Skip to main content

Creating a Centre of Excellence on Medical Devices in the Norte Region to boost RDI excellence

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - NORTEXCEL2020 (Creating a Centre of Excellence on Medical Devices in the Norte Region to boost RDI excellence)

Reporting period: 2015-06-01 to 2016-05-31

Norte has excellent resources and assets for applied research with scientific potential, and highly qualified human resources. On the other hand, the region has a strong industrial and export vocation - Norte is the Portuguese region with the highest export intensity - which is reflected on a positive regional balance of trade. Nevertheless, the region has a low performance in terms of research and innovation, compared with the European average. In 2010 investment in R&D was only 1.5% of the gross domestic product (GDP), below the national average (1.6%) and the target set in the Europe 2020 strategy (3%). This is, R&D indicators do not reveal the true scientific and industrial potential of the region, in part due to a mismatch between supply and demand and a low level of cooperation between industry and academia. In other words, the Norte has the means, but still does not have the know-how that can transform pure scientific knowledge into economic growth.
In this sense, the challenge that the Norte has to face is not only related with investment in R&D, but with the whole process of exploitation of results that can generate wealth in the region and the country. Hence, the process of knowledge transfer (both from the academic and business end) to the economic fabric should be improved, so that there is value creation for the commercialization of competitive products and services. In the region, there is also a lack of interface organizations and innovation centres, expressed in the low level of cooperation business-academia. There is a clear need to bridge scientific and business potential with a new generation of institutions in order to play a more active international role and improving the region's position in terms of innovation.
Furthermore, the RIS3 recently completed by the CCDR-N revealed that the Norte has an emergent potential in the field of life and health sciences. This analysis showed that the region has resources and assets with relevant critical mass to anchor the development of an economy in health, with a range of innovative products and services by combining different cognitive basis and in alignment with social problems and global trends. Thus, there is a clear space for growth of innovation in the healthcare industry, with special attention to medical devices and information systems. Also highlighted by the RIS3 is the nuclear domain Advanced Manufacturing Technologies, since in the region is observed a potential for affirmation in the field of Key Enabling Technologies, particularly in advanced production systems, Nanotechnologies, Materials and ICT, combining the existence of scientific and technological capabilities and infrastructure. Thus, this field of expertise is based on the promotion of advanced production systems and the integration of complementary knowledge basis, promoting the transfer of vertical and horizontal technology.
In short, Norte offers a scientific basis of excellence in the field of Health and Life sciences, Nanotechnologies and Advanced materials and ICT, a dynamic education system contributing to an increased qualification of resources and an economic fabric oriented towards internationalization and exports, with a growing demand for knowledge intensive and RDI services. There is however a lack of further interface organizations and innovation centres, expressed in a low level of industry – academy cooperation and of participation in European programmes.

