Table Speech

Providing Medical Equipment to the World through Japanese Manufacturing --- The goal of Commons for Medicine and Engineering Japan ---

September 2, 2015

Dr. Kazuo Tanishita
Executive Director, Commons for Medicine and Engineering Japan Professor,Waseda University Research Organization for Nano & Life Innovation

 In 1972, I joined the research lab of Professor P.M. Galletti, a renowned pioneer in the field of artificial organs at Brown University. There I encountered medical engineering and devoted myself to the research of artificial lungs. I have conducted research over 30 years at Keio University and currently I serve as a professor at Waseda University.

 CNN news recently reported that Ms. Elizabeth Holmes, a 31-year-old female entrepreneur in the US, has developed a virtually painless blood-testing system that allows detection of nearly 400 items by a single drop of blood. She had dropped out of Stanford University to become a self-made female billionaire. I confess I was frustrated to know her product overtook the much advanced micromachine technology in Japan. We failed to make practical use of our technological expertise accumulated from the 1990s.

 Japan is a large-scale importer of medical equipment. Especially we have an overwhelming import surplus for medical intervention apparatus like endoscopes and stents that has brought dramatic changes to clinical practices. The reason is simple. In Japan, the medical field is detached from manufacturing sites. Therefore, manufacturers fail to grasp the actual medical needs. Among the world’s top 20 medical equipment manufacturers, 14 are dominated by American companies that succeeded in R&D based on medical needs.

 We were urged to rectify this vertically-segmented structure in Japan and to link up different fields. Through extensive discussions with Professor Masaki Kitajima (President of the International University of Health and Welfare) and other experts from the medical and engineering societies, we launched a platform that links the two fields. In 2012, we established the “Commons for Medicine and Engineering Japan (Commons)” with the participation of 16 academic societies, including the Japan Society of Mechanical Engineers, the Japan Society for Endoscopic Surgery and the Japan Society for Artificial Organs.

 Commons aims to facilitate interactions among the following four entities: academic societies, manufacturing-retailing companies, medical institutions as well as local governments.

 Let me quote an example of the Japan Society for Endoscopic Surgery with a membership of 20,000. Since 2011, they have set up a “plaza to facilitate collaboration between medicine and engineering” at their Annual Meeting, where physicians share the medical needs with manufacturers to match the two fields. Another example is the “salon for manufacturers in medicine and engineering,” where surgeons and nurses engage in discussions with manufacturers to identify R&D themes based on the actual needs observed at clinical sites. We introduce a brainstorming method to encourage active and extensive discussions and to suggest creative ideas. This method has been implemented by Biodesign of Stanford University which aims to develop leaders in biomedical technology innovation.

 As for interactions with manufacturing-retailing companies, we organize the “Hongo Exhibition” twice a year, which links about 1,000 SMEs in Hongo area with license to develop medical equipment to manufacturing companies across Japan as well as universities and technical colleges. By utilizing extensive information and knowledge of the SMEs on medical needs, we aim to facilitate the launch of development projects as well as business negotiations.

 Medical institutions also play an instrumental role. In collaboration with the National Center for Global Health and Medicine (NCGM), Commons launched the “Medical Innovation by NCGM and Commons (MINC group)” which meets on a monthly basis to match the manufacturing-retailing companies, manufacturers as well as the ministry.

 Another example I wish to share shows how local governments can enable interactions. The Tokyo Metropolitan Government launched the Medical-Engineering Collaboration HUB Organization this July to provide a venue on a regular basis for manufacturers in Tokyo to link with the needs of medical institutions. We aim to establish a solid base for advanced medical technology and services in the metropolitan area that will integrate the expertise of medical institutions and medical schools, leading companies and research labs.

 Fogarty Institute for Innovation is a medical device R&D center near Silicon Valley, established by a cardiovascular clinician Dr. Fogarty who is also an inventive genius and a successful entrepreneur. He established this R&D center within a 500-bed hospital to link medical needs with manufacturing for an efficient development. It is noteworthy that Aso Iizuka Hospital in Kyushu, Japan, has collaborated with Dr. Fogarty’s Institute and established a workshop within the hospital. It will serve as a new R&D base where experts from Kyushu Institute of Technology and other manufacturing companies join to develop medical equipment. I believe such trends will enable Japan to gradually reduce its reliance on imported medical devices.

 It is also welcoming that the Japan Agency for Medical Research and Development (AMED) was established this April to play a pivotal role in assisting the development of effective medical technologies and services. I am determined to commit myself to the establishment of a mechanism that will save patients in Japan by utilizing our superior manufacturing technology to create top-level medical devices.