When people talk about the New Zealand health technology sector, they tend to think about two companies - Orion Health and Fisher & Paykel Healthcare.

Both are successful in different sectors of what we consider the "med-tech" market. One builds software to integrate patient data, the other builds hardware and systems to help in respiratory care.

As populations age, as countries mature and move from a physical-labour market to one based on services and technology, we are seeing huge demand for innovative ways to treat the human condition. Healthcare costs continue to rise as we live longer and suffer from chronic diseases such as diabetes and high blood pressure at a younger age.

New Zealand produces some of the world's leading med-tech companies. When I first became involved in the sector around 10 years ago, I counted about 30 to 40 New Zealand companies in this space. Today, there are around 140 and that number is growing.


Whether the companies are building new patient management platforms, like SHI Global, or building a new way to look at and measure wounds (Aranz Medical), or figuring out how to take multiple tests from a single drop of blood (Pictor), New Zealand is producing world leaders in medical technology providers.

One of the reasons the sector is seeing such traction is because it knows the importance of collaboration. Whether that's through initiatives such as the Consortium for Medical Device Technologies, or the wearable technologies group and Maori health and social services cluster at Callaghan Innovation, the sector knows the importance of forming collaborative projects that cut research and development costs and promote knowledge sharing that helps great ideas, born of cutting-edge research, succeed in the global market. Through assistance such as that of Callaghan Innovation, they can also get access to experts, product and technology development assistance, and R&D grants, and build in-house innovation skills.

This year's Healthtech Week, which runs until tomorrow, is the first time where we have one week of events showcasing New Zealand's med-tech sector. Most of the workshops are already over-subscribed, such is the interest.

We have speakers from all over the world and New Zealand, as well as investors who are eager to meet the brains behind the ideas, and budding entrepreneurs keen to learn from those who have gone before them.

It's an exciting time to be in the med-tech field. Advances in science are translating into saleable technology and practical applications and that is helping to sate the growing demand for smarter medical technology.

One such example is Im-Able, an emerging med-tech company with a world-leading stroke rehabilitation therapy system now a component in an upper limb rehabilitation facility in Sydney. The Im-Able technology platform was developed by Callaghan Innovation health researcher Marcus King.

The Economist Intelligence Unit expects growth to accelerate by an annual average of 5.2 per cent in 2014-2018. Demand in those countries that are moving from the developing to developed world is increasing ahead of the pack with the Middle East and Africa both experiencing 8 per cent growth in demand for medical technologies.

Meanwhile, the US market - the largest in the world for med-tech spending - is worth an estimated US$127 billion ($182 billion).


By 2020 the global market for med-tech is expected to exceed half a trillion US dollars.

While New Zealand's place in this new market is modest by comparison, we can and do play a vital role. Both large multinational corporations and New Zealand-born and bred med-tech companies are well represented in the sector.

As pressure comes on governments to cope with the cost of modern medical treatment, it's up to the tech sector to provide better, more efficient solutions. A huge part of the solution lies in science and technology and in our ability to harness them to build a better world and translate them into products and services that boost returns for New Zealand.

Diana Siew is Callaghan Innovation's national med-tech sector manager. She also co-chairs the Consortium for Medical Device Technologies, a national industry-research network and is an associate director of the MedTech Centre of Research Excellence.