Stanford Biodesign Helps Asia Pacific Region Strengthen Its Health Tech Innovation Ecosystem

Participants at the recent “BME-IDEA APAC” meeting in Singapore included university, government, and health technology industry representatives from Australia, China, India, Japan, Korea, Singapore, and the United States.

SINGAPORE – On September 16, Stanford Biodesign led the first-ever meeting of universities and governmental institutions across Asia Pacific who share an interest in training students to develop innovative technologies to solve regional healthcare problems. The day-long meeting was intended to help the participants, all of whom offer (or are aspiring to build) innovation training programs, explore potential synergies by fostering closer, more collaborative relationships. Stanford Biodesign, which pioneered one of the first multidisciplinary health tech training programs in the world, previously helped create such a consortium among universities in the United States in 2003, and then in Europe in 2013. Now, as Asia Pacific becomes the next hotbed of innovation activity in healthcare, the time is right to help catalyze this type of alliance in the region.

Across the US, Europe, and Asia, the informal consortium of universities and government institutions is known by the acronym “BME-IDEA,” which stands for Biomedical Engineering: Innovation, Design, and Entrepreneurship Alliance. Its purpose is to enable the leaders of health technology training programs to:

  • Share experiences and best practices with regard to teaching innovation, design, technology transfer, and entrepreneurship.
  • Discuss objectives, challenges, and opportunities for the advancement of these programs, including industry and academic perspectives.
  • Explore the potential for sharing resources and creating community-wide tools to promote innovation and scalability.

Providing the leaders of these programs with a forum for exchanging ideas and information proved to be enormously helpful in the US and Europe as training courses and fellowships in health technology innovation were taking off in these geographic areas. The leadership team of the inaugural BME-IDEA APAC meeting, which included representatives from Stanford Biodesign, Singapore-Stanford Biodesign, Japan Biodesign, and the International School of Biodesign in India, are hopeful that it will have the same effect in Asia. As Paul Yock, founder of Stanford Biodesign summarized, “I suspect that 10 years from now we’ll look back on this meeting and will say, ‘Remember when we got together in Singapore and started this very valuable network?’”

The last decade has seen the emergence of Asia Pacific as a healthcare hotspot, driven in large part by economic growth of the region. With such diverse economies as Japan, China, India, and South East Asian countries, Asia has also seen the rapid evolution of its disease burden. While significant progress has been made in dealing with infectious disease across the area, lifestyle diseases (cardiovascular disease and diabetes), trauma, and cancer have become more widespread and threaten to overwhelm the capacity of the region’s healthcare systems. Despite substantial investment by governments and the private sector, many lifesaving therapies are still not accessible to a vast majority of the population, partly because the current solutions, including health technologies, in the market don’t meet the unique needs of the Asia Pacific region. To fill this gap in region-appropriate health tech solutions, a number of biomedical innovation programs have emerged across Asia Pacific, including in India, Singapore, Japan, China, Australia, and Korea. The focus of these programs, rooted in academia but with engagement of the industry, is to train innovation talent and develop innovative region-appropriate solutions.

During the meeting, which was sponsored by VentureWell and APACMed, representatives shared the status of their individual programs (which ranged from well-established to nascent). They also discussed common challenges, traded lessons learned, and brainstormed ways to collaborate more effectively. The day concluded with a panel discussion with representatives from major corporations in the health technology industry to explore additional synergies between academia and industry in service of getting more life-changing health technologies into patient care where they’re needed most in Asia.

Reflecting on the day’s events, conference organizer Anurag Mairal said, “I’m struck by how each of the programs in the APAC region has something unique to contribute to this alliance.” Masakazu Yagi, from the Japan Biodesign program concurred, noting that “Together we can create a stronger health technology ecosystem in Asia Pacific.” Based on the enthusiastic response of the attendees, plans are currently underway to make the meeting an annual event.