Mad about medtech

Mad about medtech
Prof Tan sitting next to a brain computer interface developed by A*Star. He says Singapore has seen huge growth in the medtech cluster but challenges include talent shortage and a lack of testing and registration expertise. His desire is to see someone's health improve or lives saved with home-grown medical devices.

SINGAPORE - Q: You founded your own medical technology (medtech), company Rockeby Biomed, which produces test kits for diseases ranging from flu to HIV, but left in 2009. Why?

I wanted a change in environment and to come back to more policy-related work.

But in those nine years as an entrepreneur, I gained invaluable experience understanding the challenges of commercialising medical technologies.

I learnt early the hard realities of developing medical technology in Singapore. It takes more than a good idea to make a medtech device successful. You have to turn that idea into a workable prototype, navigate complex regulations and manufacture cost-effectively before selling the technology.

Q: So now that you're deputy executive director of the Biomedical Research Council at the Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*Star), in charge of pushing the medtech sector, is it a case of "those who can't do, teach"?

Definitely not. I can share what I have learnt with doctors, engineers and scientists, and many are keen to develop their own medtech products.

Few are able to fully grasp what is needed to take their technology to consumers, such as the need for deep pockets. Inventors should have a business model, and know whether patients and doctors would be willing to pay for it. You'd be surprised how many don't.

I was a former Nominated Member of Parliament where I used to be an advocate for small and medium-sized enterprises. I have formed good networks with policymakers there. This allows me to get their attention and push through medtech-related policies faster.

Q: Given that it can take 20 years for a promising drug to make it to market, is medtech considered low-hanging fruit?

Medtech is all about inventing technologies that can improve the health and well-being of mankind.

Firms usually invent products, go into trials and get regulatory approval - it can take many years.

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