This article was also published on MedTech Intelligence.
With a population of 127 million, a rapidly aging society, high per capita income, and a life expectancy rate of over 80 years, Japan represents a huge market for medical device manufacturers looking to expand sales in Asia. The medical device market size is estimated at $31 billion, and it is projected to maintain a steady annual growth rate of 3% as the Japanese population continues to age.
One particular subset of medical devices that will see increased demand in the coming decades is devices that diagnose and treat cancer. According to data from the World Cancer Research Fund, around 260 out of every 100,000 Japanese people are diagnosed with cancer on a yearly basis. While this rate is lower than cancer diagnosis rates in the United States (318 per 100,000) and South Korea (307 per 100,000), Japan’s Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare (MHLW) states that cancer is the leading cause of deaths in Japan, causing around 30% of all deaths. Statistics from the MHLW show that an estimated 62% of Japanese males and 46% of Japanese females will suffer from cancer at some time in their life.
Data from the World Health Organization (WHO) shows that the deadliest forms of cancer in Japan are stomach, colorectal, lung, prostate, liver, pancreas, and esophagus cancer. Stomach cancer is particularly prevalent in Japan, and scientists attribute its high incidence rate to Japanese diets rich in smoked fish, pickled vegetables and salted meats.
In order to limit the number of deaths due to cancer and related complications, Tokyo has implemented a series of measures that aim to reduce the rate of smoking, improve early detection, and provide employment support for cancer patients so that they can continue their social lives during and after treatment. The MHLW recognizes that the risk of cancer increases with age, and is also implementing a variety of policies that address the predicted rise in cancer diagnoses. As a result, Japan is the home of a number of eminent hospitals and research centers dedicated to the diagnosis and treatment of various forms of cancer.
Treating and Diagnosing Cancer in Japan
The Japan Cancer Institute Hospital is one of the country’s leading institutions, and has continued to attract patients from around the globe due to its advanced facilities and staff. Operating as a branch of the prestigious Japan Foundation for Cancer Research, the Cancer Institute Hospital offers a wide range of screening and treatment services for cancer patients. The Japan Cancer Association (JCA), which serves as a forum for Japanese clinicians and researchers, is another well-known organization that brings together the country’s top oncologists and scientists. The JCA regularly collaborates with the American Association for Cancer Research for its Annual Joint Conference on Breakthroughs in Cancer Research. These two institutions have served as important centers for advancing cancer research in Japan.
The Japan Agency for Medical Research and Development (AMED) is the newest organization founded to help treat rising cancer rates. Established in April 2015, AMED received $1.4 billion from the central government and has been tasked with seeking innovative solutions to improve the treatment of rare and undiagnosed diseases, including cancer. The new head of AMED, a former dean of Keio University Medical School, has stated that the organization will focus on developing genomics, which will allow treatments to be catered to an individual patients’ body, in order to develop potentially lifesaving treatments.
With cancer causing more deaths than other serious maladies such as cardiovascular disease, pneumonia and stroke, Japan’s MHLW has been taking a proactive approach to stymieing future growth in cancer rates. As a result, hospitals and research centers are increasingly demanding more medical device equipment and technology. This enhanced need for early detection and treatment presents a large opportunity for medical device companies.
The Role of Medical Devices
In order to improve overall cancer awareness and decrease mortality rates, the central government has taken notable steps towards increasing screening rates for lung, stomach, breast, and esophagus cancer. These types of cancer can be diagnosed using various radiological devices such as CT scanners, MRI scanners, X-ray machines, and ultrasound machines. Leading Japanese firms that produce these products include Fujifilm, Shimadzu, Toshiba, and Hitachi, while multinationals such as GE, Siemens, and Philips also have a significant presence throughout Japan. Emergence Teleradiology, Cook Medical, Hologic, and Medical Imaging Inc. are just a few of the many U.S. companies that produce imaging technologies.
When cancer screening devices are not appropriate, oncologists may use endoscopic devices or perform a biopsy to test a tissue sample for cancerous cells. Endoscopies require endoscopes, forceps, visualization screens, suction equipment and cameras, while biopsies utilize various types of needles, punches, and other types of detection equipment that can guide surgeons. Japanese companies such as Hakko Medical, Canon, Inc., and Olympus Medical, along with U.S. companies such as EndoChoice, Argon Medical, and US Endoscopy are some of the leading developers of diagnostic and treatment devices used in these procedures.
Japanese researchers have also been exploring a number of in-vitro diagnostic systems that will make cancer screening easier and more affordable, with the hope of increasing the number of Japanese who will get tested. In 2015, scientists at the Kobe-based medical device company, MyTech, along with researchers at Showa University, designed a biochip that utilizes a drop of a patient’s blood to detect most types of cancer within three minutes. These types of innovative devices are viewed as the future of cancer diagnosis, and technology that quickly, accurately, and cheaply diagnoses cancer will be in high demand in the coming years.
After cancerous cells are detected, malignant cancer cells are typically disrupted and destroyed by using chemotherapy or radiotherapy devices. These types of treatment are offered throughout Japan and rely on specialized equipment such as advanced drug delivery systems, X-ray tubes, cobalt devices, and linear accelerators. Varian Medical Systems, Mevion, and Dunlee are some the U.S.-based companies that manufacture these instruments.
Japan has also looked to foreign suppliers from other regions of the world in an effort to find more effective treatments for lung cancer. In 2013, Kameda Medical Center bought two medical instruments from Israel’s IceCure Medical, Inc. Used to treat lung cancer, the devices are based on the company’s patented IceSense3 system that isolates and destroys tumors by completely freezing them. The product was originally developed to treat breast cancer, but its functionality has been expanded to treat other forms of cancer as well. These innovative treatments could potentially transform the way oncologists diagnose and treat cancer.
While Japanese citizens still enjoy very long lives and a first class healthcare system, cancer represents a significant challenge for scientists and doctors. The Japanese government has taken deliberate steps towards addressing the rising rate of cancer, and medical device companies that design or manufacture treatment or diagnostic devices should look to Japan for future growth opportunities.