Cooperative project’s success to boost medical technology


TAIPEI, Taiwan — A cooperative project between Taiwan and the United States in the field of medical technology has proved successful and can now be used as a stepping stone for Taiwan to seek more business in that area, Taiwan’s National Applied Research Laboratories (NARL) said.

Nearly 30 Taiwanese doctors and professionals have participated in the seven-year Stanford-Taiwan Biomedical Fellowship Program (STB), and 17 have come back to Taiwan to either start their own business or transfer technological expertise to commercial production, said Lin Bou-wen, who is in charge of the program in Taiwan.

The 17 returning participants have already established eight startups or innovation teams, but the business aspect is still in the early stages, he said at a press briefing.

Taiwan’s health care industry has great potential and already has a small share of the global medical equipment market, Lin said.

In 2011, the output value of the industry in Taiwan totaled US$2.5 billion, less than 1 percent of the global market of US$273.3 billion, he said.

“There are big business opportunities” in the medical equipment sector, Lin said.

The sector has been growing annually by 4 to 6 percent because of the aging society and an increasing number of people suffering from chronic diseases, according to Lin.

Among the 17 returning participants in the Taiwan-U.S. cooperative project are Jeffrey Mao and Carson Chen, both of whom spoke at the press conference about their experience in the program.

Mao, who has a background in mechanics, said he learned about cash flow and business models as well as how to apply his expertise to medical technology.

“Even poor designs are valuable as long as you can find a niche,” he told CNA on the sidelines of the event.

After joining the program in 2008, Mao came up with a mechanical-powered knee brace called “iStrider,” which he said can help people with osteoarthritis walk and climb stairs more easily.

Currently, Mao is refining the model for a second version, which he said will be lighter and easier to wear. It will become available in about two years’ time, he said.

Meanwhile, Chen, who has a doctoral degree in electric engineering, said he and two other STB participants started an enterprise one month after they returned to Taiwan in July, with the aim of providing mobile services in health care.

Chen said he and his team have devised a prototype that incorporates a and communication technology and they are seeking a partnership.

However, he declined to give any further information about the initiative.

Initiated in 2008, the Taiwan-U.S. cooperative project is a multidisciplinary program to train the next generation of medical technology innovators and create an innovative core in Taiwan, according to the NARL.

Under the project, 41 Taiwanese professionals are being sent to the U.S. over a seven-year period at an annual cost of NT$30 million (US$1.03 million).

Alongside that program, the NARL said, it has also launched a local project to nurture talent in medical technology-related fields, and so far has produced over 30 innovations of commercial value.