signed a partnership with the Medical Alley Association (MAA), a major cluster in Minnesota covering the entire healthcare ecosystem in the state.

Info and registration here

Learn more about medtech focused initiatives in the new leaflet on the Walloon Medical Technology Industry here.

To find out more about our medtech members: