Prof. Dr.-Ing. Dr. h.c. Erich R. Reinhardt: A valley of high-tech medicine – The Medical Valley EMN

Interdisciplinary networks contribute to the R&D success of companies and research institutes in the Free State of Bavaria. The Medical Valley EMN (European Metropolitan Region Nuremberg) is a leading-edge cluster. With its projects the cluster pushes innovation.

High-resolution 3D tomographic images for an even earlier and more precise breast cancer diagnosis. Tita­n­ium im­­plants that have a longer lifetime despite lower manufacturing costs and that reduce the need for necessary replacement operations. Business models for the application of intelligent sensors and assistance systems that are to provide the opportunity, for instance, to lead a longer independent life at home or that are to improve ambulatory care of people with dementia.

If you look at the demographic development worldwide, these and other innovations in medical technology are indispensable. By 2050, there will be more old than young people; the number of patients with widespread diseases such as dementia, diabetes or cancer will increase significantly. New products and services for improved prevention, innovative diagnosis and therapy concepts as well as an efficient aftercare can secure the effectiveness of the health system.

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Bundled competency in the smallest of spaces. In the Medical Valley European Metropolitan Region Nurem­berg (EMN), many players from the sector work on further improving healthcare while keeping the health system affordable at the same time. It is the medium-term objective to only develop and market products, services and solutions which significantly in­­crease the effectiveness and efficiency in the prevention, diagnosis, treatment and rehabilitation of illnesses.

In the long-term, the Medical Valley EMN generally intends to optimise the structures in healthcare. For this, all relevant parties cooperate closely: politicians, health insurance providers, clinics, physicians in ­­their own practice, health economics and industry. The common ­goal is to develop an international model region for optimal healthcare.

On an area of 19,000 square kilometres, there are 180 medical engineering companies with approximately 16,000 employees, and over 40 hospitals in which more than 500,000 in-patients are treated every year. In addition, more than 20 non-university research institutions and more than 80 relevant chairs and professorships at universities and universities of applied sciences are working on medical technology solutions. This extraordinary density of partners, along with the international market and competitive position of individual players, offers the best conditions to turn ideas into products and services more quickly. The recipe for success: highly special­ised research institutions and internationally established market leaders such as Siemens or the Fraunhofer Institute for Inte­grated Circuits are in close dialogue with evolving and medium-sized companies from this sector. They are highly networked and benefit from short distances. This is ideal for re­search and development processes and presents competitive advantages and, consequently, growth opportunities in a global market environment.

An active network. The development, coordination and marketing of the cluster is run by the registered association Medical Valley EMN e.V., which was founded in 2007 for this purpose. Today, it has more than 140 members from politics, economy, science and healthcare. The cluster management organises the ex­­change of knowledge in the network, markets the cluster at national and international level, offers advanced education measures or provides advice on company formation, marketing and sales measures and on international activities. The measures are to strengthen the position of the Medical Valley EMN brand. The region is increasingly associated with top performance in healthcare and it is more and more perceived as an attractive location. By increasing the global market share of the companies and sales revenues, the overall economic power of the region is strengthened – existing jobs are secured in the long run, new jobs are created.

Dementia, breast cancer, prostheses: Promotion of excellence for research in medical technology. In January 2010, the Medical Valley EMN was declared the national Leading-Edge Cluster for medical technology by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF). By 2015, more than 40 strategic projects in the region will be supported with a total sum of 40 million euros. In addition, industrial partners contribute at least 50 per cent so that, in total, research projects with a volume of more than 80 million euros will be realised. The supported projects cover a wide array of topics in healthcare. With the key areas medical imaging, intelligent sensor systems, therapy sys­­­­tems, oph­thal­­mol­­ogy and horizontal inno­vations for pro­­­duct and pro­cess optimi­­­­sa­tion, the re­­sear­chers mainly focus on areas with a particular need for action due to increasing patient numbers.

Exemplary. To be able to live in their own home when they are elderly and yet feel safe even if in need of care and support – that is something that nine out of ten Germans wish for. The “health site at­ home” topic is one which is becoming more and more important in view of the demographic change. In the Medical Valley EMN, the lead project “Barrier-Free Health Assistance” is an excellent example of this. The combination of intelligent technology and customised service and organisational concepts is intended to support people in different situations in life and to reduce the workload of relatives and caregivers.

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With the “OSTEOFIT 2030” project, experts from the Medical Valley EMN want to improve the durability and tolerability of implants, while at the same time ­reducing manufacturing costs.

Standards are also being set in medical imaging. Every year, about one million women worldwide are diagnosed with breast cancer. Early detection of the dis­ease is crucial for successful treatment. This is why researchers at the Medical Valley EMN develop concepts in the “Breast CT” and “Integrated Breast Care” projects for gentle and highly sensitive breast cancer diagnostics. The main focus of these projects is on 3D tomographic imaging with minimum radiation exposure.

In the field of “therapy systems”, the cluster partners have specialised in im­­plants, among other things. In Germany, about 400,000 artificial joints are im­­planted every year. Even though nowadays endo­prosthetics offers a high degree of safety, replacement surgeries are often required, which are stressful for the patients and cause high costs for the healthcare system. the results of the first project phase of “Osteofit 2030” are promising: They show that the durability and tolerability of titanium implants can be im­­proved and that at the same time the manufacturing costs can be reduced. This way, difficult im­­plant replacements with accompanying infections or osteoporosis are to be ad­­dressed adequately.

Savings potential in the billions. The common strategy is promising: an initial health economic evaluation of selected projects shows that current research and development approaches of the leading-edge cluster could reduce costs in the healthcare sector by a total of more than 7.5 billion euros per year in Germany alone. At the same time, the innovations from the cluster ensure that the standard level of quality of healthcare is maintained or even improved despite the cost savings. The technologies developed in the projects help to reduce the length of hospital stays and the readmission rate for example. Moreover, an early detection of diseases should facilitate targeted treatments and avoid medication errors.

 

 

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Ideal climate for company formation: Start-up aid in the Medical Valley Center. Young companies in the cluster are also taken care of: with the founding centre Medical Valley Center (MVC), the Medical Valley EMN has its own future-orientated workshop where young companies find a favourable environment for growth. On a total of about 5,000 square metres of rental space, the MVC provides a modern infrastructure for company founders. More than 30 start-ups work here and benefit from synergies as well as from the proximity to research institutions and service providers. There is support in all phases of company develop­ment, such as start-­up services, ad­­vice on financing and funding aids, ­net­work­ing­, marketing support and international services. The Medical Valley Center is located at the heart of Erlan­gen and is a popular meeting point of the regional players; suprare­gio­nal­ ­co-operation also originates here quite often.

Prof_Reinhardt-KopieThe author was born in 1946, studied electrical engineering in Stuttgart and received his doctorate in 1979. From 1983 to 2011, he worked for Siemens AG, as CEO of the Healthcare Sector among others. Today, Prof. Reinhardt is chairman of the managing board of Medical Valley EMN e.V. The cluster establishes a network that brings together a comprehensive range of expertise in the field of health economics and research.