"Ad­dress­ing can­cer and de­men­tia are key fo­cus ar­eas for Ja­pan"

BioSpectrum (Asia) - - Front Page - Priyanka Ba­j­pai priyanka.ba­j­pai@mmac­tiv.com

Sichiro Sasago, Direc­tor for Pol­icy Plan­ning, Min­istry of Health, Labour and Wel­fare, Gov­ern­ment of Ja­pan

Ja­pan is a world leader in tech­nol­ogy, in­no­va­tion and R&D spend­ing, trail­ing only the United States in the num­ber of new patents filed. Med­i­cal de­vice and phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal con­sump­tion are two sec­tors that roughly ac­count to one-third of Ja­pan’s an­nual $300 bil­lion in spend­ing on health­care. For many years, Ja­pan has also been a global leader in the dis­cov­ery and de­vel­op­ment of new medicines. Ja­pan ranks third for new chem­i­cal en­ti­ties—the core to drug ad­vance­ment—only in line af­ter the United States and United King­dom. In ad­di­tion, Ja­pan of­fers uni­ver­sal health cov­er­age, mak­ing its health­care sys­tem one of the best in the world.

In this in­ter­view with Priyanka Ba­j­pai from BioSpec­trum Asia Magazine, Soichiro Sasago, Direc­tor for Pol­icy Plan­ning, Min­istry of Health, Labour and Wel­fare, Gov­ern­ment of Ja­pan dis­cusses Ja­pan’s health­care vi­sion and as­sesses the gov­ern­ment’s new ef­forts to lev­er­age the sec­tor as a key driver of eco­nomic growth. He also talks about the im­por­tance of data in the health­care in­dus­try and how the Japanese pol­icy mak­ers are putting a step for­ward to lev­er­age the re­cent IT trends.

Can you please talk about the vi­sion that the Japanese gov­ern­ment has for its health­care?

Ja­pan has a num­ber of health­care pri­or­i­ties that are im­por­tant con­sid­er­a­tions for the gov­ern­ment. De­vel­op­ing its long-term vi­sion is there­fore a tough bal­anc­ing act, amidst these con­stantly evolv­ing and com­pet­ing pri­or­i­ties.

Re­sources and ca­pa­bil­i­ties at our dis­posal will also drive our im­pe­tus. Just as a com­par­i­son for in­stance, Sin­ga­pore has a very ad­vanced med­i­cal in­dus­try and is achiev­ing amaz­ing suc­cesses. Ja­pan, on the other hand, has a hu­mungous amount of pa­tient data, which can be used for a mul­ti­tude of out­comes that can fur­ther the growth of in­dus­try and bet­ter­ment of pa­tient ser­vices.

Fo­cus is there­fore to be able to use this data in an ef­fec­tive way – we have a record of about 1.3 bil­lion pa­tients, in­clud­ing names and all other rel­e­vant in­for­ma­tion, in­clud­ing genome data. Given that Ja­pan has a high fo­cus on tech­nol­ogy ad­vance­ment, in­clud­ing biotech­nol­ogy and ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence, it is our key con­sid­er­a­tion to lev­er­age all our re­sources and strengths for an out­come that ben­e­fits the pub­lic as well as the in­dus­try.

Also keep­ing in step with chang­ing times, min­istry is de­vel­op­ing its keen sense of busi­ness in­no­va­tion, so as to en­sure that it can ef­fec­tively fa­cil­i­tate all in­ter­ven­tions that have the po­ten­tial to ben­e­fit Ja­pan’s health­care and med­i­cal in­dus­try.

Given Ja­pan’s well-es­tab­lished tech­nol­ogy ex­cel­lence, what role does it see for it­self – in driv­ing in­no­va­tion and growth in the health­care tech­nol­ogy space?

Ad­dress­ing deadly dis­eases of can­cer and de­men­tia are key fo­cus ar­eas for Ja­pan. As a re­sult, this is a key de­ter­mi­nant for de­cid­ing where our re­sources are di­rected to­wards. Ad­di­tion­ally, Ja­pan is also keenly in­ter­ested in col­lab­o­ra­tion and shar­ing of ex­per­tise in these ar­eas.

Fur­ther, an­other very im­por­tant fo­cus area is de­mo­graphic re­lated. The av­er­age age of the Japanese is get­ting higher ev­ery year, and with it, the as­so­ci­ated old age prob­lems and dis­eases. We also be­lieve that it is also a very acute and im­por­tant chal­lenge not only for Ja­pan but for the el­derly peo­ple every­where, and specif­i­cally in the Asia re­gion. As a re­sult, an­other area where Japanese gov­ern­ment is mak­ing sure that we de­velop ap­pro­pri­ate tech­nol­ogy and ser­vice of­fer­ing to­wards ca­ter­ing to the health­care needs of the el­derly. Ad­di­tion­ally, this is some­thing that we can also of­fer as a pack­age [tech­nol­ogy + ser­vice] to other Asian coun­tries.

Please share some in­for­ma­tion on the col­lab­o­ra­tion and part­ner­ship ini­tia­tives that Ja­pan gov­ern­ment has en­tered into with in­dus­try or other coun­tries?

