Sixteen years ago, the city of Kobe, Japan, was rocked by a cataclysmic earthquake. Miki Anzai, Associate Editor of Japan Medical Design & Manufacturing Technology, reflects on how medical technology has helped to heal the region.
On Monday, 17 January, Kobe and neighbouring cities commemorated the 16th anniversary of the 1995 Great Hanshin Earthquake, which left 6434 people dead. To help heal the devastated city, the government started an initiative 13 years ago to establish a hub for biomedical treatment, research, and technology.
As part of this project, a new medical device development centre and an international high-tech medical treatment centre will open in the spring. The centres will exchange clinical results, ideas and information to develop leading-edge medical devices.
“Our main goal is to put research results to practical use,” says Kuninobu Yajima, Chief Secretary General of the Foundation for Kobe International Medical Alliance, which is spearheading construction of the device development centre. “Unlike conventional medtech manufacturing methods, where samples are produced and doctors are asked to test them, the new medical device centre will encourage doctors to get involved in the development of medical equipment from the start.” The foundation expects a dozen local and foreign companies to take up residency in the new six-story building, which will be completed in a few months.
The Kobe medical industry development project started in 1998, just three years after the earthquake. Inspired by the Mayo Clinic medical cluster in the United States, Kobe city officials invited nearly 200 companies, research institutes and universities to come to the man-made Port Island and pursue biomedical innovations via partnerships linking industry, academe and government. The city’s aim was to provide facilities and subsidies to help members of the cluster participate in “translational research, ranging from basic research and clinical treatment to the commercialisation of new medical devices,” says an officer of the medical industry group of the Kobe Enterprise Promotion Bureau.
About 15% of institutions and start-ups located on Port Island come from outside Japan. Johnson & Johnson, GE Healthcare and Zimmer are among them. Most foreign companies have taken advantage of the city’s incentive plans, such as getting a 50% discount on rent during the first three years. Medical device manufacturers doing business on Port Island also benefit from the Pro-Cluster Kobe Center, which offers expert advice on swiftly obtaining regulatory approvals, says Miwa Yokoyama, Press Officer at the Foundation for Biomedical Research and Innovation (FBRI). The centre can suggest appropriate business partners and provide up-to-date industry information.
Port Island will become even more attractive this year, when a general hospital opens next to the Institute of Biomedical Research and Innovation Laboratory, where researchers are developing new medical equipment such as radiation therapy machines. “Hospital patients will be able to take advantage of innovative machines, researchers can test new products in a clinical setting and more companies will be motivated to commercialise these products,” says Yokoyama.
Kobe’s effort doesn’t stop there. As reported in medtechinsider in August 2010, the city has teamed up with Daegu Metropolitan City, Korea, to jointly develop medical devices.
Monday’s anniversary of a tragic chapter in the region’s history also served to highlight the area’s resilience, part of which is built on the promise of medical technology.Miki Anzai