Making it Work: Galway medtech aims to lead a billion-dollar industry

Smart Reactors is planning to raise €1.5 million by next summer and believes it has captured a niche in the lucrative medical device sector

Mark Brassil, chief technology officer, and Brian Haddigan, chief executive of Smart Reactors who have developed a proprietary hemocompatible coating for blood contacting devices to reduce blood clot formation. Picture: Andrew Downes

It’s operating in an area many people have never heard of, but Smart Reactors, a Galway-based company specialising in medical device coatings, is quietly working towards global leadership in a billion-dollar industry.

Founded less than five years ago by Brian Haddigan and Mark Brassil, entrepreneurs with decades of experience in the medical device sector, the firm has grown to a team of ten and is aiming to raise €1.5 million by next summer to fund its continued expansion overseas.

Smart Reactors has developed a coating technology designed to reduce the risk of blood clots and other complications which can arise when medical devices come into contact with blood.

Stents, catheters and prostheses can all cause medical complications when they interact with blood, and lubricating coatings are used to minimise this risk.

For decades, many of the biggest companies in the industry have used an anti-clotting agent called heparin to lubricate their medical devices. But in recent months, authorities in the US and elsewhere have raised issues with heparin-based coatings due to supply, cost and safety concerns.

In response, Smart Reactors has created a heparin-free coating which it hopes will become widely used in cardiac and respiratory support procedures – an area called extracorporeal membrane oxygenation.

It plans to license the intellectual property to major pharmaceutical companies for up to 20 years and has recently entered into development agreements with several international firms operating in the sector.

“There are probably just two companies in the world that have the ability to license the coating on a non-exclusive basis to companies,” Haddigan, the chief executive of the Enterprise Ireland-backed firm, said.

Haddigan said heparin coatings “carry many problems, including regulatory challenges, cost challenges and supply chain challenges”.

“There’s a lot of pressure on manufacturers to try and climb the ladder in terms of finding data to support the use of heparin coatings, or to move away from heparin coatings to a heparin-free version.”

Smart Reactors believes its technology can be applied to blood-contacting devices used in many medical procedures, but for now it is focused on perfusion devices – components which offer support to the heart and lungs during open-heart surgery.

The devices are often used on patients suffering from respiratory disorders, including Covid-19, and the company believes it can capture a piece of the $1 billion market.

It has patented the technology in Britain and has filed the same application in the US, as part of a move towards the global market

“We’re offering the IP, the know-how, and the total service to get our coating onto their device. And then they can take it onto the market themselves,” Haddigan said.

“We want to be recognised as a global leader in medical device coatings. We’re selling ourselves as a medical device coating expert so no matter your needs, we have the skill set to develop the coating you need and help you get it onto your product.”