With Asian healthcare innovation taking centre stage on a global scale, Trends in Two Minutes teams up with Naomi Mermod, Head of Healthcare, Asia Pacific, to break down the game-changing trends and sectors taking shape around the region.

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How China’s Startup Culture Is Transforming Biotech 

As of 2019, China represents the most profitable venture capital investment market in the world – with Chinese startups consistently delivering greater returns on investment than those of any other market. Much of this growth is being driven by the healthcare sector. As consumer technology and healthcare solutions become increasingly hybridised, healthcare startups have become both increasingly valuable and influential.

This is especially true in China. With a goal of a US$2.3 trillion dollar sector valuation by 2030, the Chinese government is heavily committed to creating the most advanced healthcare market in the world. In 2018, approximately 2% of the country’s GDP was devoted to scientific research and development around health and wellbeing – and investment is expected to have only increased in 2019.   

As a result, China’s startup culture is currently facilitating both profound economic growth and substantial biotech innovation. Last year, China healthcare startups attracted US$5.59 billion worth of funding – nearly 90% of all healthcare-related venture capital investment in the Asia Pacific region for the given period. Approximately 12% of biologic drugs produced worldwide, meanwhile, currently rely on platforms developed in China.

The ramifications of these developments are diverse and profound. Already, China is starting to leap ahead of other markets in terms of developing new treatments and technologies around crucial healthcare concerns. Research and implementation around potentially groundbreaking Car-T cell therapy cancer treatments, for example, has been advancing rapidly in China since 2017.   

With substantial ongoing investment from both China and external investors (including multinational corporations), markets throughout the Asia Pacific region will likely soon see an influx of new technologies, treatments and solutions. Earlier this year, for example, a Chinese surgeon performed the world’s first remote robotic surgery via 5G. Brands and communicators will want to remain on the lookout for similar landmark developments.

Inside Southeast Asia’s Telemedicine Evolution

According to the World Bank, approximately two-thirds of South Asia’s population lives in rural areas. For many throughout the markets that comprise the region, healthcare has historically not been easily accessed without significant travel and expense. In Indonesia, it’s estimated that there are only three doctors for every ten thousand citizens.

Fortunately, Southeast Asia also represents one of the fastest growing internet economies in the world. Within the next five years, it’s estimated that the market’s value will grow to US$240 billion. This growth has driven greater investment in the region’s technology sector – with venture capital investment from China increasing 400% over the past year.

In 2019, this unique array of circumstances has conspired to position Southeast Asia at the forefront of the nascent healthcare trend of telemedicine (or telehealth). An umbrella term for a series of innovations allowing consumers to access remote healthcare and treatment, telemedicine is expanding throughout Southeast Asia at an exponential rate.

In Singapore, the Ministry of Health has already setup a preliminary regulatory body to encourage telemedicine innovation – and has already helped support six different telemedicine providers. An Indonesian telemedicine startup recently secured over US$100 million in investor funding. The Malaysian government, meanwhile, first began exploring the possibilities of telemedicine nearly twenty years ago.

For brands and communicators in Southeast Asia, telemedicine represents a profound shakeup of healthcare infrastructure. From a shift in patient contact points to a major rethinking of supply chains to a new dimension of brand experience, telemedicine will irrevocably change how businesses think about branded communications.

For professionals outside of the region, markets like Singapore, Indonesia and Malaysia will provide substantial insights into telemedicine before it takes a firmer hold in other markets around the world – with Southeast Asia providing a valuable glimpse of the practical realities of one of the key futures of global healthcare.  

Robotics & Japan – The Future of Aged Care?

By 2025, it’s expected Japan’s aged care sector will be operating with 375,000 fewer workers than required. In 2018, it was estimated Singapore would need 30,000 extra healthcare staff by 2020 to continue caring for its aging population. And, earlier this year, a Royal Commission into Aged Care found more than half of Australian pensioners were living in understaffed retirement homes.

As previously covered by Trends in Two Minutes, the Asia Pacific region is on the cusp of a monumental demographic shift around aged populations. By 2030, the Asia Pacific region as a whole is predicted to have become home to roughly two-thirds of the world’s total aged population. In Japan, in particular, more than 1 in 5 citizens are already believed to be over the age of 70.

Given the market’s position at the forefront of the demographic shift (Japan is currently believed to have the oldest average population in the world), it’s perhaps unsurprising that some of the key innovations around navigating the shift are also emerging from Japan – particularly around the areas of personnel shortages. As the shift progresses, Japan’s elderly are increasingly relying upon robotics and technology for care.

The applications so far have been varied. In some nursing homes, robots adopt the role of carers in leading exercise sessions or playing games with residents. Elsewhere, robotics have been used to develop new cybernetic augmentations not just for the elderly but for their carers. One robotic device, for example, provides additional strength support for carers so as to more easily allow them to lift their charges when necessary.

It’s a powerful insight into the future of aged care not just throughout Asia – but across the world. The explosion in aged population and concomitant shortages in healthcare personnel is anticipated to affect nearly every market worldwide. Through Japan’s current innovations, brands and communicators have the opportunity to understand how to navigate the pending shift and the attitudes around robotic healthcare solutions.  

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