MedTech Innovation Ecosystem: What can Asia learn and adapt from Silicon Valley?

Dr. Paul Yock Credit: A*STAR

Singapore Stanford Biodesign Thought leaders series (TLS) is a biennial event which brings in key opinion leaders from around the world to educate the Singapore community on the latest industry insights and experiences on medical technology development. In Dec 2015, Prof. Paul Yock, Founder and Director of Stanford Biodesign spoke on the radically changing environment in MedTech Innovation. Apart from his keynote lecture, thought leaders from different countries deliberated on the topic- “MedTech Innovation Ecosystem: What can Asia learn and adapt from Silicon Valley?”

Prof. Paul Yock is internationally renowned for his work in inventing, developing and testing new devices, including the Rapid Exchange TM balloon angioplasty system, which is now the primary system in use worldwide. Some of his other well-known inventions include a Doppler-guided access system known as the Smart NeedleTM and PD-AccessTM and developing CardioVascular imaging systems (CVIS).

During his key note lecture, Dr. Yock spoke about how the angioplasty technique was invented. About how, the synergy between a clinician and engineer led to the invention of the percutaneous transluminal coronoary angioplasty by Andreas Gruentzig. He spoke about the importance of value-based innovations and the importance of mentorship, having had the good fortune to have a mentor like Dr. Thomas Fogarty, who was the inventor of the embolectomy catheter and is widely regarded as the father of Minimally invasive surgery.

Having seen the MedTech Innovation system evolve from the hey days in Silicon valley, he gave some important insights about the process of technology innovation:

1) There are people among us who are inherently gifted inventors and who succeed with the right guidance from mentors. However, innovation is a discipline that can be learned too, provided the fundamental factors can be perfected over time. This is one of the goals of the Singapore Stanford Biodesign program, he says.

2) There is a necessity to do need-based innovation, rather than inventing and trying to see where it fits. It should have a user-centric design, most importantly.

What if the user is the many-headed monster called healthcare? How do you choose the need? He elucidated the Stanford Biodesign process to explain how to go about innovation-

a) Identifying medical needs

He emphasized the importance of identifying the right need for all the stakeholders in healthcare. “With the innovators, one of the mistakes we see is falling in love with the need too quickly. All medical needs are compelling because people are suffering and you want to do something about it. The trick is to realise that those needs are everywhere and what’s essential is finding the need that is worthwhile pursuing, what is worth spending ten years of your life and millions of others’ money.”

“A well characterized need is the DNA of great invention”, he says

b) Filtering or screening the needs 

By working in teams, physicians and engineers are sent to hospital, to find atleast 200 needs, the skill is to find the need which is worthwhile pursuing. An extensive “need”screening is done- clinical impact, stakeholders, treatment options, market potential and then a handful of them, 2-3 needs are shortlisted.

c) Innovate

At this point, given enough time, sugar and caffeine, you will invent something, he adds jokingly.

Panel Discussion

The panelists (Stage Seating Order L to R) : Mr. Peh Ruey Feng, Dr. John Collins, Mr. Lu Yoh-Chie, Prof. Paul Yock, Prof. Sun Kyung, A/Prof Tan Sze Wee, Dr. Fumiaki Ikeno, Dr. Chris Shen. Picture Credit: A*STAR

A group of panelists and distinguished speakers including Mr. Peh Ruey Feng, CEO and Founder, Advent Access Pte Ltd; Dr. John Collins, COO, Centre for Integration of Medicine and Innovative Technology; Mr. Lu Yoh-Chie, Chairman, Biosensors International, Prof. Sun Kyung, Chair Osong Medical Innovation Foundation, Professor, Korea University college of Medicine;  A/Prof Tan Sze Wee, Deputy Executive Director, BMRC, A*STAR; Dr. Fumiaki Ikeno, Program Director, Japan Biodesign, Stanford Unversity, Dr. Chris Shen, Executive Director, SSB, MD, Vertex Ventures Healthcare along with Prof. Paul Yock provided their perspectives on the challenges and future of the medical device industry.

The topic of discussion was “MedTech Innovation Ecosystem: What can Asia learn and adapt from Silicon Valley?”

Question: What do you think are the key ingredients that make the MedTech innovation ecosystem successful?

Dr. John Collins

  • The healthcare innovation ecosystem is constantly changing and we need world class institutions, we need clinical and technology innovators who understand the needs.
  • We need institutions that know how to bring new technologies to solve the problems that the clinical teams are identifying.
  • You need the risk capital to drive things forward
  • Entrepreneurs and innovators sometimes lack business acumen. They need to work on it and advance their startups.

Prof. Sun Kyung

  • The cultivation of human capital is very important
  • Sufficient funding
  • The need for good hospitals in the APAC region is crucial

A/Prof Tan Sze Wee

  • The process of innovation should be a needs-driven and not just a technology push, it should involve collaboration of people from different domains.


Question: Why haven’t we seen as much vibrancy in innnovation in Asia as compared to silicon valley? Is there anything we need to do differently. Is it cultural?

Dr. Fumiaki Ikeno 

  • Generally in Asian countries, the culture is inherently risk-averse.
  • Each stake holder doesn’t understand what it is to start up a company.For eg. Venture capital is sometimes confused for grants. So we need to educate people.
  • Many countries like Japan need a role model, a success story.

Mr. Lu Yoh-Chie gave an objective overview of the MedTech innovation ecosystem-

“Having lived mostly in Singapore and in the US for many years, i can see the difference between the two regions. The most distinct one is the years of experience that US is able to provide in terms of what has been done. The ecosystem is already there, but everything here- you need to start up from pretty much scratch”.

“It will not be overnight. The cultural mindset needs to change too. Failing is not altogether that bad, as long as in the end you succeed. We just have to know what we really need. Sometimes we learn from the failures too!”

“In the past, market was always regarded as US-centric, but if you see today’s population composition- APAC consists of almost 55% of the total world and its’ really concentrated in this region.”

“I would like to urge the local people to truly believe in the need, the future of the market. You can really take or adopt what you have learnt from the US and just turn around and see what kind of things you can create, and develop a new ecosystem here.”

Many countries like Singapore offer grants which is great, but there should be accountability, like in the VC dealings, he says.

Mentorship is crucial, he says. “Hang on to someone who has succeeded!”

He also spoke about the importance of having good panel discussions to advance ideas.

“Universally,all the factors mentioned above need to be there but there are two things you cannot change- Experience, that money cannot buy and Time– you just have to take it”.

 “Its just the beginning, in my opinion!”, says Mr. Yoh-chie.