When talk turns to China's medical device industry, the focus invariably is on mainland China. But the island of Taiwan, which is located approximately 180 km off the southeastern coast, also has an illustrious past and robust future as a hub of medical innovation. This was made abundantly clear during my visit to Medicare Taiwan 2012 and the co-located SenCare, which features healthcare products targeting the elderly, in Taipei in June.
Taiwan has long been recognized as a leading force in innovation, technology and the development and manufacture of cost-effective ICT and medical products. At the beginning of the 21st century, the government identified the medtech and biotech industries as pillars of opportunity that could set Taiwan apart from other nations. It instituted initiatives not only to drive expansion of these two sectors but to integrate them. Transferring ICT innovation into healthcare products was a major theme at the tradeshow.
According to the Ministry of Economic Affairs, Taiwan’s medtech market was valued at US$2.4 billion in 2008. Even when the global financial crisis hit the region in 2009, the total output for medical devices continued to inch upwards. It is projected to reach US$2.5 billion by the end of 2012. The United States and Japan are the biggest buyers of medical equipment from Taiwan, accounting for 42% of exports. Thanks to the signing of the Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA) in 2011 between Taiwan and mainland China, cross-strait trade is also robust, and getting stronger.
The ECFA reduced tariffs and, in some cases, eliminated them entirely on a number of products, including medical devices. Mainland China lowered import duties on 539 agricultural, mechanical, and medical products coming from Taiwan, and Taiwan reciprocated by lowering taxes on 269 items. Some orthopedic products made in Taiwan can be imported tax free into China.
The ECFA has had a tremendous impact on the medical device industry. Home healthcare equipment, imaging systems, health management devices, telemedicine equipment, and medical electronics are among the product categories with great cross-strait trade potential.
This year’s MEDICARE Taiwan and SenCare events reflected the expanding opportunities for domestic medical device manufacturers. The show welcomed 440 exhibitors, a 10% increase over 2011. Medical electronics and the impact that an ageing population is having on device development were especially resonant themes.
Two exhibitors, in particular—Comdek Industrial Corp. and Karma Medical Corp.—caught my attention for different reasons but also for their shared commitment to innovation.
Founded in 1985, Comdek Industrial Corp.
manufactures diagnostic and medical products for clinical and homecare use. It is the only Taiwanese company producing pulse oximeters, and at the event it showcased the “Smart i-Oximeter,” its new generation of handheld, intelligent pulse oximeters with telemedicine applications. The device features full functionality for performing SpO2 measurements and wirelessly transmitting data and has a 48-hour memory capacity. An infrared interface allows data to be sent to compatible printers, while embedded Bluetooth technology provides real-time data transfer to a telemetry station.
Karma Medical Corp.
comes at innovation from a different perspective. It was the first company in Asia to produce aluminum-frame wheelchairs and has since grown to become one of Asia's largest wheelchair providers. It also has found considerable success exporting its products to other markets, without competing on price alone. The company is well positioned in India and is nurturing sales and distribution networks in the Middle East and Russia. It has almost 10% market share in Britain.
Perhaps surprisingly, Karma has encountered some difficulties in mainland China, problems that will be painfully familiar to US and European companies. Karma has been doing business in mainland China for six years, and maintains offices in Shanghai and Beijing. Business is brisk in the high-end market, notes CEO Kenny Chen, but on the lower end, their products are routinely copied and put back on the market at a lower price. "Intellectual property protection is a major concern,” says Chen.
Nevertheless, Karma is not retrenching: it has a distribution network covering the major cities in the north, northwest and southwest, and is building a new factory in Huzhou, Zhejiang province. "Once the new factory is constructed, we will be able to manufacture wheelchairs for the low-end market and recapture some of our lost market share," says Chen.
At Medicare Taiwan 2012, Karma showcased its award-winning Atigra wheelchair. A recipient of the Pace Zenith and Better Technology awards, Atigra incorporates a new midwheel design with an Active Terrain Response suspension system, allowing it to navigate rutted, rough terrains that are impenetrable for traditional midwheel-drive chairs. The compact power base accepts a range of adjustable seating systems and is available with a number of different electronic options.
MEDICARE Taiwan has established itself as a platform for showcasing the innovative spirit that is at the heart of Taiwan’s medical technology sector. Next year’s event is scheduled for June 20 to 23. For more information, visit www.medicaretaiwan.com