German exports overall have fallen 45% in the past 12 months, yet medical technology seems to have been spared the worst of the cutbacks in purchasing, though the sector will be challenged by indirect consequences of the economic downturn, according to a report from the industry association BVMed (Bundesverband Medizintechnologie; Berlin).

A survey of 120 member companies conducted in March reveals that one-third of the companies reported drops in sales in the first months of 2009 compared to a very robust year earlier, and only one-fourth of the companies participating in the survey were able to say they felt no consequences of the crisis on their business operations.

While only 4% of companies in the med-tech sector reported reducing their workforce as a result of shockwaves from the global financial meltdown, 32% of the companies said they had initiated a hiring freeze in a sector that one year ago was desperate to find more engineers (Medical Device Daily, Jan 18, 2008).

Company executives said they feel confident the healthcare market will prove more robust than other manufacturing and industrial segments that have been devastated in Germany, even saying the sector is crisis-proof, especially if the healthcare services or products used are covered by the statutory health insurance.

Executives in this country where most companies are privately held shrugged off concerns about any potential flight of investors, a shutdown of production capacities or reduced working hours, saying these factors pose a very slight threat, or none at all.

Instead, what keeps German med-tech executives awake at night, cited by 57% of participating companies, is a growing strength of the downward pressure on prices that has dogged their sales revenues for several years.

While few cited credit for ongoing financing of their companies as a concern, in a related question probing the perspective of the strained financial situation, 43% of the executives said it was worrisome.

Germany is the world's second-largest exporter of medical technologies with a 14.6% share of global trade, compared to a 30.9% share for the U.S., which leads the world trade in this segment, but significantly ahead of third-ranked Japan with a 5.5% share.

Total volume of German medical technology manufacturing increased by 6.9% to €17.3 billion ($23 billion) 2007, according to BVMed, which reports €11.1 billion ($14.7 billion) was exported.

The European Union was the destination for 41% of exported medical technology, with North America accounting for 22% and Asia ordering 14% of the products.

The core medical technology sector employs more than 170,000 people in Germany in some 11,000 companies, an industry strongly dominated by medium-sized firms, with 95% of the companies employing fewer than 250 people.

There are 10,000 small businesses working in the sector, according to BVMed, collectively employing 75,000, or 7.5 employees per company.

Gemalto launches Sealys terminal

Gemalto (Amsterdam, the Netherlands), a leading digital security company, reported the launch of its Sealys e-health terminal, specially designed for the German market. The company said the Gemalto terminal is "remarkably compact and offers a large display for greater ergonomics."

The product has been approved by Gematik, the authority in charge of defining and approving the healthcare infrastructure in Germany, establishing that it meets the security requirements of the country's e-healthcare system.

Gemalto said the new product is "fully and immediately operational with the current healthcare system" in Germany, and also has all the necessary features to operate in online mode in the future German Telematik infrastructure, due to be implemented in 2010.

New services available via the terminal include access to a patient's electronic medical file and emergency data such as blood group, allergies and ongoing treatment records. Doctors also will be able to issue electronic prescriptions that facilitate data exchange with pharmacists and reduce fraud, while eliminating paperwork.

The Gemalto terminal offers optional connection of biometric and contactless devices, allowing doctors to sign e-prescriptions using their fingerprint or any contactless device.

"Our customers will benefit from perfect interoperability along with deep knowledge of the application, and not simply from a terminal point of view as any hardware vendor," said Jacques Seneca, executive vice president of the Security Business Unit for Gemalto. "This new release has been developed to incorporate the latest technological advances requested by German health professionals."

Belgium's SFS to add Intercept system

Cerus (Concord, California) said that the Belgian Red Cross, Service Francophone du Sang (SFS), has signed a contract to purchase the company's Intercept platelet system.

The SFS is one of two major Red Cross blood services in Belgium, supplying blood to the Wallonia region and part of Brussels, with principal blood centers in Brabant-Hainaut, Li ge, and Namur. Roughly 30% of Belgium's platelet components, an estimated 17,500 units annually, are produced by the SFS.

"This is another key development in the commercialization of the Intercept Blood System in Europe," said Cerus President/CEO Claes Glassell. "We believe the Belgian Red Cross chose to sign a contract with us prior to finalization of official governmental reimbursement because of the safety benefits inherent in the Intercept Blood System."

Use of pathogen inactivation for transfused plasma was mandated in Belgium in 2007, and in 2008 the High Council of Health issued a recommendation for universal implementation of pathogen-inactivated platelets to reduce the risk of transfusion-transmitted infections. The Intercept platelet system already is used by Belgian blood centers in Yvoir, Brugge, and Charleroi, and also by the Belgian Army blood service.

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