Medtech in Switzerland – bringing together traditional skills and hightech industry
The Jura region is often referred to as the cradle of Swiss watchmaking, and a wide range of industries are now taking advantage of the wealth of precision engineering expertise in the area, most notably the medtech sector. This potent blend of microfabrication and medical knowledge is stimulating a wave of technological breakthroughs, such as a smart tool that makes it possible to perform spinal surgeries percutaneously in less than 30 minutes.
Switzerland has been known for its watchmaking skills ever since the end of the 17th century, producing mechanical masterpieces that took the world by storm. The Jura region is, to this day, the most prominent source of watches of exceptionally high quality, and is home to many renowned brands, including Cartier, TAG Heuer, Baume & Mercier and Breguet. In fact, Breguet was behind one of the greatest innovations in watchmaking history: the ‘pare-chute’, a shock-absorbing system that significantly improved the accuracy and reliability of timepieces.
Creating such complex mechanisms requires vast knowledge in intricate engineering and microfabrication, as well as meticulously standardized and robust production processes. These qualities have been mastered by traditional watchmakers in the Jura region over centuries, being passed down over generations to ensure their knowledge continues to contribute to the industry today. More recently, these same skills have been applied to industries such as medtech, where they have proven invaluable in the development of medical devices. This is why many timepiece manufacturers have started to turn their attention – as well as their existing expertise – to high precision medical instruments. Switzerland has already had many triumphs in the medtech industry, delivering medical devices such as syringes, specialised imaging equipment, pacemakers, and orthopaedic implants of the same Swiss quality that made their watches so popular.
Incubating medical breakthroughs
The Jura region is now home to many companies that specialize in microtechnology, producing premium components and tools for the watchmaking and medtech industries alike. This bustling ecosystem creates unique opportunities for startups to innovate, but breaking the mould can be challenging, requiring the support of incubation and accelerator programmes to equip startups for success. The DayOne accelerator is one of the area’s – as well as Europe’s – largest medtech and digital health accelerator initiatives, nurturing early and mid-stage startups. The organization can offer help and advice to companies on their journey from ideation and prototyping to the final launch of the business. One company that has taken advantage of these favorable conditions is InnoSpina – a local startup specialized in intuitive guiding instruments and novel implants for spinal fusion and motion preserving surgeries.
Spinal fusion is commonly performed on patients who suffer from conditions such as degenerative disc disease, narrowing of the spinal canal or slipped vertebrae. The surgery involves placing pedicle screws and short rods, connecting two or more vertebrae for increased stability. Aside from the high complexity and risks associated with this procedure, there are also many requirements that must be fulfilled for a patient to be a suitable candidate, and only a fraction of those in need of the treatment can tick all the boxes. InnoSpina’s vision is to address this issue by introducing easy-to-use equipment that allows a wider spectrum of patients to receive spinal surgery, while simultaneously reducing recovery time and post-surgery follow-up.
Spinal surgery in less than 30 minutes
InnoSpina combined its engineering expertise with the local competence in precision manufacturing – resulting from decades of watchmaking – to create a solution that allows accurate positioning of implants with simple pushing and tilting movements, while protecting the spinal cord at all times. The tool is made up of seven instruments that are gliding on top of each other and only a small incision is necessary to perform the entire surgery. This allows surgeons to carry out spinal procedures in less than 30 minutes, which is two to four times faster compared to operations using traditional equipment. Decreasing the time in surgery is not only beneficial for the patients but will also help hospitals save money as the running costs of surgical theatres are sky high. Additionally, the simplicity of the procedure will decrease the surgeon learning curve and make this type of treatment accessible to more patients.
Choosing to settle down in Jura
The founders of this technology decided to start and grow their company in the Jura region because of its technological environment, initiatives such as the DayOne accelerator, and the presence of the Switzerland Innovation Park Basel Area – which have helped players in the watchmaking industry to diversify and apply their extensive know-how to the medtech sector.
Hannema explained: “The long-standing watchmaking industry in the Jura region has given the area a vast range of skills that are transferrable to medtech. We have greatly benefited from that local expertise, as well as the DayOne programme that provided valuable advice on procurement and regulatory matters. I would call it a mutually beneficial collaboration as I am now able to give back to the community by sharing my entrepreneurial experience with startups that are just beginning their journey.”
The canton of Jura is successfully expanding its global reputation for watchmaking capabilities to also become a big name in the medtech circle, attracting a wide range of medtech startups such as CNS Therapy, Incaptek and CryoThermo. These budding companies are receiving support from both watchmaking veterans and incubators, fuelling innovations in medical devices. InnoSpina – a company specialising in innovative instruments for spinal fusion and motion preserving surgeries – is one of the many businesses that have sprung up in the Jura, benefiting from the collaborative spirit and local talent that this region has to offer.
”If you want to connect with the medtech industry in the Basel Area, I’m the right contact.Florian SanerManager DayOne Tech Accelerator
Florian has a background in finance and business strategy. He has worked in licensing and M&A projects and has done upwards of 25M in acquisitions of startups and technology projects. Now he’s heading the DayOne Tech Accelerator.