The importance of healthcare innovation can hardly be overestimated: it can improve patient care, enhance population health, decrease healthcare costs and, at the same time, generate economic value. “The ambitions behind Luxembourg’s decision to develop this sector was to stimulate economic diversification while also advancing personalised medicine – a field that was still in its infancy in 2008,” says Françoise Liners, Director Health Technologies at the Luxembourg Ministry of the Economy. Since then, the country has worked to build a comprehensive ecosystem where healthtech companies can flourish, systematically adding one piece of the puzzle after another.
A foundation of research excellence
The first step was to create a pool of excellence in biomedical research. The Luxembourg Centre for Systems Biomedicine (LCSB) was created in 2009 as part of the University of Luxembourg, and has since gained a strong international reputation for its research on neurodegenerative diseases. The Integrated BioBank of Luxembourg (IBBL), set up around the same time, has become a centre of excellence in biospecimen science and data generation and is today part of the Luxembourg Institute of Health’s (LIH) precision medicine research centre.
As the focus on personalised medicine matured, it became increasingly clear that data was at the very heart of the matter. “Data-driven decisions about the most appropriate treatment for each patient are today at the core of healthcare,” Dr Liners points out. “Computational biology was a key activity at the LCSB from the very beginning, and when national innovation agency Luxinnovation carried out its first mapping of the Luxembourg healthtech sector in 2018, we saw that the number of companies with a digital focus had constantly increased in parallel to the development of the biomedical research institutions.”
Data-driven decisions about the most appropriate treatment for each patient are today at the core of healthcare.
The strength of the existing company base, coupled with Luxembourg’s well-developed data ecosystem and general emphasis on data-driven innovation, drove the current focus on digital health, digital medical devices and in vitro diagnostics. “These three fields are at the heart of personalised medicine as they enable the development of data-based decision support tools as well as new types of diagnostic tests,” says Carole Brückler, Head of Digital Health Technologies at the Ministry of the Economy. “They also complement the strong biotechnology and biopharma industries established in neighbouring Belgium, France and Germany, or in Switzerland and the United Kingdom.”
Facilitating healthtech market access
The focus is now on developing the young and growing healthtech business community and on attracting international companies bringing healthtech innovations that Luxembourg can nurture and benefit from. “Luxembourg should become a natural choice for companies wanting to gain European market access for their digital medical devices. To achieve that, we have developed a set of initiatives that address and answer specific company needs,” says Dr Liners.
Luxembourg should become a natural choice for companies wanting to gain European market access for their digital medical devices.
The range of tools includes acceleration programme Fit 4 Start HealthTech, which helps start-ups align their operational plans with the regulatory requirements for their medical devices in the European market, and Fit 4 Innovation HealthTech Market, which introduces start-ups and SMEs to the regulatory expertise needed to obtain CE marking for selling their medical devices in the EU.
A further programme, the Joint Call HealthTech, addresses companies’ need for clinical investigations in order to demonstrate the performance, safety, cost efficiency and patient benefits of their devices. “In 2021, the Ministry of the Economy, the Luxembourg National Research Fund and Luxinnovation launched the first joint call for collaborative clinical investigation projects involving companies, research organisations and hospitals,” says Dr Brückler. The second edition, launched in 2023, also including funding from the Directorate of Health, which demonstrates the broad support for these developments.
The impact of digitalisation
In order to tailor their products to patient needs and the EU market, companies also need to understand the impact they will have on the healthcare system. “Digital medical devices can completely change the relationship between healthcare professionals and patients,” states Dr Liners. “They allow patients to be partners in their own health management, and can facilitate the application of preventive and care measures. They can also bring considerable efficiency gains and free up time for healthcare professionals to focus on their patients. The projects co-financed through the joint calls offer patients and healthcare professionals an opportunity to use and try new digital health innovations, and provide companies with precious insights into how their tools are received and perform.”
Digital medical devices can completely change the relationship between healthcare professionals and patients.
To advance the understanding of the medical benefits, structural and procedural changes, and the social acceptance of digital healthcare services, the LCSB, the LIH and the dMed research clinic of Luxembourg hospital CHL have created a Digital Medicine Group funded by the FNR as a PEARL Professorship. Headed by Professor Jochen Klucken, who holds the Chair of Digital Medicine at the University of Luxembourg, the group aims to understand how patient-centred, personalised healthcare technologies can be tailored to patients needs and integrated into existing healthcare structures and procedures. High quality patient data are also at the core of Luxembourg’s forward-looking patient cohort strategy, crystallised in the international CLINNOVA project led by the LIH which lays the foundation for artificial intelligence-enabled innovation in medicine. Luxembourg is thus at the forefront of the efforts to develop a European federated health data space enabling innovation and patient-centric care.
A campus for health
Another essential block in the ecosystem building is a physical hosting infrastructure adapted to the needs of healthtech companies. In 2015, the House of BioHealth opened its doors, offering over 17,000 m2 of office and lab space to both established and start-up companies. “It has all the necessary permissions for wet labs, which is a considerable advantage for resident companies,” Dr Brückler underlines.
Luxembourg is becoming an attractive location for healthtech companies looking for an enabling ecosystem to enter the European market.
The next step is the construction of the HE:AL Campus dedicated to health and life science innovation. Located between the House of BioHealth, a future major hospital centre servicing the south of Luxembourg and the nearby City of Sciences that hosts the University of Luxembourg and several other research institutes, the campus will be a geographical bridge between research, innovation and the medical sector. “Some LIH and LCSB departments are already located in the House of BioHealth, and the campus will continue to foster this closeness between researchers and entrepreneurs,” Dr Brückler continues.
Luxembourg’s future plans for growing the healthtech sector include the creation of a medicine agency and a fund leveraging private investments in the field, as well as support for companies seeking to make their digital medical devices eligible for reimbursement. “With the progress made these last years on building our healthtech ecosystem, international companies show an increasing interest in Luxembourg,” confirms Dr Liners. “This shows that the country is becoming an attractive location for healthtech companies looking for an enabling ecosystem to enter the European market.”
Photo: © Luxinnovation/Michel Brumat