The Heterogeneous Technology Alliance (HTA), which encompasses a quartet of European research centres—CEA (France), CSEM (Switzerland), VTT (Finland) and Fraunhofer Institute (Germany)—has launched an R&D initiative under the heading of Smart Integrated Solutions (SIS2). The partnership hopes to jump-start the blended use of microsystems, optics, power supplies, wireless systems and associated technologies in a host of products that will further innovation in medical technology, among other sectors. A key goal of the alliance is to help researchers and manufacturers bridge the so-called “valley of death,” where innovation goes to die because it does not find a vehicle to reach the marketplace. To assist companies in crossing that divide, the HTA proposes a “three-pillar” architecture.
The HTA and its wealth of research capabilities across Europe represent an important part of the starting pillar, along with other European research and technology organisations such as TNO, Sintef and imec. This pillar provides EU leaders with a tool to help create jobs and achieve growth in the near term, says Georges Kotrotsios, current HTA Chairman and Vice President of CSEM. The remaining two pillars are pilot production lines and globally competitive manufacturing plants that are part of the HTA network. Taken as a whole, this programme creates a cooperative technology infrastructure open to a broad swathe of European industry.
Companies of any size can benefit. Indeed, the initiative was designed to address the complications of the value chain and product development and make it a little easier to get to the other side of innovative product development, regardless of a company’s resources. However, SMEs—the backbone of Europe’s medtech industry—represent a unique challenge for the HTA.
“SMEs are the most difficult part of the equation,” says Kotrotsios. Traditional SMEs suffer from often limited resources and may not be ready to adopt these types of technologies. Startups and spin-offs may be more technologically sophisticated, but they also lack resources, he continues. And geographic fragmentation and various cultural issues—the lack of a robust venture capital network, for example, and the fact that entrepreneurs, who have failed once, carry a stigma that makes it difficult for them to lift themselves up and try again—further compound the challenges. But the HTA and SIS2 offer a navigable path to some of the resources that these companies need to succeed.
From a broader perspective, the HTA seeks to guarantee pan-European access to “more than Moore” technologies, so called because the functionality of components and systems expands through the heterogeneous integration of CMOS, MEMs, photonics and new materials. Moore’s law, of course, posits that the number of transistors on an integrated circuit doubles approximately every two years. Smart integrated systems and enabling technologies further accelerate the pace of innovation and inform the creation of multiple new products that will touch every part of our lives, according to the HTA. The SIS2 initiative, it adds, is a fast track to innovation.
Although the HTA has been involved in a number of industrial projects and contributed to the commercialisation of some new products, it has not yet led to the marketing of any healthcare devices. However, research centres that are part of the HTA have had a hand in developing a number of successful healthcare devices—the Limmex emergency watch and advanced wearable physiological monitoring systems from SenseCore that will soon be on the market, for example—and the partnership foresees a number of medtech opportunities going forward. The convergence of electronics with biological systems in neuro-controlled prosthetics and the development of alternatives to animal testing are cited as research paths with promising commercial outcomes.
Aligning disparate cultures and work methods within the HTA has been challenging, notes Kotrotsios, but the rewards have been palpable. He anticipates that the SIS2 initiative will be an even greater force in establishing European leadership in smart technology and creating new avenues for economic growth.
For further information, contact the HTA online.Norbert Sparrow