Yoh Chie Lu: There is gap between research and commercialization in the biotech sector

The following article is part of our Techventure 2015 series.

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Mr. Yoh Chie Lu (YCL) is the founder of Biosensors International Group Ltd. He has been its chairman and CEO from its inception to 2008. He retained his leadership position as chairman of the Group since January 2008.

Mr. Lu has more than 30 years’ experience in the medical industry. As chairman, Mr. Lu’s experience, leadership and track record has proven to be critical. While serving as CEO, he was responsible for Biosensors’ business strategies and directions, the implementation of corporate plans and policies, and the general management of business.

Prior to founding the Company, Mr. Lu established Asia-based operations for the Medical Division of Gould Inc., which specialized in surgical and critical care catheters and instruments. In 1990, Mr. Lu also founded Sun Instruments-Japan, Sunscope International in California and Biosensors International in Singapore, all of which are now subsidiaries of Biosensors International Group, Ltd.

The following is the interview we (SS) conducted with Mr Lu during TechVenture 2015:

SS: Could you tell us in brief about Biosensors?

YCL: The company was founded in 1990 by me and my financial partner from Japan. When we first started it, the model was manufacturing, for big multi-national medical device companies from the US, and from Japan. But towards the end of 1990, we changed our business model by taking a sort of a leap, in getting more and more involved in in-house R&D, therefore we started driving more towards the technology front, rather than only the manufacturing front. From the year 2000 onwards, we had become truly an R&D and technology driven company and that is what we are until today.

Biosensors’ focus is on improving patient outcomes today, while driving the development of tomorrow’s next-generation medical technology. Biosensors has become over the last two-decade a leader in the global coronary stent market. Beyond a strong foothold in cardiovascular devices and critical care products, the company has more recently entered new therapeutic areas as endovascular and cardiac imaging with enhanced devices and systems.

SS: What are your thoughts on Singapore and Asia in terms of medTech and biotech sectors? Especially since the governments have been pumping in more money in the past few years?

YCL: Well, I think medtech is a space that is different from biotech. It takes much less time to see the commercialization happen, so indeed it is quite exciting. But then I think the governments, the Singapore Government has also come to realize that this is an area where more focus should be given. So the timing is excellent because you have a government that is pro-business and then the pro-medtech.

Also when you look at what is going on in Singapore, where academically it is really rich, in terms of their research; I see a lot of good scholars and good research is being conducted here. What is missing in Singapore is putting together a group of people that will be interested in making investments. What I see missing, majorly, is the gap between research and technologies and their translation to commercialization. That still may require sometime with nurturing, fostering, and a community of people with experience of doing business.

SS: True; NUS, NTU, A*STAR have commercialization wings for this purpose…

YCL: That is correct, its been setup so things will happen slowly. But Singapore is surely taking a step towards the right direction and hence commercializations should happen successfully in the next few years.

SS: One thing that we keep hearing often is, when you have a startup in Singapore and the product is an App or a technology or perhaps even a medical device, the startups end up making the product constricted to the Singapore audience. This becomes difficult as Singapore is a very small market. The product then cannot be marketed outside Singapore. What re your thoughts on this?

YCL: Well, I think depending on how you really try to take advantage of Singapore as a starting base matters. If you try to fit Singapore up against countries like India, China etc. then there is no way you can adopt the same kind of strategy. But on the other hand Singapore is a very cohesive so if you treat that as a testing ground to test all kinds of things including apps, devices etc., then from there, you will have enough numbers to expand to other markets.

I also think Singapore has to be a bit more aggressive and innovative in the biotech and medtech sectors.

SS: What do you think of the future of biotech, medtech and healthcare in Asia?

YCL: I think its future is excellent because the shear population that is in Asia is big enough for interesting innovations. I always say that you need to differentiate from all the competition, especially from the big guys. Most of the big guys are in the United States, so they are very US-driven/US-centric. We in Asia are unique; for example in Singapore itself, we can perform enough market research to truly understand what are the local needs and start working towards it.

Asia needs to have many more startups addressing different problems in the healthcare/biotech space.

SS: Most of the Bio Tech start ups that we talk to, the main issue they face is the investor or VC not understanding the reason for a $200k or $300k initial investment for buying an instrument/equipment which is most important for their business. How do you think this problem can be tackled?

YCL: Well I think it all depends on where you come from. I think for startups to be considered seriously by VCs, you really need to do your own set of homework, in other words, market research; and your technology has to be at least proven in a small scale. If you approach VCs at a veryearly stage, like at the conceptual stage, they won’t give you anything, and if you want to use that to buy equipment, it will be very difficult. I am sure the Government has various different grants, proof of concept grants etc. which can be utilized for paying the advance payment for the equipment at least. VCs will consider startups only when the startup is kind of established.

So I think it works both ways, I see in a lot of young start ups that are too eager and the truth is that they need to also know what kind of a preparations and homework needs to be done before putting themselves out there in front of VCs. This is where I think an incubator/accelerator would be a good option for startups to consider. Young startups can share equipment, share office space etc. and get to prove their idea.

 

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