We are con­stantly work­ing with other Asian coun­tries, on a mul­ti­tude of re­search top­ics. In­ten­tion is to fa­cil­i­tate knowl­edge ex­change be­tween doc­tors and pro­fes­sors from these coun­tries, while col­lab­o­rat­ing

JA­PAN BE­LIEVES THAT TECH­NOLO­GIES SUCH AS RO­BOTS AND SEN­SORS, AND IN­TER­NET OF THINGS (IOT) SYS­TEMS IN GEN­ERAL, HAVE AN IM­POR­TANT ROLE TO PLAY EVEN IN THE NEAR FU­TURE EVEN WHILE THEY CON­TINUE TO BE FAST EVOLV­ING.

and con­tribut­ing to ar­eas of mu­tual in­ter­est. Data se­cu­rity and pri­vacy is also a key con­sid­er­a­tion – es­pe­cially when it in­volves shar­ing of elec­tronic or pa­tient doc­u­ments de­ployed in the sys­tem, if they have to be shared across bor­ders.

How im­por­tant is data for the health­care in­dus­try?

As men­tioned ear­lier, data is crit­i­cal for health­care, quite sim­i­lar to a num­ber of other in­dus­tries. Qual­ity of data be­ing col­lected is very im­por­tant, and so is its trace­abil­ity to source and changes, com­plete­ness of the pro­file. It helps to de­rive nec­es­sary anal­y­sis, and time­li­ness for data es­pe­cially if re­quired for crit­i­cal pur­poses. Fur­ther, I think it is also im­por­tant to stan­dard­ize and cen­tral­ize data col­lec­tion and stor­age so­lu­tions that are de­ployed. A num­ber of new and in­no­va­tive tech­nolo­gies, in big data an­a­lyt­ics, cloud com­put­ing and data science, are there­fore per­ti­nent for health­care too. An ad­di­tional as­pect to con­sider is re­gard­ing the need for data ra­tio­nal­iza­tion – es­pe­cially when it is be­ing col­lated and ag­gre­gated from across mul­ti­ple sources hav­ing vary­ing de­grees of au­then­tic­ity and rel­e­vance. Key data an­a­lyt­ics and in­sights are re­quired to sti­fle out use­ful in­for­ma­tion

from all the other noise.

Is there any spe­cific Japanese health­care pol­icy in­ter­ven­tion for the busi­ness (pharma, med­i­cal de­vice, etc.), for which you will like to share some in­for­ma­tion or your views on?

While we talked about the need to col­lect and mine data for in­sights, next steps from a gov­ern­ment’s point of view is to an­a­lyse trends and im­ped­i­ments that need to be ad­dressed at a pol­icy level, so as to fa­cil­i­tate an ac­cel­er­ated re­al­iza­tion of our stated vi­sion.

A spe­cific ex­am­ple to share, which fur­ther en­ables this, is re­lated to new reg­u­la­tion that has just been es­tab­lished. We re­al­ized that there was a strict law that pre­vented shar­ing of pa­tient in­for­ma­tion. How­ever, it is now pos­si­ble for doc­tors and hos­pi­tals to do this, of course sub­ject to ex­plicit pa­tient con­sent. In­ten­tion is to pro­vide this raw and ag­gre­gated data, with­out com­pro­mis­ing pa­tient pri­vacy rights, to pharma and re­lated com­pa­nies – who can then use it to drive use­ful in­sights on pa­tient and disease de­mo­graph­ics, as also identify cor­re­la­tions that will help find mean­ing­ful and timely in­ter­ven­tions for im­prov­ing prog­no­sis and ser­vice lev­els.

On the tech­nol­ogy front, is there any Japanese pol­icy view on how re­cent IT trends should be man­aged or lever­aged (re­fer­ring to ar­eas such as ro­bot­ics, ma­chine learn­ing, se­cu­rity, etc.)?

Ja­pan be­lieves that tech­nolo­gies such as ro­bots and sen­sors, and In­ter­net of Things (IoT) sys­tems in gen­eral, have an im­por­tant role to play even in the near fu­ture even while they con­tinue to be fast evolv­ing. Japanese gov­ern­ment is over­all very sup­port­ive of the idea and will also en­sure that com­pa­nies who need this for im­prov­ing their prod­uct or ser­vice of­fer­ings are able to do so with­out any con­cerns of safety or pol­icy hur­dles.

As a spe­cific ex­am­ple that comes to mind, doc­tors and nurses here in Ja­pan are very busy and some of these in­no­va­tive tech­nolo­gies can help en­sure that their work­place en­vi­ron­ment is such that pro­duc­tiv­ity can be im­proved and re­sources de­ployed in ar­eas where they add max­i­mum value. Also, for women doc­tors for in­stance – when they have to go on preg­nancy leaves, their pro­fes­sional lives should be least dis­rupted when they sub­se­quently join back the work­force, and they should also be able to seam­lessly work from home while man­ag­ing work and per­sonal pri­or­i­ties.

This is the kind of en­abling ecosys­tem that the Japanese gov­ern­ment is try­ing to es­tab­lish here, by us­ing these tech­nolo­gies as en­ablers.

Soichiro Sasago Direc­tor for Pol­icy Plan­ning, Min­istry of Health, Labour and Wel­fare , Gov­ern­ment of Ja­pan

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