For almost three decades, Asahi Intecc has been positioned as a vital cog in the medical device industry, supplying products such as guide wires, guiding catheters and balloon catheters, as well as ultra fine stainless steel wire ropes for industrial and medical use, to clients in Japan and across the world. We sat down with President and CEO Masahiko Miyata to learn more about the company’s products and technology, as well as its collaborative development with leading players like Boston Scientific.
Can you give us a quick overview of Asahi Intecc?
We develop, produce, and sell products such as guide wires, guiding catheters, and balloon catheters, which are medical devices indispensable for catheter treatment. Various wire products are used in the medical device and industrial device fields. For some people, the word "wire" may not paint a clear picture of these products. Even so, wire products are used in all sorts of things that surround us, from various medical devices to cars, air conditioners, OA equipment, and even in the fields of construction and fishery. With its excellent development capabilities and production technologies, Asahi Intecc has a high share in the medical device field not only in Japan but around the world as well.
What is your point of view on why Japan is still leading the high technology field and what role does Monozukuri play within it?
Monozukuri in Japan embodies a synthesis of technological prowess, know-how, and spirit of our manufacturing practices. It describes a sincere attitude towards production with pride, skill, quality, and dedication. Japanese Monozukuri stands in devotion in comparison to other companies. Naturally, companies like Apple or Tesla want to apply it as Panasonic or Sony have done before.
As a company that manufactures overseas, how do you assure the high quality of your products?
At the Thai factory, the mother factory of Asahi Intecc Group, we have acquired advanced production know-how over the past few decades by striving to accumulate production technology and improve productivity. By expanding them to the Hanoi Factory and Cebu Factory, we ensure that the principles of Monozukuri remain intact despite the location of our factories.
In particular, we are focusing on quality and on-site capabilities, while promoting the timely sharing of information through the construction of a quality assurance network to achieve a high level of production technology leveling.
In recent years we have been enhancing our system of joint R&D with top doctors in various fields who have ample experience in the medical front line, thereby developing products in close connection to medical practice.
The Global Medical Devices market is expected to reach $521 billion by 2022 and is expected to grow at a CAGR of 5.33%, with Asia Pacific and North America leading this growth. Could you please give us your opinion about this point and how you will take advantage of it?
The medical field has always been our number one priority, we have always been focused on special procedures such as those related to cardiology or peripheral vascular. It is complicated to take advantage of the increase in the number of such procedures as the government is constantly driving the price down. Being able to search for new opportunities abroad in India or the Middle East for example when the economy suffers a relapse is a must for us; that is why we export to over 110 countries.
Our wires offer the possibility of performing surgeries in a much less invasive way. We are convinced that we can contribute to the development of medical care by proactively promoting collaboration with top doctors not only in Japan but also over the world by providing innovative products.
In addition to the vascular treatment field, we will also expand into the fields of gastro-intestinal organs and robotics, where we can utilize our technology. We will focus on strengthening the development system for that.
What have been the key milestones of Asahi Intecc?
Our wires for the PCI (Percutaneous Coronary Intervention) launched in 1995, they are really useful when we are confronting a CTO (Chronic Total Occlusion) situation. Around the beginning of the 1990s, Japanese doctors sought to develop a guide wire that could treat CTO lesions, which is a complete blockage of the blood vessels, and asked several major US medical device manufacturers to develop it. But they refused. There are two main reasons for this, the first is that advanced technology was required to develop a guide wire for CTO, and the other is that the idea that CTO treatment should be performed by surgery had been established in the US at that time. Therefore, Asahi Intecc, which was originally a wire rope manufacturing company and was new to medical equipment at the time, received a request for the development of them and in 1995, the world's first guide wire for CTO treatment, “Miracle”, was released.
Two years after launching the product on the market we already had a national market share of 20%. This was thanks to the expansion of word of mouth at medical conferences in Japan. Until that moment 70% of the hospital instruments were imported so our CTO wire was hailed worldwide as the world’s first.
