“People tell us their idea and we help with the tech development. We’re good at showing them whether their idea is technically feasible and whether it’s worth starting as a business.”
Stephen Blakeney (left) is the Innovations Manager at the Medical Device Partnering Program (MDPP) at Flinders University in South Australia which aims to get good ideas to market. It’s a very similar approach to New Zealand’s Consortium for Medical Device Technologies (CMDT).
MDPP was set up 14 years ago by director Professor Karen Reynolds to help take ideas from Flinders’ researchers and clinicians at local hospitals, to help them connect the dots as Blakeney puts it.
“This was the time when Australian manufacturers stopped making car parts and began to see medical devices as important. They saw these high-value devices as something both New Zealand and Australian manufacturers could be globally competitive in, and the quality requirements were a good reason to keep them within the country.”
Australia and New Zealand face similar opportunities and challenges – the expansion of new technologies from devices to software; rising healthcare costs; a focus on prevention and self-care; personalised medicine; and big data. This is where the MDPP focuses its efforts – bringing engineers and clinicians, health researchers and web developers, designers and users, industry and government together to collaborate on creative solutions to address global healthcare challenges.
“Someone with an idea, even scribbled on the back of a paper napkin, could come to the program which is funded through both the South Australian Government and the Federal Government through the MedTech and Pharma Growth Centre, MTPConnect,” says Blakeney.
“We’ll do the due diligence work – assess the idea for technical feasibility, ask other clinicians to validate the challenge and solution and use this information to determine its commercial viability – and decide yes or no. Where it’s a ‘yes’, we’ll get 15-20 people into a room, including clinicians, researchers, manufacturers and regulatory advisors, where they can bounce ideas off each other and understand the whole problem. It’s a very valuable way of assessing potential.”
Ideas that make it through this stage go to an independent assessment panel where the applicant pays AUD$5000, and receives 250 hours of help, including a market report, to progress. Any IP the MDPP generates is handed back to the owners. MDPP will also advise on grant opportunities.
MDPP runs six to eight projects each year with an annual showcase. “There’s a lot of focus on the US and Europe because of the market potential, but it could be good to look at Australian/New Zealand collaboration. There’s value in keeping some of those distances shorter.”
Blakeney stresses they’re not an incubator set-up. “We’re an ideas incubator. Clinicians, researchers and manufacturers come to us with their problem or idea, and we help with the technology development. We’re good at showing them whether their idea is technically feasible and whether it’s worth starting as a business.”
As their website says, MDPP “enable(s) inventors and entrepreneurs to validate their product ideas by funding the crucial early stage development and ‘ideas test phase’ which other funding programs often deem ‘too early stage’.”
Since establishment, MDPP has considered more than 750 ideas, and completed 170 collaborative workshops and more than 100 R&D projects. These projects have included special glasses that help frequent flyers and shift workers adjust their sleep cycle, a cancer-detecting probe that is improving surgical outcomes, and a device to assist orthopedic surgeons when fixing bone fractures.
Currently, MDPP focuses on seven research areas – musculoskeletal, sleep, digital health, clinical monitoring and diagnostics, surgical instrumentation, assistive technology for ageing, disability, and rehabilitation, and personal/wearable technologies.