Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS) may sound other worldly but the non invasive therapy, which involves using magnetic fields to stimulate the brain, can achieve remarkable results where other treatments have failed.
Magstim’s TMS devices work by stimulating certain brain cells with a series of brief and highly focused magnetic pulses. Treatment is non-invasive and pain free, so this may be done as an outpatient procedure. Repeated studies have shown TMS to have minimal side-effects, and there is hope that it may eventually be approved to treat mental-health conditions other than depression.
Headquartered in the small town of Whitland, near Carmarthen, Magstim has received significant support both from the Welsh Government and US private equity. It has an American base in Morrisville, North Carolina, to deal with US marketing and distribution.
When the company was founded in 1990, TMS was primarily used as a research tool by neuroscientists seeking to understand how the brain’s pathways are connected. Its work has yielded important insights into the diagnosis and treatment of conditions including multiple sclerosis, motor neurone disease and spinal injury. Magstim has been cited in around 79% of all the academic papers published about TMS.
Gareth Davies, director of finance and administration, says: “Magstim’s heritage is in the research market, providing stimulation machines for universities and other medical organisations across the world. Then, three years ago, the company had its products approved by the US Food and Drug Administration for use in treating depression. That’s where the big growth is coming from at the moment: using this research tool as a clinical tool, and making people better.”
In 2016, NICE – the UK agency responsible for appraising new drugs and therapies – also recognised the effectiveness of TMS. Davies says: “It’s not yet well established here, but the UK is beginning to follow the lead of the US. There are one or two sites that are already using it, such as Northampton NHS Healthcare Trust. Obviously, there is a relatively high investment involved in acquiring a machine, but over the long term it can produce quite significant savings. It’s an alternative to using medicines.”
Collaboration with academia remains important. One of the most fruitful partnerships has been with Cardiff University’s Brain Research Imaging Centre (CUBRIC). The £44 million facility is home to a unique combination of advanced neuroimaging and neurostimulation equipment, including several Magstim Super Rapid systems. “This is an ongoing collaboration,” says Davies. “We’ve been there recently to finalise our latest collaboration, developing new coils for them to use in their research.”
While Magstim is best known for developing and manufacturing TMS equipment, there’s a second strand to the business. Its Neurosign division produces high-quality probes, electrodes, monitors and other surgical instruments that are used to protect patients who are undergoing surgical procedures. They’re commonly used by ENT (Ear, Nose and Throat) surgeons to ensure that vital facial nerves are not damaged during complex operations.
Davies says: “We’ve recently launched a new nervemonitoring system that provides surgeons with vital information during delicate surgery and it’s already been purchased by hospitals in the UK and across Europe. Since acquiring Technomed Europe in the Netherlands in 2016, we can also supply all the accessories and consumables to go with it.”
Magstim seeks to recruit locally wherever possible, and is now a major employer in Whitland. Gareth Davies says: “We have 110 employees, and the majority of those are based here in Wales. We need a wide cross-section of skills in our workforce, from manufacturing operators to people in research and development, and all the support functions like finance, customer services, HR and marketing. Within the development side, all of the jobs are graduate-level and above, and we have several employees with PhDs.
“We have good links with Welsh schools and universities, particularly around Carmarthen, Swansea and Cardiff. But we also have people who have been keen to relocate to Whitland. We have a loyal and committed workforce, and we don’t have a high turnover of staff. People find this part of Wales has a lot to offer.”