30 Novembre 2016
November 30, 2016
By HIROKI KOIZUMI/ Staff Writer
KORIYAMA, Fukushima Prefecture--Surgery can help save and rebuild lives--and it's hoped it will have the same rejuvenating effect on this whole region, too.
The March 2011 earthquake, tsunami and nuclear accident might have severely wounded Fukushima, but did not kill it, and a new facility here to support firms producing medical equipment could go a long way in patching up the prefecture by making it a leading light in the production of such equipment.
The Fukushima Medical Device Development Support Center, which opened on Nov. 7, is a one-stop institute that offers assistance to small and midsize firms that make medical apparatus products at all stages from development to commercialization.
The center, the first of its kind in Japan, is expected to become the core of the healthcare industry in Fukushima Prefecture, and its officials anticipate that corporations not only in Japan but also from overseas will be interested in using it.
There are also growing expectations that the support center will help the prefecture establish its reputation as a leading medical equipment producing area in Japan.
“Trade will be promoted at companies in the prefecture, the healthcare industry reconstructed and employment increased, with the new facility at the center, so that it will contribute to the growth of all industries,” said Fukushima Governor Masao Uchibori at the opening ceremony of the center.
It was attended by 250 people or so, 21 of whom, including a lawmaker, a bureaucrat and officials from various organizations, cut a ceremonial ribbon together.
The primary goal of the facility is to provide support measures for 150 clinical instrument parts makers in Fukushima Prefecture to help them manufacture and sell their own products, not just receive contract work from their client companies.
Business operators need to obtain permission from the central government to market medical devices.
Winning marketing approval is often difficult for small and midsize companies with limited resources, so some abandon plans to release their products, according to prefectural officials.
Even when they succeed in obtaining permission, small and midsize companies typically do not have strong sales networks, making it difficult to sell far and wide.
The support center gives administrative support to help medical equipment manufacturers secure marketing permission. It also has equipment and devices for safety tests.
Both biological testing using pigs and other animals and chemical tests are necessary to gain approval from the central government. But as the two types of tests require different expertise, they normally have to be conducted at different testing institutions.
However, both kinds of tests can be carried out at the new Fukushima facility.
The center also intends to put smaller companies in touch with large corporations to bolster their sales networks and promote their expansion into overseas markets.
Another objective of the facility is improving the techniques of physicians.
At a surgery simulation room, surgeons can practice their skills. As the center is outfitted with other cutting-edge devices as well, it has received inquiries even from outside Japan, according to center officials.
The Fukushima prefectural government cites the healthcare industry as a main pillar of its efforts to recover from the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake, tsunami and nuclear accident. That is largely because the market of clinical equipment is expected to further grow in tandem with the accelerated aging of Japanese society.
Although production of auto parts currently accounts for a large portion of the manufacturing industry in the prefecture, the industry is expected to shrink as the use of electric cars, which need fewer components, spreads.
In contrast, medical instruments worth 2.8 trillion yen ($25 billion) are currently sold, and the market is estimated to further expand.
In addition, clinical device makers typically produce various products in small quantities, and it is not hugely expensive to run such a business, making it easier for small and midsize companies that have advanced technologies to enter into the market.
There are many subcontractors in the prefecture that make both car parts and components for medical equipment, so it is not difficult for these companies to shift their emphasis to clinical instruments.
Assistance from the central government has also accelerated the trend since the 2011 disaster.
Production of medical devices in the prefecture for 2014 was worth 130.3 billion yen, taking the No. 3 spot across the country. The prefectural government is looking to raise the figure to 175 billion yen by 2020.
As Japan’s population is shrinking, medical equipment makers in Fukushima Prefecture apparently need to market their products not only to the domestic market but to foreign markets, so that the prefecture can win first place in clinical equipment production.