Tech company Sagentia celebrates 25 years of innovation in medical technology this month. Robin Lee, Head of IP Exploitation and Technology, reflects on the role the company has played in the development of diode-based medical devices and the opportunities and challenges yet to come.
|Robin Lee, Head of IP Exploitation
and Technology, Sagentia
Technology and product development company Sagentia celebrates its 25th anniversary in September 2011. Headquartered in Cambridge, UK, and operating an office in the other Cambridge across the pond (in Massachusetts, to be precise), the company has played a key role in the development of optics-based medical devices. As Sagentia celebrates its first quarter century, medtechinsider asked Robin Lee, Head of IP Exploitation and Technology, to reflect on some of the company’s past achievements and outline the opportunities and challenges that he sees in the years ahead.
Remembrance of innovations past
“Some of the early breakthroughs that we worked on in the late 1980s and early 1990s enabled the development of the first surgical therapeutic device based on laser diodes—the Keeler Microlase ophthalmic surgical laser—and the first general surgical laser based on laser diodes—Diomed,” recalls Lee. “Driven by our science and technology teams, these two projects really created some breakthroughs in the surgical field."
Up until that time, the laser-based treatment of retinal complications associated with diabetes was limited to a few centres of excellence in various global locations, notes Lee. The devices were large and expensive to use. “The Keeler device significantly improved laser treatment for diabetes and created a more portable and convenient form of laser eye surgery—in the size of a suitcase,” says Lee.
The Diomed device further developed the use of laser diodes for surgical devices but with applications in general surgery, he adds. “Diomed was again a portable device that didn’t require laser surgery to be done in a dedicated operating theatre. Surgeons could use any available theatre, and the device could be moved from one room to another, which had not previously been possible. At 60 watts, these lasers represented a significant step forward in the use of laser diodes for medical applications.”
The company has continued its work in the field of optics for medical devices during the last decade. Specifically, white-light LED technology was core to the development of a medical lighting product for Brandon Medical
and a drug-delivery system for Photocure
“The development of the award-winning medical examination light system for Brandon Medical enabled high-quality, high-efficiency, long-life lighting in operating theatres without emitting heat that can cause discomfort or even harm to patients,” says Lee. “Sagentia’s work with LEDs also saw this technology being used within the world of photodynamic therapy. Sagentia developed a breakthrough device for Photocure that uses new LED technology to activate a pharmaceutical in the Cevira drug-device combination product. Cevira is now in clinical trials to treat human papillomavirus virus (HPV), a precursor to cervical cancer, at an early stage and in a noninvasive and cost-effective manner,” explains Lee.
Maintaining medtech innovation
Building on 25 years of breakthrough innovations, Lee anticipates that the company will continue to pioneer new uses for optics in medical devices in the years ahead. With that in mind, we asked him what he considers to be the biggest opportunities and challenges for Sagentia. He came back with some insightful bullet points.
“There are perhaps four main areas of opportunity for Sagentia within the world of medical devices:
- First, we are seeing increasing demand for cordless, mobile, battery-driven, low-energy medical devices. The need for this kind of device brings new benefits to our clients and requires new ways of innovative thinking to implement in cost-effective and small packages. Sagentia has worked on a number of breakthrough battery-powered handheld medical devices; the continued speed at which innovation and advancements are occurring in this area is really exciting.
- A second area of opportunity is the migration of traditional, mechanical, surgical devices towards more-complex devices containing embedded electronics, software and sensors. This requires a combination of embedded systems, surgical devices, quality systems and breakthrough science and technology. This is another area that has huge potential for further innovation and is an area of core expertise for us.
- Third, medical devices are becoming increasingly reliant on complex software. Developing robust software that meets regulatory requirements needs a disciplined and process-driven approach. Sagentia’s embedded systems experts continue to be excited about innovation in this space and the contribution that we can make.
- Fourth, we see an increase in the trend (in the western world) of using disposable medical devices. This is another area of significant opportunity for many medical device companies that we work with and an area where we are seeing a lot of demand.”
The vast skill set that is needed to build these technologies into viable, cost-effective and compliant medical systems can be beyond the reach of medical technology companies, says Lee. That’s where the expertise of a company such as Sagentia can make a huge difference.
“Our strength lies in our deep understanding of physics/science and technology and our highly skilled engineers. Our clients’ core skills or technology often do not include all the skills necessary to develop complex medical devices that meet all of today’s market and regulatory requirements. Sagentia can fulfil that role and often add to the technology to make it a success in the marketplace,” says Lee. Which is not to say that considerable challenges do not loom ahead. Lee cites two.
“Perhaps first and foremost on most of our clients’ minds is the increasingly stringent regulatory framework. This is making the design concepts for medical devices more complex and lengthening development times,” explains Lee. “In parallel, our clients are being pressured by the market to shorten their timescales for development. Greater complexity and shorter timescales are two common challenges.”
These complex science and technology requirements are made to order for a multidisciplinary approach, which Sagentia has embraced. “Sagentia’s engineers work alongside physicists, scientists, embedded systems and life science experts along with quality control managers, medical industry veterans and our clients’ R&D teams to come up with a balanced delivery approach,” explains Lee.
Continuing to recruit experts to meet growing demand in these core areas and maintaining excellence is a constant challenge for the company, recognises Lee. But successfully meeting that challenge is what will drive innovation at Sagentia for the next 25 years.