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[Korean Startup Interview] Medicaretec: Pioneering Advanced Surgical Devices for Global Market Expansion

2024-07-01 8 min read


[Korean Startup Interview] Medicaretec: Pioneering Advanced Surgical Devices for Global Market Expansion

Reading Time: 8 minutes

Sinusitis, a prevalent condition, is characterized by inflammation in the sinus cavities surrounding the nose. Sinus surgery, a long-established practice, is notoriously challenging, primarily due to the complex structure of the sinuses. These cavities, spread around the nose and eyes, each have unique anatomical features, necessitating specialized and intricately designed surgical tools. 

Tools for these procedures range from simple designs angled between 0 and 30 degrees to more complex ones bent between 70 and 90 degrees, and even some exceptionally difficult tools angled up to 120 degrees. However, South Korea’s health insurance applies a comprehensive payment system to sinus surgeries, which financially discourages surgeons from using a diverse array of tools. Moreover, changing tools of different angles during an operation is not only cumbersome but also inconvenient for surgeons.

Medicaretec has identified these challenges and developed a prototype called ‘FlexDeb.’ This device allows surgeons to adjust the tool’s angle easily during surgery, eliminating the need for multiple tools and thereby reducing costs. Named for its flexibility and the surgical equipment known as ‘Debrider,’ FlexDeb’s innovative design means that only one tool is required per surgery, significantly saving costs for hospitals and increasing the procedure’s speed for doctors. Additionally, FlexDeb incorporates an integrated endoscopic catheter in the blade, enhancing safety for surgeries at angles over 70 degrees and reducing the risks of repeat surgeries and medical accidents.

Jeon Han-yong, CEO of Medicaretec, believes that the need for flexible surgical tools like FlexDeb extends beyond otolaryngology. He envisions advancing FlexDeb’s technology to be applicable in various surgical procedures. 

Jeon completed his master’s and doctoral studies in mechanical engineering and has contributed to medical engineering research at several prestigious institutions, including the National Cancer Center, the Korea Institute of Science and Technology (KIST), and Gachon University Gil Hospital. From 2018 to 2020, he led the Healthcare Robot Research Group at KIST, culminating in the establishment of Medicaretec.

Recognizing his technological expertise and efforts, KIST facilitated the launch of Medicaretec as a tech-investment company in November 2020. It was also registered as the first research institute company in the ‘Hongneung Small but Strong Special Zone‘, a testament to its innovative potential. Currently, Medicaretec is a resident company at Seoul Bio Hub and benefits from various supports.

Jeon’s immediate goal is to extensively apply ‘FlexDeb’ in otolaryngology surgeries, but his ambitions do not stop there. He plans to launch subsequent products like otolaryngology surgery stents, real-time diagnostic and treatment devices for pneumothorax, and clamps for male urinary incontinence. He also aims to expand the application of FlexDeb’s flexible material technology to neurosurgical spinal equipment, orthopedic joint surgery equipment, and dental treatment devices.

Medicaretec collaborates with Kyung Hee Medical Center and Kangdong Kyung Hee University Hospital in Korea and is preparing joint research with the Mayo Clinic in the U.S. through a Confidential Disclosure Agreement (CDA). Additionally, last September, Medicaretec established a local corporation in Yantai, China, targeting the expansive Chinese market of 1.3 billion people.

As the ‘first research institute company’ in the Hongneung Small but Strong Special Zone, Medicaretec is poised to become another ‘strong small’ company representing Korea, with significant expectations for its future growth.

What problem is Medicaretec aiming to solve?

Our company’s mission is to develop medical devices that are both efficient and beneficial for both patients and doctors. Currently, our team is focused on improving the efficiency and safety of our flagship otolaryngology surgery device.

In typical sinus surgery, also known as sinusitis surgery, the procedure necessitates the continuous replacement of surgical tools, which range from 0 to 120 degrees in angle, to operate on sinuses located around the nose. This process is not only cumbersome but also time-consuming. Additionally, in Korea, where surgery costs are fixed under a comprehensive payment system, surgeons face restrictions on the use of numerous surgical tools, regardless of the need.

Furthermore, sinuses located in deeply curved areas are inaccessible to direct observation with an endoscope, increasing the risk of repeat surgeries and medical accidents. We are developing an innovative surgical device to address these challenges.

How does Medicaretec address this issue?

As a technology investment company of the Korea Institute of Science and Technology (KIST), Medicaretec has been collaborating with KIST since its inception to develop innovative technologies. Operating in the medical device sector, we also collaborate with doctors who use our equipment to create surgical devices that take into account the practical needs and usability in clinical settings.

Through this collaboration, we have developed a technology that eliminates the need to change surgical tools midway through a procedure and allows for the direct visualization of sinuses in highly curved areas. These innovations significantly enhance the efficiency and safety of surgeries.

What are Medicaretec’s competitive advantages and technological strengths over competitors?

The type of sinus surgery we focus on involves using endoscopic tools inserted through the nose to reach the sinuses, which are symmetrically located in three different areas of the human body, each requiring different surgical angles. Typically, this would necessitate using at least three different surgical tools.