Demand for it grew around the world and we were able to get a contract with Abbott so that they became our distributor, with the unique condition that the name Asahi was always ahead. Then, our popularity grew in the US and Europe. Both the American and European markets are in constant growth and it did not take us long to achieve 20% of the market share of the former and 50% of the latter. Currently, we sell directly in many countries and regions including the US and Europe.
Could you give us an overview of your business segment and which are the top-selling products that you have?
We have divided our segment of action as follows, 10% is focused on the industrial field and 90% on the medical field. Of that 90%, 75% is made up of our house brand wires and the other 15% of OEM products and medical components. At the moment we have a very important product collaboration with Boston Scientific.
Is there any new product that you would like to share with us?
The wire technology field is a growing market, the possession of quality and advanced technology wires gives us an advantage over our competitors. Other companies have wires with similar technology to ours, but unlike theirs, ours are very stable and high quality. Asahi Intecc possesses four core technologies (wire drawing technology, wire forming technology, coating technology and torque technology) necessary for wire manufacturing.
As a result, the fact that we have built an in-house integrated production system from raw materials to finished products, which is rare for a medical device manufacturer, is a factor that enables us to stably supply high-quality products. In particular, our torque technology can accurately convey the feeling of the doctor's fingertip to the tip of the guide wire, achieving excellent operability that other companies cannot imitate.
Could you tell us more about your collaboration with the Boston Scientific?
We started a joint development with Boston Scientific Corporation concerning FFR (fractional flow reserve) wires and RotaWireTM Atherectomy Guidewire. FFR wires are wires with embedded sensors that measure the pressure gradient of blood flow around stenosed sections of the coronary artery and speculate how much blood flow is being inhibited and how severe the lesion is as a result of the stenosis. This measured index is on Using FFR is excellent for its cost-effectiveness and at the same time decreases the rate of MACEs (major adverse cardiac events) per year.
Thanks to this collaboration our products are used in a large number of hospitals in the United States, we obtain recognition and at the same time, we make it easier for doctors to do their work.
This collaboration led to the creation of a new product; could you tell us what role co-creation plays within your company? Are you looking to find new partners?
Of course, so now one key direction is to point to big companies such as the previously mentioned (Johnson & Johnson or Boston Scientific) and at the same time look for those emerging companies with great growth potential. My strategy is to collaborate with such companies to capture the market by obtaining mutual benefits and providing mutual strength.
Existing products are important and also new creations, to forecast the new business arena we need fresh technologies and we luckily have them. There is a lack of other types of technologies such as GPS technologies or AI technologies so we try to fill the gap by collaborating with other companies and joint development. We predict that we have a very good future in the Japanese market and that is why expansion is always part of our plans. We can achieve more, for example by focusing on the field of robotics.
You are also expanding into the automotive industry and also your wires are being used in shoes, could you please talk to us about these businesses?
Supplying parts in the automobile industry is compelling to reduce costs. This is one of the reasons why we decided to focus on the medical field. Our product does not have batteries, it is like a cable mechanism that follows the previous concept but with the difference that there is no need to charge for it. We are currently supplying wire products to fields with higher added value, such as the wire mechanism of golf shoes, fishing lines, and air conditioners.
What are your current international strategies for each area that you have?
Our target is 100 billion yen and with the current situation, we have reached 56 billion yen. With already existing products we can obtain 80 billion and the remaining 20 would be through involvement in new fields such as the endoscopy or the neurological one focusing on aneurism and strokes. To that end, we will promote so-called “ambidexterity management”, in which we will expand existing business areas while creating new businesses. In the new fields, we will enter not only the vascular system but also the gastrointestinal and robotics fields, and will actively promote the establishment of partnerships with other companies.
If we come back in 10 years and interview you all over again what would you like to tell us, what are your dreams for the company and what would you like to have accomplished by then?
From the beginning our company has been growing and developing, a very important moment was our transition from a private to a public company and becoming the first section of the Tokyo stock change.
Our next step is to preach our knowledge accumulated and acquired throughout all these years to the new generations. This philosophy is integrated into our DNA as a company. We will continue to provide innovation by developing new technologies and supplying innovative products, and our mission is to contribute to the future of medical care.