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Southeast Asia's largest medical device maker ready to fund 'category disruptor' start-ups

By Trinity Chua, The EDGE Singapore

[An excerpt from the story on The EDGE Singapore] 

... Medtech investment may still be a comparatively nascent area in Singapore, but there are several start-ups trying to improve healthcare here. There are at least 220 medtech start-ups developing healthcare solutions, ranging from robotic operating arms and portable dialysis machines to home diagnostics kits for various ailments. Endomaster, which invented a surgical arm for gastrointestinal surgery, raised one of the biggest amounts in the Singapore medtech world in a US$14.6 million series B funding last year.

But medtech remains a difficult operating environment for investors and start-ups today. The long product development cycles, coupled with the fact that consumers in the region are generally unwilling or unable to spend on expensive treatments, have spelt the end of a few medtech start-ups and discouraged many others, say venture capitalists.

Consequently, the markets of choice have been China and the US. But even before the devices can be commercialised, substantial funding is needed to tide the start-ups through a lengthy clinical trial and regulatory approval process. In China, regulatory approvals can take up to three years and account for more than 30% of development expenses.

The success of a medtech start-up is defined by the global impact of its products. For us, our solutions are being used by pharmaceuticals [in US clinical trials],”says Gideon Ho, CEO of HistoIndex, a company spun off from the Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR). HistoIndex is developing a digital device that scans tissue samples with the aim of making liver fibrosis diagnosis more efficient. “We are fundraising a large round for its rapid growth in the US and China,” says Ho.

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