The NORTEXCEL2020 initiative comes to address these issues by creating a centre of excellence that will act as a new innovation actor in the region. NORTEXCEL2020 will mobilize applied research and innovation efforts for economic growth and quality of life, in order to boost innovation in Norte region and contribute to the sustainability of the national and regional research and innovation systems. The new centre of excellence proposes a singular model as an ‘innovation company’ (inspired by our international partner Joanneum Research and the impact it had on its home region of Styria), where it will act as a strategic organization positioned among the scientific community, business fabric, entrepreneurship and start-up communities, industry and public sector, in order to bring these different actors together and close the regional and national science-market gap. In this manner, it will be possible to build bridges of communication and cooperation between business and academia, promote the emergence of new, innovative firms, and to articulate research performed in universities and institutes with the demands of national and international industry. The centre will improve the coordination between innovation support organisations, technology-based companies and advanced users, and promote technological innovation based on demand (demand-pull innovation) and the creation of competitive solutions with greater penetration capacity in the domestic and international markets. NORTEXCEL2020 intends to stimulate business RDI investment and the emergence of new companies, both domestic and foreign-owned, and to improve entrepreneurship and innovation management skills (both at businesses and R&D organisations). Moreover, the centre will allow activates of networking and cooperation among regional and international actors and, in this way, stimulate international cooperation and contribute to R&D and business internationalization.
This project represents the first phase in the creation of NORTEXCEl2020 centre of excellence and was implemented over a 12-month period where the main output was the development of a comprehensive, detailed and robust Business Plan that demonstrates the potential of the future Centre, including commitments from the interested national or regional authorities to commit financial resources. This stage was an essential foundation for the successful creation and implementation of NORTEXCEL2020 centre of excellence in the Norte region of Portugal.
The first stage in the creation of NORTEXCEL2020 centre of excellence was implemented over a 12-month period (i.e. from June 2015 to May 2016) where the main output was the development of a comprehensive, detailed and robust Business Plan. This business plan demonstrates the potential of the future centre of excellence to develop new and sustainable RDI activities and connect effectively with existing regional clusters, and evidence the commitment of the hosting region to provide an innovation friendly environment, in line with the RIS3 priorities and aligned with future regional Operational Programmes in the RDI area.
In overall, during the first stage of this Teaming opportunity, the applicants (local partners with guidance, support and coaching from international partner) carried out a set of added-value activities, which culminated in the definition of the final business plan, and represented a vital foundation in the creation of this new innovation actor. These activities comprised a benchmarking with the region of Styria in Austria, as well as the analysis of successful implementation models of similar initiatives in other relevant European regions. It also included a comprehensive analysis of the Norte’s industry needs and the existing scientific potential, in order to identify the challenges that the region needs to face to improve their innovation performance, and how the NORTEXCEL2020 centre of excellence should be positioned to have a positive impact on these issues. Local stakeholders were mobilized and engaged from the scientific, business and policy-making communities to contribute in the definition of the new centre of excellence. Also in this phase it was possible to create and nourish a network for NORTEXCEL2020 initiative that brings together relevant organizations at a national and international level.

