Home to half of the world’s population, Asia is a very diverse continent in its medical needs - an ageing population in its developed economies and a lack of access to proper healthcare in its developing ones. However, both of these have collectively led to an increase in demand for high quality and affordable medtech (the colloquial term for ‘medical technology’) products.

McKinsey and Company, a research firm, has predicted that the region will be the second largest medtech market by 2020, surpassing the European Union. This market is expected to reach a value of US$190 billion over the next decade, which potentially makes up a third of global sales.

Enter the disruptors

Medtech is a difficult field to disrupt - with high barriers to entry, strict regulations, and a lack of authoritative support. However, these are slowly changing in Asia.

Technology, coupled with a young talent pool and the emergence of startup hubs and venture firms, disruption in the healthcare industry is very much underway. From reducing waiting time in hospitals to assigning targeted drugs based on DNA profiling, some medtech startups are leading the charge.

MEDIFI

MEDIFI is a cloud-based platform that allows patients to consult with doctors securely in the comfort of their homes. This platform will be especially useful in areas where access to medical practitioners is difficult or non-existent.

On top of their video calls and messaging functionalities, MEDIFI also allows doctors to access patients’ historical medical records and medical imagery such as MRI and CT scans, to ensure effective diagnosis of current health concerns. Founded in the Philippines, MEDIFI is also building integrations with popular personal health devices and emerging medical sensors to gather patients’ vitals more effectively.

Fetal Lite

According to Sattva Medtech, the startup behind Fetal Lite, there are 30 million pregnancies in India per year, but 300,000 of them result in perinatal deaths due to the absence of proper monitoring and timely care. Perinatal death refers to stillbirths and the death of newborns within the first week of birth. Plagued by malnutrition, anemia, hypertension and gestational diabetes, 10 million mothers were foreseen to require extra monitoring during pregnancy.

With a problem of this magnitude, Fetal Lite comes in as a lightweight and high tech solution to aid expecting mothers. On the hardware side, Fetal Lite is a small device that mothers place on their bellies to monitor fetal distress. Behind the scenes, Fetal Lite deploys a proprietary algorithm to provide automated analysis and decision support for these mothers. The device also comes with pictorial and vernacular instructions, so even low skill users can maximise it effectively.

Cornea Biosciences

With the founding vision of literally helping people see again, Cornea Biosciences was created for the 10 million people in the world that are blind in one or both eyes from corneal injury or disease. Of these 10 million people, less than 150,000 are able to receive cornea transplants due to a shortage of human cadaver corneas - according to official statistics collated by the company.

Headquartered in Singapore, Cornea Biosciences creates engineered corneas by cross-linking human collagens and biopolymers that are biocompatible with human tissues. In clinical trials conducted so far, the engineered corneas have shown no signs of rejection.

In another comparison, human cadaver corneas start deteriorating 15 days after extraction, while engineered corneas have a minimal shelf life of six months after production.

Molcure

Because of tight regulatory constraints, pharmaceutical companies are often burdened with long research and development cycles for the discovery of new antibodies, that in turn results in delayed deployment of new drugs.

Founded in Japan, Molcure uses advanced big-data analysis methodologies, machine learning, and next-generation DNA sequencing to identify antibodies that conventional methods can never discover faster and more effectively. This enables pharmaceutical companies who are developing new antibody drugs to identify antibody candidates 30 times faster and a 10 times greater probability of identifying the lead antibody for new drugs.

Prenetics

Based in Hong Kong, Prenetics makes it easy for individuals to discover how their genes affect their responses to drugs, diseases, and cancer risks using the study of pharmacogenomics.

According to Prenetics, there are a number of variations in genes that affect the way we respond to drugs. Most of these variations have to do with enzymes that metabolise one or more drugs. Some variations could indicate a strong chance that a particular medication will result in toxicity, while other variations could mean the effectiveness of a drug is vastly reduced. Choosing the right drug and dosage based on genetic mapping could lead to visible improvements in treatment results.

With a quick saliva sample, Prenetics can help users identify the medications and dosages that are best suited to their condition and genetic makeup, and can also allow a patient to help inform their doctors and pharmacists to make more informed decisions and prevent potential adverse reactions to drugs. MIMS

Read more:
4 new innovations in assistive robotics
Teaching medical students of the future: High-tech is the way to go
Mitigating hospital errors: Recent advancements in medical technologies

Sources:
http://www.mckinsey.com/industries/pharmaceuticals-and-medical-products/our-insights/meeting-growing-asia-pacific-demand-for-medical-technology
https://biotechin.asia/2016/01/11/medtech-in-asia-a-host-of-challenges-but-opportunities-abound/