e/MTIC: an example of regional collaboration to boost innovation

In its current form, e/MTIC only exists two years, but the history between Philips, TU/e, Máxima Medical Centre, Catharina Hospital and Kempenhaeghe is much longer.

Ton Flaman was one of the initiators of the Eindhoven MedTech Innovation Center, as e/MTIC is fully called. In the past couple of months, he has been handing over his responsibilities to his successor: Sjoerd Mentink.

In this article Sjoerd and Ton look back and ahead on what has become an example of regional collaboration for innovation in healthcare.

When was the first seed from e/MTIC planted?

Ton: “That must have been in 2013. I got the assignment to scrutinize our collaboration with different universities. After my research, I reached a few conclusions. The cooperation with universities was always very bottom-up. Many of the Philips professors worked part-time and were working on isolated and small projects. In addition, we did not have a community. With these conclusions, we created a new program that ended up in e/MTIC.

Why did you choose for collaboration with regional organizations?

“I worked at many different places in the world and collaborated with partners in different countries. Each time I noted how important it is to be close to each other. If organizations are within close proximity, you can build personal relationships easier, which really benefits the quality of cooperation.

We already had a good relationship with the TU/e. The collaboration with the regional top clinical hospitals was added as a logical element, also because of Philips’ focus on healthcare technology. The ambition we have is to create a ‘fast track to clinical innovation’. To achieve this is it necessary to work with healthcare professionals to understand their needs and pains, as well as to gain access to clinical data to validate innovations quickly. Other than proximity, quality is also very important and we also found that in region of Eindhoven.”

How did you pick the different partners?

“We discussed the initiative frequently amongst each other; the CEOs of the hospitals and Rector Magnificus of the TU/e were involved. And we discovered that for all of us one criterion for collaboration was the most important and that is: trust.

In a collaboration like e/MTIC we are working together with different organizations with different cultures and objectives. There is a big difference between the way a hospital, university or company work. If there is trust in each other and the collaboration, you can achieve something greater with each other.

At the start, we have been very transparent to each other what our interest was to take part in this collaboration. For the TU/e it was to gain access to talent and publish scientific papers with exceptional quality. For the hospitals, it was also access to talent and a focus on improving healthcare in a cost-efficient way.

Furthermore, the university wanted to attract subsidy for research. Due to this strategic collaboration, we can together request research subsidies far easier. For Philips attracting talent was also important, but also gaining access to the latest scientific and clinical knowledge as well as gaining intellectual property. It really helped that we all communicated our interests when starting the collaboration and creating the collaboration agreement.”

How did the partnership start?

“The first feat was the Impuls program which was initiated by the TU/e to fund PhD research projects. In the first year, 2015, we were able to realize 40 PhD-positions. Now we have 100 positions within e/MTIC. At the start of the projects, we ensured each project had a representative of the different partners. This way we created a close collaboration.

We also chose for a very light governance model in which we agreed to be “learning by doing”. Another success was the idea of cross-appointments. People are assigned to work for different partners. Finally, we also did not only pay attention to technological challenges but also executing clinical trials, data management, regulation and legislation.

In 2017 we noticed we had to push forward and announce our strategic collaboration publicly. This lead to the foundation of e/MTIC with its own branding, communication and supervisory board.”

And that worked well?

“It worked really well and especially regarding the attraction of top talent. When we published the first PhD-projects we were overwhelmed with candidates. After two to three years, we had the first publications by PhD-candidates in major scientific magazines, received awards and patents. Since the start of e/MTIC we had 160 invention notices of which 71 applications for a patent.”

Sjoerd, you are taking over from Ton, how did you get involved within e/MTIC?

“Luckily I have been involved for a while; in the past from my role at Philips Lighting Research. You could already see the potential of this strategic collaboration; within a short time, we had 13 PhDs working on projects regarding light for health and wellbeing.

At the end of 2018 Ton asked me to come and work at Philips as Program manager public-private partnerships. An offer I could not refuse. The crosspollination between different organizations and highly motivated talents in the organizations really inspired me. I am very happy I can contribute to this collaboration. Every day I go to work to create the opportunity for talent to excel and help shape a part of our future.”

Are there examples of innovations that would have not been realized without e/MTIC?

“You can never be entirely sure about that, but e/MTIC created a few great transfers to the Philips businesses. Within e/MTIC we try to create conditions for a “fast track to clinical innovation”. A great example is the development of AI for ultrasound to recognize COVID-19 which we develop during the peak of the pandemic. Another development is Tracebook in which AI supports clinical decision making by healthcare professionals.”

What are your plans for the future of e/MTIC?

“e/MTIC is now growing up. We are working on a data-infrastructure and the accompanying regulation process to ensure the fast track to clinical innovation promise. Afterwards we will have to think about expansion in terms of research areas and new partners.

We kept the group of partners small, at the start we agreed to work with five partners for the first five years. This really helped to get the partnership where it is today, but by including the right new partners we can grow our impact.”