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Feature

Medtech-iQ Aotearoa aims to make New Zealand a medtech hotspot

16 March 2023
The national project aims to make New Zealand a medtech leader by creating an ecosystem linking researchers, healthcare, communities, start-ups and investors.

It may not be as big yet as dairy or lamb, but Aotearoa New Zealand is becoming a hotbed for medical technologies, with the sector worth an estimated $2.1 billion.

Currently, much of that worth is in a single company, Fisher & Paykel Healthcare. However, up-and-coming companies, often university spinouts, are claiming larger slices of the pie – and the pie is growing.

In 2010, there were 40 to 50 companies in New Zealand’s medtech scene. Today there are more than 200. A Deloitte strategic and economic report estimates that by 2050, the sector’s growth will have produced a cumulative additional $4.2 billion in GDP and nearly 8,000 full-time jobs.

However, achieving the sector’s potential will take coordination, capacity building and investment. Medtech-iQ Aotearoa aims to bring all that together.

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Peter Hunter and Diana Siew at the Medtech-iQ Aotearoa showcase in Wellington

What is Medtech-iQ Aotearoa?

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Laura Pedofsky, Head of Product at JUNOFEM, at the Medtech-iQ showcase

Medtech-iQ Aotearoa – the ‘iQ’ stands for ‘innovation quarter’ – is a national project to create an ecosystem that links researchers, the healthcare system, communities, start-ups, investors and international opportunities to increase productivity, capability, exports and employment.

“New Zealand has a critical mass of emerging companies in the medtech sector,” says Diana Siew, strategic partnership lead for the ƵBioengineering Institute (ABI) at Waipapa Taumata Rau, University of Auckland, who is co-leading the project with Distinguished Professor Peter Hunter, the ABI director. “This cohort is changing the landscape of the medtech industry on an international level.”

The project’s goals aren’t limited to economic growth. It also aims to improve healthcare and health science through better data use, interpretation, diagnostics, therapeutics and medical devices; improve health equity through engagement with Māori, Pacific and migrant communities; and keep people out of hospitals by improving home and community-based care, monitoring and disease prevention.

“New Zealand has a critical mass of emerging companies in the medtech sector. This cohort is changing the landscape of the medtech industry on an international level.”
Diana Siew

Unlike most tech clusters, which are usually focused on a single city or region, Medtech-iQ’s vision extends across the whole country.

There are four major regional hubs, respectively in Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland, Pōneke Wellington, Ōtautahi Christchurch and Ōtepoti Dunedin. There are also multiple ‘spokes’ across the country that link to one or more of the hubs – for example, the Ƶhub works closely with the Mātai Medical Research Institute in Gisborne.

“The intention is that regional hubs are connected to their communities, so co-creation work will be distributed,” says Erin Quirke, the UniServices senior project manager coordinating the project. “The sum will be much bigger than its parts.”

Origins of Medtech-iQ Aotearoa

Though Medtech-iQ Aotearoa is still in its early stages – it held its first showcase at the Beehive on 23 February, hosted by Minister of Health Ayesha Verrall – its roots stretch back to at least 2012, when the Consortium for Medical Device Technologies (CMDT) was launched.

The CMDT is a national industry-research network led by the universities of Auckland, Canterbury and Otago, Victoria University of Wellington, ƵUniversity of Technology and Callaghan Innovation. These core partners have been driving the evolution of the project ever since.

The CMDT led to the development of the national MedTech Centre of Research Excellence (CoRE), which opened in 2015.

“The MedTech CoRE seeded a lot of research that created partnerships and got people working together,” says Hunter.

The CoRE ran until 2021 and resulted in 18 deep-tech spinouts. By 2021, 14 companies from this cohort had delivered more than 100 new jobs and were collectively valued at $102 million.

The next step in the project’s evolution was the Te Tītoki Mataora MedTech Research Translator, which started in 2021. Te Tītoki Mataora links two programmes that respectively focus on accelerating research and capability building to encourage collaboration for the development, testing and translation of ideas into sustainable clinical solutions.

Medtech-iQ Aotearoa represents an even bigger vision for the future, with greater involvement for the public and private health systems, investors, industry, and Māori and Pacific communities.

photo (Ayesha Verrall)
Minister of Health Dr Ayesha Verrall speaks at the Medtech-iQ showcase at the Beehive

“It’s intended to be inclusive, not exclusive,” says Hunter. “Anyone who feels they can contribute or wants to benefit is welcome.”

Creating physical space for medtech

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Nandoun Abeysekera, CEO of Avasa, which is based in Cloud 9, explains his invention to Minister Ayesha Verrall

Physical space is critical to Medtech-iQ Aotearoa’s vision. Waipapa Taumata Rau is committed to the idea of creating medtech innovation spaces at its Grafton, City and Newmarket campuses.

Phase One of these plans kicks off this year with Medtech-iQ Tāmaki Makaurau operations being established at host institute ABI.

“The big opportunity for us in Ƶis to create an ecosystem with the critical mass to help medtech companies scale up,” says Hunter. “We know we can do spinouts but helping those spinouts grow towards possibly becoming new Fisher & Paykel Healthcares is the biggest challenge.”

“The big opportunity for us in Ƶis to create an ecosystem with the critical mass to help medtech companies scale up. We know we can do spinouts but helping those spinouts grow towards possibly becoming new Fisher & Paykel Healthcares is the biggest challenge.”
Peter Hunter

Currently, the ninth floor of ABI’s Symonds Street building is home to Cloud 9, where a limited number of spinouts can incubate. However, once a company outgrows Cloud 9, it has to move out.

In Phase One, Cloud 9 space and services will be expanded to accommodate all University medtech spinouts as well as vertically integrated projects, capability programmes and outreach activities.

“Grafton-Newmarket will ultimately provide an environment where they can grow much bigger and still be close to the research capability of the University, plus to all sorts of help and potentially facilities, like clean rooms, sterilisation facilities and some manufacturing capability, that each one couldn’t afford on its own,” says Hunter.

Planning is already underway to progress the development of a number of spaces and buildings at the City, Grafton and Newmarket Campuses which will enable Medtech-iQ and bring about this step change in innovation capability and ensure our partners can co-locate in proximity with ABI and medical professionals. This work will deliver on the commitments made in and .

The vision to create physical space for medtech isn’t limited to Auckland. Some of the other hubs already have physical space while others are looking at creating it, says Siew.

New Zealand’s path forward as a medtech leader

In a field like medtech, New Zealand’s traditional disadvantages of distance and size don’t matter much. In some ways, smallness might be an advantage, because people are connected to each other and inclined to work together, says Hunter.

“They’re not in competition with each other. They’re in competition with international companies.”

There are areas where New Zealand already leads the way, both on the research side, where for example, ABI’s work in computational physiology and digital twins is well-respected around the world, and on the commercial side, where start-ups such as Alimetry have won international prizes.

photo (Kitea Health)
Simon Malpas of Kitea Health at the Medtech-iQ showcase

“Medtech-iQ Aotearoa’s nationally connected regional hub model is the final piece of the puzzle to set the scene for New Zealand’s medtech industry to really scale and accelerate,” says Siew.

“The next stage is attracting international partnerships and investment, and you can’t do that easily unless you’re visible. If we can make the whole of New Zealand visible as a medtech leader, our growth potential will be huge.”

“Medtech-iQ Aotearoa’s nationally connected regional hub model is the final piece of the puzzle to set the scene for New Zealand’s medtech industry to really scale and accelerate.”
Diana Siew
Have questions about or want to get involved with Medtech-iQ Aotearoa?