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Chinese firms target biomedical field worldwide

By Jing Shuiyu | China Daily | Updated: 2017-08-21 08:58

A slew of Chinese companies, including startups, are seeking to strike it rich in the field of biomedical 3D printing globally.

Privately held startup Zhejiang Xunshi Technology Co Ltd stands out from the crowd, having found its sweet spot in the US market through a subsidiary based in Los Angeles. It mainly conducts research into manufacture of 3D-printed medical equipment.

Jin Liang, Xunshi's general manager, said revenue from the US market was about 15 million yuan ($2.25 million), or 60 percent of company's total, in the first half of this year. "We aim to boost revenue to at least 50 million in the second half."

That may appear overly ambitious, but Xunshi's confidence stems from the fact that its products and related services are already sold in more than 10 countries, including New Zealand, Australia and South Korea. A majority of Xunshi's customers are dental clinics.

Established in 2013, Xunshi's focus is on cutting-edge innovations, to make "high-quality, affordable 3D printing a reality for every consumer," Jin said.

To reach the goal, the company works closely with the University of Southern California.

Xunshi swears by overseas markets as they have relatively mature dentistry systems. But China is also a strategic priority as domestic demand is rising. So, Xunshi will augment its investments in the China market, Jin said.

Like Xunshi, several forward-looking Chinese businesses have been seeking to serve the healthcare industry through innovative technology.

In late 2016, Sichuan Revotek Co Ltd 3D-printed blood vessels and implanted them in monkeys, a major step toward mass printing human organs for transplants.

In 2014, Beijing AKEC Medical Co Ltd's 3D-printed products were used in the country's first tumor resection surgery.

By July-end, the number of firms such as Xunshi, Revotek and AKEC reached 46, according to Dongmai.com, a medical information provider.

Nearly 90 percent of them cater to orthopedics and dentistry; and the rest focus on organs and blood vessels.

According to a report by The Boston Consulting Group, about 17 million clear aligners-they are transparent products used to align teeth, and are regarded as alternatives to dental braces-are created globally each year using 3D printing.

Some 90 percent of hearing aids now sold in the US incorporate customized shells produced by 3D printers.

The BCG report predicted that 3D-printed biomedical products would generate $5 billion in annual sales globally by 2020, with major growth coming in from clear aligners.

But the road is unlikely to be smooth. Healthcare presents barriers to adoption of 3D-printed products, said Christophe Durand, partner and managing director of BCG, in a research note.

Barriers include "the limitations of materials science; the high costs of 3D printing compared with the costs of traditional manufacturing processes such as injection molding, casting or milling; quality concerns; and the (low level of) acceptance by healthcare providers, payers, and patients".

Durand's advice for 3D printing firms is to actively engage in scenario planning, assess potential targets for mergers and acquisitions, and seek alliances with strategic partners.

Normally, the medical technology product cycle lasts three to five years from ideation to product. But it can take up to 15 years to develop a strong 3D printing platform. "To be competitive, companies must invest now," Durand said in the note.

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