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May 10, 2017

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Boost for home-developed medical devices

CHINA is trying to break its import reliance on medical equipment by encouraging more domestic innovation and production.

At the recent China (Shanghai) International Technology Fair, one example of progress was on display. A surgical stapler used in tumor operations, manufactured by Shanghai-based Ezisurg Medical, won “most popular product” at the exhibition. The device costs almost a third less than imported models.

About 90 percent of medical equipment used in China last year came from abroad, according to the China Medical Pharmaceutical Material Association.

“Things are starting to change as technology and talent combine in the domestic industry,” said Nie Honglin, founder of Ezisurg Medical, who began development of the stapler eight years ago.

“We still have a long way to go to improve our products.”

Nie’s surgical stapler is up against competition from global companies like Johnson & Johnson. It has secured six foreign and 13 domestic patents.

The stapler enables doctors to cut tumors with one hand in procedures that previously required the help of an assistant. It also sutures the wound more completely thus ensuring greater safety from infection, according to SGS, a Swiss-based product certification company.

Zheng Huamin, vice director at Ruijin Hospital, one of the top hospitals in Shanghai, said Nie’s surgical stapler matches the quality of imported devices and helps stop bleeding faster.

The breakthrough will encourage China’s efforts to tackle costly medical procedures fed, in part, by expensive imported medical equipment.

“Implanting a set of teeth in China could cost as much as the price of a BMW,” one consultant said.

United Imaging, one of China’s leading makers of advanced medical devices, has pledged to help break the monopoly of foreign products with its research and development.

President Xi Jinping visited United Imaging in 2014 to applaud its contribution in making advanced medical devices more accessible to domestic medical facilities.

Nie said the cost of imported devices is often higher in China than in Europe and the US because the domestic market is so dependent on them.

He invested 30 million yuan US$4.3 million) to develop the surgical stapler, which he expects to capture up to a third of the domestic market by 2020. Currently, foreign manufacturers have 93 percent of the market, he said.

The device could help China save nearly 6 billion yuan in treating patients with lung, gastric and colon cancers, he claimed.

Recognizing its value, the Shanghai Science and Technology Commission funded four projects in Nie’s research and development in the past four years.

Still, hiccups remain.

“Made In China is still synonymous with cheapness and low quality in many people’s mind,” said Yu Yeheng, deputy director at United Imaging.

Such stereotypes are not the only hurdle. When Nie bid for a project at the Shanghai Pulmonary Hospital last year, he was almost kicked out of the game because the bidding rules were biased toward foreign brands.

Still, the company “will start to break even in the second half this year, even if sales growth remains flat,” he said.

Meanwhile, United Imaging reported its sales nearly doubled in the past two years, a strong foundation ahead of an expected stock market listing in two years, according to industry insiders.

China is viewed as the world’s most lucrative market for medical devices. Sales last year rose by a fifth to 370 billion yuan.

“We feel confident about the prospects,” Nie said. “It just takes time.”


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