The implantable devices sector is fairly new in China, but it is growing rapidly. To explore this sector’s current and future dynamics, the UBM China conference team organized a conference on Implantable and Interventional Medical Devices (IIMD) in Shanghai on 19 July. One of the featured speakers, Dr. Li Zhong Hua, Senior Director of MicroPort Medical (Shanghai) Company, Ltd, highlighted China’s efforts to attract high-profile talent from abroad to accelerate in-country R&D. In this exclusive interview with Helen Zhang, Associate Editor of China Medical Device Manufacturer (CMDM), he discusses this initiative at some length and offers candid comments about the shortcomings of the IIMD sector in China.
You mentioned during a brainstorming session at the conference that China is trying to attract overseas talent in the implantable and interventional medical devices field. Could you elaborate on how this talent is being recruited?
Dr. Li: China has implemented a series of recruitment plans—1000 Talents at the national level, 1000 Young Talents, 1000 Overseas Experts and 1000 Talents at the provincial and city levels. The 1000 Talents plan has set high standards and had tremendous impact in a wide range of fields. The programme was initiated by the government to recruit high-profile talent from all over the world. It is not limited to IIMD, of course.
Candidates must meet high standards. They must have a doctoral degree from a foreign university, hold academic positions in higher institutes of learning in China and abroad, be involved with a research organization or hold a senior management position in an international company or financial institution. They should have their own intellectual property or master core technology, and be familiar with international rules and practices in relevant fields.
As of July 2012, 6200 applications were received from overseas. Of those, 2263 were accepted, 1600 of which came from the United States. The 1000 Talents program me has had tremendous influence in the international arena. Even the US Congress has begun discussions on how to cope with this programme and retain senior-level talent.
Detailed recruitment and application information is available on www.1000plan.org.
In your opinion, what are the shortcomings of China’s IIMD industry?
Dr. Li: A lack of talent and innovation, small industrial scale and disorderly competition (particularly in relation to hospitals and customers). In addition, domestic companies focus mainly on the local market; their market share in international markets is too low. In terms of regulatory supervision, SFDA has established a high threshold, which is reflected by the lengthy evaluation and approval process. The approval process is even more time-consuming than in the United States.
Additionally, companies must meet stringent clinical requirements. Burdensome regulations demotivate some local companies from innovating.
There is a shortage of innovative talent for product development, and imitation still plays a major role in product development. China still counts on its cost advantage, not its technology, to compete with foreign manufacturers. Moreover, there is too much government intervention in the pricing of medical devices. This policy will eventually stifle companies’ enthusiasm for innovation.
We have observed the relocation of R&D departments of many foreign companies to China. This has drawn much of our domestic talent and seriously affected national industrial development.
Personally, I would recommend that we attract talent and, in particular, encourage institutes of higher learning to cultivate professionals. When supporting local industry, our government should be objective, not biased against domestic products. We shouldn’t operate under the false assumption that imported products are superior to domestic products and implement stricter controls of domestic products. Our country should take the lead in building up an orderly market mechanism, relaxing government intervention on prices while encouraging innovation.
What about foreign multinationals entering China’s IIMD market? How should domestic companies compete with them?
Dr. Li: Large foreign companies such as Medtronic, J&J, Cook Medical, Gore Medical, Abbott, St. Jude Medical, and Boston Scientific have been expanding and building up their R&D centers. This is an industrial trend that can’t be blocked. We should welcome those foreign companies and engage with them in an industrial conversation.
Domestic companies should not fear the “invasion” of foreign manufacturers but, rather, “learn from them so as to conquer them.” We should invite foreign companies to discuss their technology and marketing for the IIMD industry in China. Foreign companies are our competitors in the marketplace but they are our industry peers. Just imagine: without companies like J&J and Boston Scientific, which took the lead in the stent market, our doctors and domestic companies would still be fumbling in the darkness. Foreign companies were the trailblazers; domestic companies should closely follow them and outpace them later on. This can be summarized by the saying, “walking on the road of industrial development with Chinese characteristics.”Norbert Sparrow