Ames Gross, Pacific Bridge Medical
Ameing for Asia

Medical 3-D Printing Update in Asia

By Ames Gross
Ames Gross, Pacific Bridge Medical

Increasing demand for custom surgical implants and growing investment in R&D will help the sector experience significant growth over the next five years.

Globally, according to a number of estimates, the healthcare 3-D printing industry is forecast to be worth about $3 billion by 2024 with a growth rate of about 20% per year. With the rise of personalized precision medicine, medical 3-D printing technology, which creates three-dimensional medical equipment from digital models, has made significant contributions to the healthcare industry. While some 3-D printed medical devices are built from a standard design that enables the creation of multiple copies of one device, other devices are classified as patient-specific devices, created from imaging data of a specific patient. Customization of products usually results in sharp price increases, but 3-D printing technology has led, in some cases, to large costs reductions. Examples of 3-D printed medical devices include assistive tools for surgical procedures, tissue constructs, implants, and prostheses such as hip joints and prosthetic limbs.

Although North America holds the largest share of the medical 3-D printing market, Asia is expected to experience the most rapid growth. Thanks to the growing demand for customizations of surgical implants and increasing investments in research and development, the Asia Pacific region is estimated to witness fast expansion of the healthcare 3-D printing market with the CAGR of 25% over the next 5 years.

A common theme across Asian countries where medical 3-D printing has considerable potential is favorable support from the local governments as well as collaboration between 3-D printing companies and research institutes.

China has adopted the cutting-edge 3-D printing technology at a rapid rate and is starting to catch up with the West. With the largest population in the world (nearly 1.4 billion people), China still faces a shortage of healthcare professionals. 3-D printing technology enables the use of customized devices and implant guides, simulation of procedures on 3-D printed models, training of young doctors, etc., which in turn speeds up and standardizes procedures.

The Chinese government supports the industry by outlining goals for innovation of 3-D printing in the National 3D Printing Industry Development Promotion Plan that was released in 2015. In 2017, another government initiative aimed at growing the value of Chinese 3-D printing companies was implemented. In 2018, the first 3-D bioprinting center came into operation to be used in support of the regenerative medicine field. Collaboration between Shanghai Children’s Medical Center and the Belgian 3-D printing company Materialise, has helped families from rural regions in Western China obtain free medical care for children with heart diseases. Without this charitable initiative, these families would have had to pay close to 100,000 RMB (around $15,800) for a heart operation. In addition, the first pediatric 3-D research center was established in China thanks to this collaboration.

Similarly, Singapore began a new policy initiative with a $29 million investment in one of the largest 3-D printing centers established at the Nanyang Technology University. Another investment of around $20 million from the Singapore Economic Development Board helped open a research center with a focus on applications of 3-D printing in the biomedical field at the National University of Singapore. These government investments have led leading foreign 3-D printing companies to choose Singapore as the best destination for research and development. In 2018, Evonik Industries, Germany’s second largest chemicals company, announced its plan to open a 3-D printing research center in Biopolis, Singapore’s renowned location for biomedical sciences research.

Singapore seeks to further strengthen its strength in medical 3-D printing by initiating collaboration between Singapore’s National Additive Manufacturing Innovation Cluster and Taiwan’s China Medical University, which led to the establishment of the 3D Printing Medical Research Center—Asia’s first medical 3-D printing industry team that takes up the entire chain of activities from R&D work to clinical applications. Taiwan’s largest 3-D printing company, DETEKT Technology, Inc., derives 60% of its revenue from the medical sector, as it provides clients in this sector with 3-D printed surgical guides and implants.

A world leader in technological innovations, Japan holds a competitive edge when it comes to medical 3-D printing. In 2015, Japan’s New Energy and Industrial Technology Development Organization in Kanagawa announced its $30 million investment in the development of 3-D printing mechanisms for the highly sophisticated concept of human tissue regeneration. According to Japanese tissue engineering experts, 3-D printing technology will pave the way for the further growth of regenerative medicine thanks to its ability to create human tissue in a cost-efficient manner. In 2016, Japan’s Central Social Insurance Medical Council announced that the Japanese medical system would cover the cost of 3-D printed organ models, which are used to assist doctors in surgeries. This policy not only helps patients obtain advanced medical care at reduced costs but also grants 3-D printing companies in Japan access to a larger population of patients in need of customized medical devices and facilitates technological innovations. Recent 3-D printing innovations by Japanese companies include ultra-realistic models of lungs, liver, bones and human skin.

In 2020, the Korean government announced its plan to lead international standardization of medical 3-D printing through collaboration with foreign institutes and medtech professionals. If approved, Korea’s proposal will become standard for the manufacturing process of patient-specific 3D printed medical devices. Korea’s Ministry of Food and Drug Safety (MFDS) has explored a fast-track evaluation process for medical devices that use state-of-the-art 3-D printing, robotics, and nanotechnology. This separate evaluation track will allow local and foreign companies with advanced 3-D products to enter the market earlier than their competitors.

Despite its numerous clinical benefits, there are challenges that the Asian healthcare 3-D printing industry has yet to overcome. Most countries in Asia do not have clear regulatory guidelines with respect to 3-D printed medical devices yet, so approvals can lag. The lack of qualified workforce coupled with the rapid rate of technical development has led to a knowledge gap between research and medtech commercial applications. The high cost of setting up and maintaining 3-D printing healthcare manufacturing facilities is a key obstacle for small and mid-sized Asian companies that want to enter the 3-D printing medical market.

Nevertheless, thanks to supportive government policies, there have been rising investments in R&D for medical 3-D printing in Asia. Through international collaboration, research institutes and medical companies have been able to bring highly advanced treatments to patients at reduced costs and time. 3-D printing has the true potential to disrupt the healthcare industry not only globally, but also in the Asia-Pacific region.

About The Author

Ames Gross, Pacific Bridge Medical