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Increasing the safety of medical medicine dispensing

Interview - April 17, 2023

Over the half century since TAKAZONO was established in 1963, the company has strived to manufacture products that support patients and healthcare service providers alike.

TSUTOMU KITAGUCHI, PRESIDENT OF TAKAZONO CO., LTD.
TSUTOMU KITAGUCHI | PRESIDENT OF TAKAZONO CO., LTD.

What do you believe to be the strengths and competitive advantages of Japan’s medical sector, and of your own firm?

It is true that Japan is one of the countries at the forefront of the aging society. Japanese companies are responding to the many issues that are related to this aging population. The Japanese government is responding as well, since there are big issues with public  insurance and welfare budgeting. Technology and treatment also need to respond to diseases associated with aging. By refining the solutions to these challenges, Japanese companies and the Japanese government will be able to provide solutions to the other countries who will be facing these challenges in the near future.

When we talk about the pharmaceutical industry, Japan itself has a big domestic market.  Therefore, pharmaceutical companies can operate their business by catering only to the Japanese domestic market and, therefore, the small enterprises can also survive in Japan.

The major overseas pharmaceutical companies, however, target the global market to develop new medicines, which as you know can be very costly. Japan's pharmaceutical manufacturers, thus, have been falling behind in this international competitiveness. Now the Japanese administration is moving in a better way by easing various regulations and expanding the scale for the development of new medicines.

 

It is very interesting to hear you speak about the regulatory easing of restrictions as being one major factor. Another major factor has been the introduction of new digital technologies, as part of a more solution-oriented approach to medicine and pharmaceuticals. How do you anticipate digital technologies will change the medical sector in Japan?

The introduction of digital technology in the healthcare field has had a huge impact. The collection and analysis of big data means that people can be informed and alerted to change their behavior before they actually get sick. It is a more preventive approach to medicine.

Our company has been advancing our imaging and image processing technology in our devices, so that we can monitor and identify what a given medicine is and reduce the human error that may happen when processed manually. Next January, electronic prescriptions will be introduced, which will mean that the patients will not have to wait in the pharmacies to receive their medicine. There will also be traceability embedded with this new system, which will allow you to follow a person’s medicine intake, and monitor how the person’s body is reacting to their medicine.

 

That is quite fascinating. We know that you have your Dispensing Work Assist Audit System Series which is used for monitoring the preparation of the medicines. We also know that you have a drug audit support system, the ATTELNO 2 series system. Can you give us some more details about these digital initiatives and how they are going to make the lives of both patients and of medical practitioners easier?

In Japan, before the medicine is handed over to the patient, it is the role of the pharmacist to do the final checks of the medicine. Whenever there is a human involved in the process, there is a risk of human error. By introducing our digital technology, which consists of image analysis and image processing of the medicine itself, we can reduce the risk of human error considerably. Also, pharmacists are burdened with a lot of pressure when it comes to the final check. By utilizing our digital devices, the pharmacists are assisted in doing the final check, which can relieve their stress. With regards to the patients themselves, the most important thing is that their safety is drastically increased.

 

In a recent survey by the PR Times conducted with pharmacists in Japan, their biggest complaint with their packaging machines came down to the cleaning process, and the lack of automatic cleaning functions. You have many packaging machines in your catalogue including the tablet and powder packaging machine. Could you give us an overview of this newest packaging machine, and how it addresses the issues pharmacists have with cleaning?

Japanese pharmacies have very small and limited space. The uniqueness of the tablet and powder packaging machine is that it is small in size and very compact. It also has high functionality and is very precise and accurate when it comes to medicine dispensing as well as packaging. Since we are earnestly dedicated in our monozukuri, i.e. manufacturing, the lifespan of our product is very long. We thus have the dilemma of not being able to resell our products to repeat clients, because our products are so durable. The quality of our products is so high that they last long.



The fact that the lifespan of the machine is so long is very interesting. It reminds me of an article I read, in which they referred to the “technical shrink”, which is when the life of the machine or equipment is so long that you fail to create a recurrent buying process. How do you compensate for this? Are there other services that you offer in order to create that stable revenue?

We provide maintenance services to our customers. Our service people visit the customers’ sites on a regular basis to do the cleaning on behalf of the pharmacists. We also fix any issues that the machines may have, which further increases the longevity of the machines.

 

Do you offer this service to your overseas clients as well?

Domestically, we have 34 bases, which allows us to provide a very thorough maintenance and follow-up service. However, when it comes to overseas, we depend on our agents. We try to make the products that we provide to overseas customers more orthodox and more durable so that they do not interrupt the operations of the customers.

 

Can you talk to us about how you ensure the ease of use for your products, so they can be used in all kinds of applications and environments?

Each country has its own culture and work allotted to the pharmacist. It is therefore important for us to take note of what the process is and listen to their opinions, so we can reflect that in our systems. We want to make our systems as simple as possible to use. An increase in useability also increases the safety of the machines.

 

One such strategy that we have heard from other makers of medical machinery has been to collaborate with local partners, distributors or companies in order to better understand the needs and culture of the market that they are appealing to. Have you had similar experiences in collaborating with local partners, and if not, are you pursuing that kind of activity?

In the case of the United States,  TAKAZONO and our distributor have collaborated with a supplement provider. We have jointly developed the type of material that is used for packaging, as well as the size of the package itself. In Japan, this is usually M size. However, when it comes to the United States and China, L and XL sizes are required.  Also, the tablet size is different in Western countries and Asian countries. Asians have a smaller throat, so the tablets are smaller. Westerners are able to swallow a bigger sized tablet.

 

You have emphasized this core manufacturing philosophy being in the quality and the constant improvement in addressing new challenges. One challenge being the cleanliness, which you address with the maintenance service. Another challenge being the ease of use, which you address by making a more user-friendly interface. As a company so serious about manufacturing and incremental improvement, what is your current challenge?

We will tell you as much as we can disclose at this time. Currently, patients receive paper prescriptions, and then go to the pharmacy to receive the medicines. However, with the advancement of IoT and digital transformation, things are becoming more automated. This is also from a logistics point of view too. Amazon is already starting this type of business. When you go to the doctors, you are prescribed with a medicine, and by the time you get home, the medicine may be delivered to your home, or you can wait at your home to receive the medicine. The world is changing, and TAKAZONO would like to find new business opportunities. We will continue to provide new products, so that we can exist in this newly evolving pharmaceutical world.

 

When it comes to your international business, we know that you have a long-standing presence in China, and have more recently gone to the United States and Vietnam. What is your vision for the international development of your company? Are there any key markets that you have in mind for the future, and if so, what is your strategy for penetrating those markets?

From a sales perspective, we want to find the right major partner who could distribute our products. In terms of manufacturing, we have a factory in Vietnam. However, seeing the situation in Ukraine, you can never predict what will happen in overseas countries, so it is important that we minimize the risk. Japan has maintained peace since the end of World War II in 1945. With the ongoing war in Ukraine, however, I once again thought about the world’s power balance and how it can be easily disrupted.

 

Is there a particular objective or goal that you would like to achieve during your time as the president of TAKAZONO?

I became the president last year. Every three years, as a company, we make a management plan. My role as the president is to accomplish the three-year plan steadily and surely. By doing so, I want to ensure that the company has a solid structure that can be handed down to the next generation. In Japan there is a saying sanpo-yoshi, which means there are benefits for the seller and the buyer, as well as the society. It is not just our company that should be making the profit. There should be profit for the customers, too. We also want to bring goodness and benefits to the society. TAKAZONO would like to keep this philosophy of being a company that provides sanpo-yoshi.

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