Global Expert Mission: South Korea and Japan - Digital Health and Medical Technology
Posted on 08/05/2019
By David Calder, Knowledge Transfer Manager, Life Sciences (Health)
In March 2019, I was lucky enough to be part of the planning and delivery of a Global Expert Mission (GEM) to South Korea and Japan. The week-long mission brought together a range of stakeholders from across the UK innovation landscape to scout equivalent innovation structures in the two countries. Led by Mark Littlewood, the party comprised two SMEs, a successful entrepreneur (currently chairman of several businesses), the digital health lead from the West Midlands Academic Health Science Network (WMAHSN) and a knowledgeable technical writer. KTN and Innovate UK provided subject matter experts, David Calder and Chris Sawyer. In-country organisation of the mission was handled by the British Chambers of Commerce in South Korea and Business Link Japan with support from the Department of International Trade (DiT) and the Science and Innovation Network (SIN) in Seoul and Tokyo.
Innovation opportunities in South Korea
In South Korea, we visited three of the five major hospital groups, several SMEs, the Korean Institute for the Advancement of Technology (KIAT, an Innovate UK equivalent) and visited a MedTech trade show.
We were immediately struck that South Korea seems to have a highly open culture towards innovation. Accelerators and spin-outs from both academic institutes and major corporations (such as Samsung) help a thriving SME base to access funding. We noted that key technology strengths, aside from a globally relevant consumer electronics industry, lay in aspects of Artificial Intelligence, image processing and predictive analytics. Considering the UK’s niche skills in Natural Language Processing, Voice Recognition and in Virtual and Augmented Reality, there is certainly room for collaboration.
South Korea is highly digitised and has a strong focus on some aspects of ‘health data’, but it doesn’t have the same genomics capability as the UK. Therefore, potential collaboration opportunities exist in precision medicine and digital health.
Innovation opportunities in Japan
Even though we had only two full days in Japan, there was sufficient time to observe the difference in the Japanese innovation landscape, which seemed more conservative and less innovative than South Korea. Fortunately, the Japanese Government has recognised the need for change within the healthcare system and is moving to address the gaps; notable success is achieved in engaging internationally via hosting major conferences in Digital Health and age-related innovation.
Japan’s Government Ministries have also placed an emphasis on developing an innovation eco-system around the domain of ‘healthy ageing’. There are obvious synergies with the UK’s own Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund and significant collaborative opportunities exist in this area.
The value of Global Expert Missions
Overall the Global Expert Mission demonstrated the value of bringing together a team of experts with diverse knowledge to comprehensively understand the innovation landscape in South Korea and Japan to ascertain the potential for future collaboration, the need to prepare for potential cultural differences and the complexity in organising these high value-add projects. Without them, the UK will remain more isolated and will not understand the priorities, technologies and challenges of strategic economies to focus international innovation collaborations.
I will be attending the Eureka Global Innovation Summit in Manchester on 14th May, where there is a significant South Korean contingent making up the delegates, so perhaps further engagement will be possible while the Global Expert Mission information is analysed by Innovate UK.