France has a rich history in innovation, especially in the medical devices sector, but has not been able to produce a giant in the sector to compare with the global impact of Sanofi and Servier in pharmaceuticals. New models of public-private partnership however have the potential to change this.
Medical devices is an area in which France has tended to be at its creative best. “Historically speaking, it’s important to remember that the first coronary stent implant and the first ICD implant were actually both conducted here,” points out Eric Thépaut, President for Europe at Boston Scientific.
Referring to Europe as the “growth lab of the company” that “represents 21 percent of overall sales and truly sets the tone for the rest of the world,” he regards France as an “epicenter of avant-garde scientific thinking” and thus an obvious choice of location for the company to be developing and innovating a new portfolio of technologies that encompasses endoscopy new age visualization systems, and neuro-stimulation devices treating pain and for deep brain stimulation.
Historically speaking, it’s important to remember that the first coronary stent implant and the first ICD implant were actually both conducted here.
Eric Thepaut, Boston Scientific
GE, which maintains its second largest number of employees in France, (secondly only to the US) represents yet another company betting big on French innovation. “Given that France, throughout its history has been at the heart of much of the world´s medicinal progress, we are confident that the country will play an important role in defining new healthcare models of the future which will clearly entail early diagnosis and individually tailored treatments and delivering appropriate treatment to the patient at the right time,” explains the General Manager of Western Europe at GE Healthcare, Christophe Lala. His aspiration is that GE should be able to position itself as a “key partner and enabler in supporting this endeavor.”
Interestingly, in spite of its increasingly vibrant medical devices sector, France has not yet proved able to nurture a homegrown medical devices giant akin to those that dominate its pharma sector, such as Sanofi and Servier. “Historically, France has possessed iconic medical device companies, yet many of them have been acquired and absorbed by large foreign multinational firms,” explains Stéphane Regnault, CEO of the disposable medical device producer, Vygon and President of SNITEM. “While the country has displayed exceptional foresight in the field of medical devices and implants – with notable inventions including the first hip implants as well as the ports used in oncology procedures – France has systematically proved incapable of properly building upon and commercializing these inventions into industrial successes” he regrets.
One explanation for this may well be the difficulty encountered by young companies in securing financial backing. “Perhaps in the initial stages of start-ups, it may be possible to receive capital to initiate business activity. However, to make the transition into the international market, and to grow into a medium sized entity and become an industrial player in the true sense, much larger sums of capital are necessary and securing that level of capital on the French market is pretty tough,” reflects Regnault.
Greater levels of public-private partnership could perhaps help to offset this. “In Germany there is a strong sense of commitment from the government to private enterprise and the private and public sectors align and work together to establish laws and pool resources… unfortunately, this is not really the case in France where the linkages between public and private remain weak and fragile. This is something we are keen to work on and correct,” resolves B.Braun’s managing director, Marc- Alexander Burmeister.
As one of the few non-French CEOs based in France, Burmeister has a unique perspective on this issue. Despite the sometimes problematic relationship between the state and private companies, B. Braun chose to scale up their operations in France due to the fact that “France provides a good nucleus for start-up companies & SMEs, and B. Braun has grown through the acquisition of these same SMEs.” He also highlights that France’s “production knowhow and capabilities are crucial to our success in producing in bulk at lower costs” and that B. Braun’s “strong positioning and production base in France enables us to closely collaborate with researchers, the local community, and neighboring university centers.”