France's Vygon puts boots on the ground in Singapore in Asia push

Christophe Deffontaines

SINGAPORE--Vygon, the specialist single-use medical devices group, plans to expand into Singapore as Southeast Asia heads toward a regional economic pact and public and private hospitals mushroom in China and Indonesia, said Christophe Deffontaines, vice president of Asia-Pacific for the France-based firm.

Deffontaines, however, noted that regulations to register products by country remains a taxing process despite regulators across the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) looking to harmonize the process.

Malaysia, for example, in July last year said it would ease into a new law requiring all medical devices to be registered. The country is ramping up oversight of its biomedical sector to avoid disruption as 95% of devices used are imported.

"We do not see a great deal of harmonization at this point, so the move is not because of easier regulations," Deffontaines said in a Jan. 16 interview by phone. "We need people on the ground qualified to provide training and that decision is based on the market."

He added that the company aims to double its sales by 2022, with a target of 20% of group sales coming from Asia-Pacific for the firm employing 1,800 staff worldwide. The turnover in 2013 was €250 million ($335 million), with 81% of this derived from Vygon's international business.

Deffontaines said Singapore will be a base for local development and direct sales in the region. The wealthy city state is now home to 9 biologics manufacturing facilities and an extensive public and private hospital network, including the Duke-NUS Graduate Medical School, a hub for early clinical work and the Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR), which has a program to marry clinical work with engineers to produce devices.

In addition, last year Texas-based medical device manufacturer Greatbatch announced a new R&D center in Singapore aimed at designing active implantable medical devices for the cardiovascular and neuromodulation segments, which followed Medtronic ($MDT), which opened a $56 million U.S. manufacturing facility.

But as important, Deffontaines said, are private hospitals in neighboring Malaysia and Indonesia, where the company would like to makes sales and provide the training needed, Deffontaines said.

"The training is essential in the sale of our products to hospitals, public or private."

Public spending on reimbursement for hospital care in Southeast Asia is uneven, though Indonesia last year launched a national health insurance plan to be phased in for the universal coverage of the vast archipelago with a population of more than 240 million. The country is among four priority markets for the company that also include Australia, China, and South Korea.

"The potential customers vary," Deffontaines said. "And generally we do most of the work in-company or provide the necessary support to Vygon's distribution network in the region such as registration, marketing and training."

Australia has the most extensive reimbursement program for medical care among the four, while China and Indonesia have pushed to limit medical device imports in favor of local manufacturing requirements or homegrown products. South Korea meanwhile has moved to ramp up medical tourism for procedures that align with Vygon products.

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