During this first phase of NORTEXCEL2020 initiative, we were able to achieve significant advances in all of the strategic objectives defined for the project, as demonstrated by the following actions or milestones:
• Organization of two large dissemination events in Porto (June 2015 and April 2016), with the participation of all partners including Joanneum Research, and gathering the most relevant stakeholders of the region, including representatives from academia, business and advances users.
• Realization of two more sessions presenting the NORTEXCEL2020 initiative to regional actors at ISEP (Instituto Superior de Engenharia do Porto) and ESTSP (Escola Superior de Tecnologia da Saúde do Porto).
• Initial intelligence work of information collection. Involved gathering detailed regional information available on existing studies as well as databases (on both regions, Norte and Styria as well as other EU regions that are considered relevant for benchmark).
• Planning and organizing study visits from selected stakeholders of the Norte region to Styria and from Styria to Norte region. These study visits (approximately 1 week visits) involved contacts from selected representatives of the “visiting” region with organizations representing the quadruple-helix in the “visited” region.
• Realization of thematic studies and benchmarking, which included: detailed analysis of the regional innovation needs and of the existent scientific offer in the region; benchmark against advanced models of innovation and research; detailed analysis of funding opportunities at European level and regional level; evaluation of scientific basis existent at IPP in the concerned technological fields; analysis of regional socio-economic challenges and main application areas.
• Endorsement of INFARMED, the National Regulatory Authority that evaluates, authorises, regulates and controls human medicines as well as health products namely medical devices, homeopathic products and cosmetics
• The formal creation in November 2015 of a new legal entity that will host the new centre of excellence, with a clear mandate from the regional authorities and aligned with regional smart specialization strategies of promoting innovation in the emergent field of medical technologies, that has immediately gathered about 20 high-level research & innovation organizations, advanced users and companies as members; these members include the top regional RTOs in the field of Life and Health Science, ICT, and Advanced materials.
• Facilities for the setup of the NE2020 association have been guaranteed by the founding members of the association, with specific locations for each of the three main application areas (cardiology, cancer and care) with a total of 2000 square meters for office and laboratory space.
• Capture of regional funds, in approximately the double of the amount of the EC funding received for TEAMING Phase 1 (i.e. approx. 1M€), for the project and for funding the start of the infrastructural set-up and early activities of the new centre of excellence, contributing to shape the future regional research and innovation system.
• Creation of an extensive network, at regional and international level, with a diversified range of organizations available to support NORTEXCEL2020 initiative, which will facilitate the creation of cooperation opportunities in the near future. In particular, we have specific collaboration agreements with multiplier organisations like Startup Europe Regions Network (SERN) and Marie Curie Alumni Association (MCAA) which can provide access to many regions, organisations and researchers all across Europe.
• Activities to foster and catalyse regional participation, from both academic and businesses, in international innovation activities have been implemented throughout all Phase 1, resulting in an increase of participation from the Norte region in H2020 in the last 2 years (according to figures from the national NCP network) and in the inclusion of the new NORTEXCEL2020 association in the European Innovation Partnership on Active and Healthy Ageing (EIP on AHA) initiative;
"NORTEXCEL2020 intends to become one of the most significant developments in Norte region for the period of a generation with the potential to boost the regional and national innovation systems – and its impact in the region shall be profound and lasting, ultimately resulting in the transformation of Norte into a Smart and Innovative Region by fostering specialization in the next generation of ICT devices, health technologies and innovative materials with applications in the most relevant societal challenges in medical technology domain.
The creation of a new innovation actor in the Norte region, initiated during Phase 1 and to be continued afterwards, will improve on what is recognized as a poor relative position of the region within Europe in terms of innovation and competitiveness, and to radically invert the situation by a leapfrog to the first ranks, through a disruptive concept and initiative.
In the original proposal, our aim was to build in the experience of our teaming partner and in on our own lessons learnt in our region, in order to accomplish a major impact target: to position the Norte region in the top 100 of European Regions in terms of innovation (starting from the present position of #208, as measured in EU Regional Competitiveness Index, RCI 2013, i.e. a leap of over 100 relative positions) until 2020. More than one year after, our aiming impact is exactly the same and we believe that we are in the right track to accomplish it.
We believe that NORTEXCEL2020 may have an importance role in several dimensions – business, industry, science and research and Socio-economic level – and the impact in these different levels shall result in the expected increase in the overall position of Norte in terms of innovation, with the consequent economic growth:
1 Industry and Business innovation impacts: NORTEXCEL2020 will promote technology transfer and innovation activities across the regional business community, by fostering the participation of regional businesses (mainly SMEs, start-ups) in RDI actions, creating opportunities of collaboration with academia and conducting pro-active intellectual property policies, industrial licensing and research contracts, as well as services related to certifications, quality management and regulations. Furthermore, NORTEXCEL2020 will develop the entrepreneurship and innovative ecosystem in the region through its Innovation Pillar.
2 Science and research impacts: The creation of NORTEXCEL2020 centre of excellence in the region is a disruptive action that will boost the regional performance in applied research, technology transfer and innovation and, hopefully, will improve the regional performance in terms of scientific production. In particular, NORTEXCEL2020 is expected to have impact at Scientific level in terms of Patents and Scientific publications, contributing to a more frequent and better production of these indicators. Also, NORTEXCEL2020 will also have an important role in the regional Human Resources by contributing to the employment of highly qualified staff, and encourage the interactions between scientists and engineers in a business context and exchange at international level.
3 Socio-economic impacts: The new centre of excellence will have the capacity to positively impact the region at a socio-economic level, in particular in the areas of employment and R&D expenditures. In fact, NORTEXCEL2020 should significantly contribute, through spill-over effects, to an increase of employment in knowledge-intensive services, as well as in medium- and high-tech manufacturing. Also, NORTEXCEL2020 will be essential to bring Norte closer to the most innovative regions, by accelerating the regional business expenditure due to its innovation and applied research nature."