Contributing Writer

Targeting a largely untapped medical device market in Southeast Asia, Taiwanese and Malaysian academic institutions have tied up with the med-tech industry to promote and develop Taiwanese devices overseas.

Malaysia currently relies on medical device imports. Promoting Taiwanese devices in Malaysia and jointly developing them could be a win-win strategy for both parties.

On June 14, National Cheung Kung University (NCKU; Tainan City, Taiwan), along with some members under the Global Academic-Industry Alliance (GAIA), signed a memorandum of understanding with the University of Malaysia (UM; Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia) and its spin-off company, BioApp (also Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia). The organizations vowed to collaborate on research and development, clinical trial, training and education, and service in the field of medical device and bioengineering.

GAIA is an initiative led by NCKU's Medical Device Innovation Center (MDIC) bringing together Taiwan's medical and healthcare-related industry, government bodies, global academic institutes and research centers to jointly develop and market Taiwanese products.

Taiwanese firms participating in the new venture include Codent Technical Industry (a dental instrument developer and manufacturer), Matise Instrument (a dental device provider), Nam Liong Group (a textile industry leader also engaged in medical devices), SportsArt Fitness (a fitness and rehabilitation device provider), Taiwan CareTech (a medical device provider), and 4G Technology (a solar energy solution provider). All of them are based in the Southern Taiwan Science Park.

These firms will market their products through BioApps-UM to Malaysia. This new channel is expected to help Taiwanese companies overcome difficulties in the international market.

The collaboration is set to expand with top international university hospitals in order to promote and market Taiwanese medical devices to Southeast Asia, India, Russia and eventually the rest of the world.

"Taiwan is a new giant in innovation for advanced medical technologies, which is yet to be tapped fully," Noor Azuan Abu Osman, dean of the faculty of engineering of University of Malaysia, told Medical Device Daily. "The Alliance provides an important platform for Taiwanese companies to take center stage to display their innovation to the world."

Azuan said it was significant for the two parties as their alliance "binds" them to the industry they are aligned with.

"Our plan is to transform the existing perception and practice in this part of the world where medical device manufacturers are always associated with the West and are isolated within the academia," said Azuan.

"Taiwan's biotechnology industry shows tremendous growth potential as its current production value stands at NT$166 billion ($5.5 billion), while the global average is $300 billion," said Chang Chia-juch, Minister of Economic Affairs of Taiwan, during the signing ceremony.

The initiative is a result of a long relationship between the Taiwanese and Malaysian universities through the President's Forum of Southeast and South Asia and Taiwan University. A Taiwanese delegation from NCKU's MDIC, its Oral Medicine Institute, and other industry representatives visited Malaysia last year and came up with the initiative.

"The GAIA model presented is the right move forward and we would like to see academia driving the industry," said Azuan. "We believe the Alliance is just the right vehicle to achieve such a dream. Such a scenario, once achieved would undoubtedly drive our research and innovation to a new unprecedented level."

BioApps's help is not limited to the Malaysia market. It has several partners with business ties in the medical device industry in several Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) countries and could benefit Taiwanese companies from such ventures.

"Further improvement could be proposed in view of BioApp's strong position in academic research circles and the medical device industry," Azuan said. "Taiwanese companies would be able to expand their business to the huge ASEAN market readily provided by BioApps."

The medical device industry in Southeast Asia has seen rapid growth lately and is expected to reach $8 billion worth in 2017. Because of differences in standards across countries, the Asian Medical Device Directive seeks to harmonize them across ASEAN, Azuan said.

"What Taiwan needs now is to strategically align itself to market its medical devices and products," he said.

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