By Georgina Jerums

Victoria is way out in front when it comes to the design and commercialisation of innovative medical devices (MedTech) and pharmaceuticals in Australia.

Victoria is gunning it in Aussie MedTech and pharmaceuticals. In fact, Melbourne-based companies account for 42% of ASX-listed MedTech and pharma firms - over 80 companies, with combined market capitalisation of more than $170 billion.

That has healthy knock-on effects for export figures, too. In 2019,  MedTech and pharmaceuticals (including vitamins) contributed $3.2 billion in Victorian exports, making it our state’s highest-value manufactured export sector.

Design is central to this success.

The first bionic ear, created by Professor Graeme Clark AC, was implanted at the Royal Victorian Eye and Ear Hospital in 1978.

A breakthrough in hearing technology by Melbourne scientists Professor Peter Blamey and Professor Elaine Saunders, working with industrial designer and researcher Dr. Leah Heiss, led to the multi-design award winning Facett, the world’s first modular “self-fit” hearing aid - designed and manufactured here in Victoria.

The recipient of 2020’s Victorian Premier’s Design Award of the Year, the Hyperparallel OCT enables optometrists, ophthalmologists and researchers to view the human eye in a way that hasn’t been possible before.

Taking these wins into account, it makes marketing sense to showcase that multi-pronged success to the world.

Enter DesignInspire, a major three-day public design exhibition and trade show as part of Hong Kong Business of Design Week, where Victoria’s virtual BioMelbourne Network MedTech Design Pavilion has gone live.

It’s a platform for design-related businesses – from global icons to emerging players – to connect with international audiences and reach new markets.

A collaboration between the Victorian Government, through Creative Victoria, and the BioMelbourne Network, the BioMelbourne Network MedTech Design Pavilion highlights a cross section of local firms with commercial medical device design and development prowess.

Here we chat with Jeff Malone, who helped get Victoria’s MedTech pavilion off the ground.

Here we chat with Jeff Malone, who helped get Victoria’s MedTech pavilion off the ground.

Q&A: Jeff Malone, CEO, BioMelbourne Network - BioMelbourne Network

Man smiling at camera

Why is the BioMelbourne Network MedTech Design Pavilion a big deal?

It’s the first time Victoria’s medical product translation and development capabilities have come together and been showcased in one place. The depth of our design and development space is globally competitive and open for business. You won’t find another ecosystem with our strengths anywhere in this hemisphere.

How will the showcase work?

It will allow participants to get a real sense of the companies in the medical device ecosystem, to learn more about them and what they’re delivering for clients in the development of new MedTech devices. They’ll see Victoria services everything from the smallest start-up to the largest multinational.

While the physical DesignInspire runs for only three days, the Pavilion will be online through to the end of March 2022, providing unmatched exposure for the participating companies.

Why is having a Pavilion at this event important? How will its presence impact Victoria commercially?

The Pavilion allows Victoria to showcase our capabilities in new markets that would otherwise not be possible given travel restrictions globally. The world may never go back to the way it operated before, so providing opportunities for local organisations to promote themselves in new markets is critical. International business development is key to the success of these organisations. They bring in revenue from overseas clients and these clients often leverage our R&D tax incentive by setting up local subsidiaries. They also pursue local clinical trials and use Australia to launch products.

What’s more, these companies bring in significant direct international business which has a large multiplier effect in Victoria’s MedTech design and development community. These companies prosper largely because of the international business opportunities and thereby build capabilities and capacities that our local industry can use to support our own MedTech economy.

How long has it taken to get this Pavilion up and running?

We were given the go ahead in October to officially recruit companies into the Pavilion. Within a week, we had 80% signed up. This highlights the value these organisations see the Pavilion as an important opportunity.

What types of MedTech design feature in it?

The Victorian MedTech design and development capabilities span just about every type of MedTech device possible. The companies featured in this pavilion have truly done it all!

You’ve worked in design across the US and Southeast Asia. On a global level, where are Victoria’s key MedTech design strengths? Which countries are our main competition and why?

Our ecosystem for MedTech translation and innovation is unparalleled in the Asia Pacific region. Others may have solid research capabilities but none have the full breadth and depth that Victoria does to translate that research or their new innovations into globally competitive products. Product design and development is at the very heart of our mix.

We’re also competitive with the US but for different reasons. While the US has incredible product design and development capabilities, they’re often reserved for the largest companies and so smaller start-ups and small to medium enterprises can be left behind. The whole world is now working remotely, and the issue of distance is no longer viewed as the barrier it once was.

How’s the future of MedTech design shaping up in Victoria? Who will be the big winners?

We recently conducted a full mapping of the ecosystem in Victoria and for the first time have evidence that we have capabilities and strengths across the entire MedTech translation and commercialisation pathway. We have an incredibly strong and globally recognised research capability, we have one of the top translation and commercialisation ecosystems around the world and were even named by Startup Genome to be in the top 10% of global life science startup destinations.

People all around the world will be the big winners. The companies who come to Victoria will win through leveraging our capabilities to develop MedTech at lower costs, higher quality and shorter lead times to market, all within a collaborative and well supported MedTech environment.

The Victorian MedTech community will win through the strengths we’ve developed through serving the international market. And the Victorian economy will win, as this ecosystem provides an increasingly strong foundation for economic recovery and growth coming through the pandemic.

Business of Design Week: fast facts

Hong Kong Business of Design Week is a flagship international design industry event and platform for doing business with Asia and the rest of the world. The week (in early December) is run in parallel with a range of other design events including DesignInspire, a major three-day public design exhibition and trade show. During the week, Hong Kong hosts 130,000 delegates from more than 30 countries.

Melbourne was the official partner city for Hong Kong Business of Design Week 2018. As partner city, Melbourne was highlighted as a global centre of design capability and leadership and the event put the Victorian design industry in the global spotlight.