This is a guest post authored by “Tex” Pomeroy. He is a Tokyo-based writer specializing in ICT and high technology.
As my late granny, a nurse by training, used to say, “Without Health, what use is Wealth or Fame?” – indeed, that is surely on many a mind as we enter 2017 and the “Year of the Cock” according to the Chinese calendar, with avian flu already in the air. A befitting confab focusing on health and medicine while looking at the Asian setting was held at the end of last year, reiterating the need to closely scrutinize this aspect of human life. Health 2.0, started in the U.S., was first brought to Tokyo in November of 2015 with support from MedPeer… but true to being “2.0” its second meeting (using two Tokyo location rather than all being at Toranomon Hills) saw redoubled efforts.
There are other activities ongoing, such as the Digital Health Meetups organized by GREE Ventures, a cornerstone of the “health 2.0” purview, as one startup-backing example. Additionally, the Japanese firm MedPeer has been doing a remarkable job in carrying on the Health 2.0 Tokyo chapter well, as highlighted by their hosting a seminar in September of 2016 at Nihombashi Life Science Building that covered the role of Artificial Intelligence (AI) in the medical industry quite thoroughly. It is understood that major players ranging from startup Abeja to multinational giant IBM not to mention many medical schools found in Tokyo and around Japan took part then.
The 2016 Tokyo event was the 2nd Annual Health 2.0 Asia-Japan Conference held on December 6th and 7th. Emanating from Silicon Valley, the gathering brought to Asia the cutting-edge innovation taking hold in health and the healthcare-related fields via Japan. At their conferences tech from across the globe have been showcased, not to mention the holding of startup pitches. It featured live product demos including robots, company launches and a breakout session in addition to offering presentation and networking opportunities for those involved in healthcare technologies. The theme this year was “The Future is Here – Most Advanced Technologies and Healthcare.”
The first day sessions were held at the Hikarie complex in the Shibuya district, with its high concentration of startups clustered therein. Hikarie is also home to DeNA which has been providing digital health information, owing to the fact that its founder and current chairperson – who left the CEO position to take care of her ailing spouse – was interested in this situation . Most unfortunately this firm’s “wellness-centered” curation site under the present CEO was found to be dubious just prior to the Tokyo Health 2.0 opening. As luck would have it, the second day’s sessions were held in the Nihombashi district across town, an area replete with pharma and medical device companies.
Getting back on track, the startup pitch session featured eleven outfits including four from outside of Japan (more than double the number of “pitchers” from 2015). The three-judge panel comprised event sponsor MSD’s business innovations director Katsuhiko Hiwatashi, Stanford University School of Medicine’s Dr. Fumiaki Ikeno and venture capitalist Taizo Son. The winner of the pitch competition, Neuroon based in California, offers a system using light to control a person’s sleep – especially useful for jetsetters and those suffering from sleep-related disorders – was awarded a free invitation to attend the U.S. session of Health 2.0 being held this year on the U.S. West Coast.
Interestingly, the Neuroon “eyemask” is now being availed in Japan by JIN, which runs a chain of Jins spectacles shops (as an aside, this scribe wears a pair of Jins eyeglasses too); this synergistic marketing arrangement could be reference for other startups. Furthermore, underscoring the widespread interest as to sleep disorders, on December 12th the International Institute for Integrative Sleep Medicine (IIIS) headquartered at the University of Tsukuba held its 5th annual symposium, alongside Wako Pure Chemical‘s workshop, in Tokyo. For our reader’s benefit, RIKEN Brain Science Institute’s neural functions expert Dr. Hitoshi Okamoto was the Keynote Speaker.
Neuroon’s Ryan Goh gave the top pitch while the three other foreign firm representatives making pitches were Medable‘s Kevin Chung, GraftWorx‘s David Kuraguntia and gripAble‘s Paul Rinne. Other (Japanese) competitors included those offering medical practitioner information services and monitors for checking overexposure to harmful radiation like ultraviolet (UV) light, which may lead to melanoma, among other products, encompassing those presented at live demos the previous day in Shibuya. Wide interest was illustrated by the fact that not only major medical arena participants but also smaller ventures eyeing the healthcare field were to be espied in the audience.
This reporter found quite intriguing medable’s development support productlines for healthcare apps, with fascinating names like Axon and Cortex, and saw gripAble offerings that help patients with problems gripping things to be very commendable, reflecting the stiff upper lip attitude oft-seen exhibited by Britons (perhaps magnified by the fact Mr. Rinne whose suitcase had gone AWOL in Dubai was making a pitch wearing a T-shirt in – pardon the pun – the “gripping” Tokyo cold). Yet GraftWorx, the top “batter” for the session, outlining well-designed wearables to be used in the clinical/hospital setting appeared eminently suited for adoption soon in the Japanese medical scene.
Worth noting as well was that the Health 2.0 Asia-Japan conference organizer’s Japan side operating out of Jikei Medical University, located a stone’s throw away from the 2015 Toranomon venue (its hospital being renowned among many Japanese athletes for treatment of injuries, as observed by hospital-savvy Imedex CEO Ichida), did admirably in coordinating activities. Beyond sponsorship and volunteer opportunities for the 2017 Japan event I wish to spotlight commercial opportunities also, because the presence of Fronteo Healthcare as a sponsor brought to mind the importance of patent in terms of health 2.0, the Fronteo group being known for its patent data business prowess.
Though the Japanese system still does not allow patenting of medical acts unlike other advanced countries, it recently paved the way for “supplementary foodstuff” patenting. Accordingly there is some notable movement in this front entailing university-backed startups, such as those in the Tohoku region pushing forward with innovative developments. A recent unveiling I am aware of is an “antidote” to hangovers that follow drinking sessions in Japan… though apparently such disaster with “firewater” does not apply to this “partial Native American.” However it seems that such openings, if taken on with serious science in mind and approached properly, bode well for startups.
Although healthcare systems across the world have been changing rapidly, Japan likely has the highest potentials for transformation because relatively few Japanese physicians today are using electronic medical records (EMR) and this nation still has a myriad of medical Uberregulations that may be removed. Patients are not well informed about digital healthtech either, despite the fact that Japan has advanced technological foundations. Since it is being faced with unprecedented greying that undermines the national healthcare system, one of the biggest in the world, Japan is seen being a perfect setting for health 2.0 tech to be implemented in producing a positive paradigm shift.