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INTERVIEW

How the pursuit of quality over profit pays off in health sector

Nobumasa Tsutsui, Founder & Chairman, Tokai Medical Products (TMP)
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The mission of Tokai Medical Products (TMP) is simple – to save as many lives as possible. Since 1981 the company has been working towards that goal and has undoubtedly saved many lives with its innovative catheters. Constantly advancing original R&D to create medical devices that improve safety and allow procedures to be minimally invasive, the company is well known and trusted in Japan. Today, it is expanding its research and markets, entering into Asia, America and Europe.

www.tokaimedpro.co.jp

 

Tokai Medical Products (TMP) was founded in 1981 to save your daughter who was suffering from congenital heart disease. Could you tell me a bit more about the driving factors behind the company?

Yes, my child had a bad heart. We saved money for an operation but when surgery proved to be impossible in her case, we used that money to research this disease.

When I thought that this was going to be used for my child, I didn’t care about profit at all; I was just thinking about safety, efficacy and accuracy. That’s how we started and it’s still the way we operate today. Our company policy is always service first and profit second. We prioritize making the customers and doctors feel secure about our products. That’s how we operate, and a lot of people have come to trust our products. Eventually, that led the company to become very profitable. America has the latest medical technologies, but they are all mass produced. Other Japanese companies also pursue mass production and automation as well. We want to deliver to the customers something that no one else can make. Our priority is to save lives. To that end, we want safety and security first, so we are able to deliver products that are useful and desired.  

“When I thought that this was going to be used for my child, I didn’t care about profit at all; I was just thinking about safety, efficacy and accuracy”

You originally wanted to make an artificial heart, but have branched out to new products. Tell us about that journey.

Yes, the artificial heart project is finished. We were able to make the product, and we tested it in animals with good results. But more animal tests would have cost a further 1 billion yen ($8.8 million), and testing in humans would have cost another 1 trillion yen ($8.8 billion), so it was not something our company could afford to commercialize.  However, the research at the time gave us the impetus to develop other catheters. So, we shifted to the IABP balloon catheter, and I’m glad we made that decision.

What are your main products today?

We have products to help the heart – the IABP balloon catheter and others. The IABP balloon catheter can now be fitted to patients and benefit people all over the world.

We also produce catheters that can be used in brains during treatment for strokes. One of the biggest concerns when operating on a stroke patient is that the blood clot could move somewhere else and cause another stroke. Without getting too technical, what our innovative technology does is to clean out and filter the clots in a safer way as our micro-catheter is the world’s most functional and secure of its kind for use in the brain. Another of our micro-catheters allows medicine to be delivered directly into organs affected with cancer. This product needs to be very thin (1mm radius), but also the medicine is very dense, so we need to make it wide enough for it to flow. So there’s a thin outer radius with a wide space inside, which is a very unique feature of our technology. We have the biggest share in the Japanese market in this area, and we also see a lot of requests from overseas for this product. We also have another catheter for use in the treatment of pulmonary valve stenosis in babies. It enables surgery to take place without opening up the baby’s heart. Being for babies, it was very difficult to make because it needs to be very thin, small and safe. We were able to handle those challenges, and we made it. We have developed our market for that widely in Asia in countries such as Mongolia, Vietnam, Thailand, the Philippines and Japan. Now we have a decisive market and can consistently provide that product. It does not provide a big profit, but it is an important tool.

“We have a micro-catheter that allows medicine to be delivered directly into organs affected with cancer”

What are your most important overseas markets?

The American and European markets are still new to us. Releasing products on those markets requires a long process and many documents, so it can be a challenge. But we are prioritizing overseas markets. Now we are starting in Asia, but when we have a strong market for specific products, we will enter those other markets. One of our catheters, which allows doctors to operate while protecting the brain, will be exported to America and Europe. It should be released next August. Japanese industry tends to develop technology consistently, so we are always making our products thinner and better suited to the requirements of doctors. Our technology is also very precise – a good example of the defining characteristics of Japanese industry. The stroke treatment that we offer is very important in Japan and has about 98 percent of the market share. We have received a lot of requests from overseas for it, but we are taking it one step at a time. The Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry is encouraging companies to go overseas, as well as to be innovative and create new products. Through that, we received some help, and in October we opened our R&D center called Mirai to emphasize our focus on the future.

 How open are you to forming a venture with a foreign company to help get into the international market?

We aren’t that aggressive, but we do receive a lot of requests, so we are just taking care of the procedures, approvals and so on. There are currently 50 countries interested in our products. So our international division is working hard.

“We decided to put safety and precision first so that doctors and patients are happier. Everyone at the company knows that we want to pursue better technology over profit”

Over the next years, how do you see your company developing?

During the first eight years, when we were developing our products, we did not do so well. But once we were able to sell our products and establish our reputation, the results have been increasingly positive. We started from the artificial heart and we expanded our technology into other areas. We have also expanded physically. As well as our headquarters and factory in Kasugai, we have the innovation center developing products on a different site. In all, we have four factories in Japan and another one in the Philippines. We will continue to draw on that momentum.

 What is it about the company that gives you the most pride?

That we chose not to pursue profit first, but we decided to put safety and precision first so that doctors and patients are happier. We made sure that everyone is on the same page through the whole company. Everyone here knows that we want to pursue better technology over profits. That’s how people know me and the company, and I’m very proud of that.

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