Nathan Tenzer outlines the growth plans at the Edwards Lifesciences plant in Limerick.
The Irish facility of American medical technology firm, Edwards Lifesciences is a critical part of the company’s international manufacturing network, according to Nathan Tenzer, the general manager of the Limerick plant.
Innovation and research are the cornerstones of the international success of Edwards Lifesciences, which, only last spring announced a €160m investment in a technology plant in Limerick, that is set to create 600 jobs.
“We manufacture minimally invasive heart-valve repair and replacement technology”, says Nathan Tenzer, who has a career with the company spanning 17 years and in a number of specialised departments including R&D, manufacturing engineering and marketing.
“What we do means that a person does not have to undergo a major surgery”, he says, adding that the treatment has a significantly beneficial effect on a patient’s quality of life. So what is this treatment?
“It’s essentially about heart valve repair. We fix a valve or replace it and put in a new valve. The work involves some amazing technology”, he says, adding that this technology is critical for some patients, who may have no other option.
“It is extremely impactful technology, as we’re giving back years to people; very high quality years too. It is an incredible thing to be part of”, says Tenzer, adding that, given the ageing population it is inevitable that increasing numbers of people will require access to such kinds of treatment.
The availability of talent was a major consideration when the company was making the initial decision to locate its Irish manufacturing plant in Limerick.
“The people who make these devices need to have a high level of care and diligence, and in this context, the level of education and training in Ireland is very attractive and that is a major reason why we selected the mid-west location,” he says.
The vast majority of the 85 or so people which currently constitute the workforce are Irish employees.
It is expected to grow exponentially in the near future, he says: “The Irish talent sector is highly attractive”, he says, adding that because mainland Europe is the company’s second largest market, its geo-positioning was crucial factor.
“There are major advantages in producing this technology close to where it is used. First, it promotes cost and environmental consciousness.
“Along with that, Ireland is a stable business and political environment with a long established medical-tech industry”, he says, pointing out that another logistical advantage of its Irish location and proximity to Europe means the company is building and selling products in euro.
The demand for its products is steadily rising, meaning that Edwards Lifesciences can offer ambitious employees a promising career: “It’s a rapidly growing organisation and there are lots of opportunities for employees to stretch and grow."
Founded 60 years ago when it produced the first commercially successful heart valve, the company’s minimally invasive heart valve transcatheter aortic valve implantation is today its flagship product.
“This device treats a disease called aortic stenosis which is a calcification of the heart valve which happens very slowly over time.
"The condition means the body does not get the oxygen it needs, so the person starts to feel fatigued.”
First launched in Europe more than a decade ago, this highly-sophisticated device was originally used only for people who were too ill for open-heart surgery.
However, as Tenzer says, it is now indicated even to people who are low-risk for open heart surgery.
“We are a world leader in this product”, he says, adding that the company is now investigating the application of its cutting-edge technologies to the other heart valves, and to repair technologies.
“We are investing in research into solutions for repair and replacement technologies for the other heart valves.
“Our minimally invasive heart-valve repair and replacement technologies are being built in the Irish facility today; we are very excited about these technologies.”
The company also builds critical care monitoring technology, which as Tenzer says, is “about conveying the right information to the anaesthetist and the cardiac surgeon to enable them to manage patients by monitoring hemodynamic indicators.”
Essentially what this technology achieve, he says, is to help doctors keep the patient in an optimal zone during surgery and the critical recovery period: “Research shows if you keep people in that optimal zone they recover faster.”
It comes as no surprise then that innovation is a critical element of the success of Edwards Lifesciences.
“Our organisation develops the newest cutting-edge technology that treats previously untreated segments of the patient population. It is extremely hard work.
“We have incredible investment in research and development”, he says, adding that about 18% of the company’s annual turnover is invested in R&D, compared to an industry norm of 4% to 5%.
This level of investments allows the company to develop innovative technology and to show with data that these technologies work.
“Last March the Partner 3 study demonstrated that transcatheter aortic valve implantation is superior to surgery in low-risk aortic stenosis patients”, he says, adding while it costs a lot of money to conduct such trials, the results are very important.
“We carry out a lot of research, and the experience in innovation, technology and clinical trials provides us with knowledge and confidence that we are making a difference in our patients lives. We are an extremely patient-driven organisation.”
However, Edward Lifesciences also prioritises a healthy relationship with the communities in which it is based: “Engaging with local communities is for us about making a positive contribution to the community where we live, and is very impactful.
“We want to be good corporate citizen and participate actively in the community”, he says, adding that to this end the firm encourages all employees to participate in one active charitable work a year.
And it doesn’t just recommend it, the company actively provides opportunities for its workers to participate in charitable events: “We have, for example, built a relationship with Croi the stroke and heart awareness organisation in the west of Ireland — we participated in a fundraising cycle for the charity last March.”
The company has also developed a good partnership with the GAA:
“We identified four GAA clubs and donated €10,000 to each”, he says, adding that employees also participate in voluntary activities on behalf of the clubs.