AsianScientist (May 5, 2015) – Medical devices encompass an enormous range of equipment from simple tools such as thermometers to complex and costly machines with functions such as diagnostic imaging. We use medical devices to prevent, diagnose and treat illnesses and diseases. The World Health Organization estimates that there are 1.5 million different medical devices around the globe. However, a disproportionately large percentage of the world’s population does not have access to safe and appropriate medical devices.
This problem is particularly acute in low-income countries that lack nationwide systems to plan, assess, acquire and manage medical devices. The World Bank classifies 31 countries in the Asia Pacific (APAC) region as developing. While this indicates a large market potential yet to be tapped, there are correspondingly big challenges to be overcome.
According to a UBM Canon MedTech World report, the market for medical devices in the APAC region is estimated to be US$55 billion, forming a quarter of the total global US$230 billion market. While the global sector is projected to grow by six percent over the next three years, the APAC market is expected to expand by more than ten percent. It is clear that this corner of the world presents exciting opportunities for medical device companies.
“For BD, Asia is one of the fastest growing regions in the world. The developing markets are an area of great interest for us. They are growing very fast and there are many opportunities for us to support healthcare here,” says Mr. David Capes of Becton, Dickinson and Company (BD).
He is speaking to Asian Scientist Magazine at the inaugural Tech Transfer Summit (TTS) Asia, a meeting of technology transfer specialists from around the world that took place for the first time in Singapore in December 2013. As vice-president of R&D for Greater Asia at BD, Capes has a deep knowledge of Asia’s healthcare markets and the strategies required for companies seeking to capitalize upon the region’s potential.
Capes starts by describing BD’s strengths. “I think to have the biggest impact we need to define what key disease areas we should focus on. Syringes, needles, intravenous catheters and drug delivery are our biggest areas and form our core business. We tend to be a tools-driven company; we provide tools for therapy and research. Specific disease areas we focus strongly on are diabetes and infectious diseases such as tuberculosis and HIV.”
Segmenting The Market
Casting his eye across the region, Capes believes the Asian market can be segmented into three tiers:
“At the top are cities, which are well connected, typically well-funded, with good hospitals, many of which are similar to Western countries. Next are mid-tier markets consisting towns that are less well equipped but deal with large numbers of patients. Finally there are bottom-tier markets in remote rural villages, poorly equipped, where the population has no money and is in desperate need of healthcare.”
“If you focus on generating Western products and Western solutions, you would, by definition, be focusing on the top tier, which BD has historically been doing. What we’re asking now is how we can have a broader impact across Asia and a bigger impact on healthcare. To do that, we need to focus less on products and more on solutions.”
Capes believes it is vital to work with states to target specific disease areas and in so doing, create the market.
“For many years, we’ve been partners with governments and funding agencies working on disease areas such as tuberculosis, but we need to do more. We need to work together with countries to come up with solutions, which can be a device or a diagnostic. We are in the process of putting specific packages together for some of these areas and we need to get better at it. It’s a long road ahead of us.”
Citing the example of cervical cancer, he says that in many developing countries, the standard Pap smear test was not widely used.
“We asked the question, why is it not being used? Can we develop a solution that gets more women screened for cervical cancer? Cervical cancer has one of the highest incidence in developing countries whereas in developed countries, rates are much lower because of screening.”
Capes could not reveal further details about BD’s plans for developing diagnostics for cervical cancer but said that this disease was an example of the kind of questions the company was asking in its approach to Asian markets.
Hurdles Along The Way
For companies that develop medical devices, there are numerous obstacles to overcome when entering and expanding in Asia, says Capes. Firstly, governments may not have the necessary systems in place to deal with particular health issues.
Capes talks about the difficulties in tackling a major disease in Asia: diabetes.
“We’re interested in the whole spectrum of managing diabetes, from non-invasive diagnosis to glucose monitoring and insulin delivery. There’s a diabetes epidemic in developing countries. People are not being diagnosed and that’s indicative of a problem in many developing countries: a lack of infrastructure to support the diagnosis and treatment of a disease.”
Another key challenge is working with different stakeholders when bringing a device to market. Capes discusses the recent BD acquisition of the Odon birth device from Argentina, which is being introduced in Asia before a worldwide rollout. Inspired by a classic party trick of removing a cork from the inside of an empty bottle using a plastic bag, car mechanic Jorge Odon came up with the idea of applying the same concept to assist difficult births. The device will be the first simple new tool for assisted delivery since forceps and vacuum extractors were introduced centuries ago, says Dr. Margaret Chan, director general of the World Health Organization (WHO). The Odon device is now being tested in WHO-sponsored clinical trials, with positive results.
Capes explained that Odon’s journey from device conceptualization to development and eventual partnership with WHO was what attracted BD to the technology.
“You have to work with many organizations when developing devices for the needs of the developing world. There are many organizations that have an impact on whether an intervention is successful. And that’s a key challenge when you’re trying to bring a device to market. On top of that, you have to be able to manufacture the product in big volumes and get registrations for it. At a big company like BD, it’s an advantage and one of our strengths that we have the reach and resources to make things happen.”
This article was first published in the print version of Asian Scientist Magazine, Apr 2014.
Photo: Daniel Paquet/Flickr/CC.
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