However, the surgical tool developed by Medicaretec can freely bend from 0 to 120 degrees, allowing a single tool to access and operate on all sinuses effectively. Additionally, the integrated endoscopic catheter in the surgical tool enables direct visualization of sinuses bent up to 120 degrees, thereby enhancing surgical safety. This technology is expected to reduce surgery times, increase convenience for medical staff, and improve surgical efficiency and safety.

Moreover, our tools are made from shape-memory alloys, which can be easily returned to their original form by simply immersing them in water as hot as that from a water purifier during surgery.

What products/services does Medicaretec offer? What is the current status?

Currently, our surgical system includes a controller, foot pedal, handpiece, surgical blades, and our distinctive endoscopic catheter.

The prototype components, except for the endoscopic catheter, have been completed, and we are preparing for the official certification tests required for regulatory approval. These tests necessitate detailed product and technical documentation, which we are in the process of completing. Our goal is to launch our product in Korea by the end of this year, or at the latest, by the first half of next year.

The prototype of the endoscopic catheter has been completed and its usefulness validated through research publications, but further time is needed before it can be fully commercialized.

What is the target market size and key customer for Medicaretec?

The otolaryngology surgical device we are developing is utilized within a specialized field, making the market size relatively modest. Market research estimates the global market to be approximately 500 billion KRW, with an annual growth rate of around 3.7%.

Although the sinus surgery device market is not large, it includes disposable consumables, facilitating ongoing revenue generation. While no separate market study exists for the consumables, estimates based on surgery numbers suggest that consumable sales in the U.S. alone could generate around 500 billion KRW annually, with global sales potentially exceeding 1 trillion KRW each year.

Additionally, the surgical device we developed can be adapted for other surgeries. We are preparing modifications to enable its use in neurosurgical spine operations, orthopedic joint surgeries, and dental treatments.

Our primary customers are domestic and international hospitals that use this device in their operating rooms. This includes general hospitals and, more recently, clinics capable of conducting surgeries, which constitute our ultimate customer base.

What is Medicaretec’s business model?

Our business model integrates the sale of otolaryngology surgical devices with disposable consumables. We sell surgical devices to hospitals and supply consumables used during surgeries to generate steady revenue. We also plan to boost customer satisfaction and strengthen our market position by offering additional services like device maintenance and surgical training programs.

What are the achievements of the Medicaretec team so far?

From the outset, our company has been recognized for its innovative product ideas and technological expertise, securing a total of 500 million KRW in seed investment upon establishment.

We have also won encouragement awards at the first GraND-K, and secured the Reddot and IF Design Awards in 2021 and 2022, respectively. In 2022, we were selected among the top 20 companies in Asia at the Medtech Innovator, a global medical device startup competition.

Moreover, we have signed an MOU with Kangdong Kyung Hee University Hospital, and recently entered a CDA with the Mayo Clinic in the U.S. to pursue joint research and development.

What are the competitive strengths of the Medicaretec team?

Medicaretec is staffed by individuals with over 25 years of research, development, and production experience. Besides the CEO, two other members currently contribute to our efforts. CEO Jeon Han-yong earned his master’s and doctoral degrees in mechanical engineering, and has conducted R&D at the National Cancer Center, the Korea Institute of Science and Technology (KIST), and Gachon University Gil Hospital, and also served as the project leader for the KIST Healthcare Robot Research Group’s BioStar project.

Our research institute’s head previously worked at Samsung Electro-Mechanics, Samsung Electronics, and most recently, served as the head of research at Osstem Implant. Additionally, our senior hardware engineer has over 25 years of experience in hardware development at companies like SK Hynix and Motorola.

Both individuals bring a wealth of practical experience and expertise to their roles and will lead their respective teams. Currently, we are actively recruiting new team members to join us in tackling new challenges.

How has the Seoul Bio Hub program contributed to your company’s growth?

We have only been part of the Seoul Bio Hub program for about a month, so our experience with its offerings is limited. However, the environment is highly promising, as it brings together many biomedical companies, fostering potential synergies. The Hub is known for its continuous support through various beneficial programs, which we expect will significantly aid our company’s future growth and operations. We plan to participate extensively in these programs.

Why should we receive investment? Here are three compelling reasons:

Firstly, we boast innovative technology and strong market competitiveness. We have developed a revolutionary otolaryngology surgical device that enables performing all sinus surgeries with just one tool. This device also allows surgeons to directly view the surgical area, dramatically enhancing both convenience and surgical efficiency. We anticipate that this innovation will swiftly replace existing market alternatives.

Secondly, our team comprises seasoned professionals with over 25 years of experience in major corporations and specialized medical device companies. This wealth of experience positions us to successfully manage all aspects of commercialization, from product development to approval and mass production. Furthermore, our collaborations with esteemed institutions like KIST, Kyung Hee Medical Center, Kangdong Kyung Hee University Hospital, and the Mayo Clinic in the U.S. enable us to conduct product development, clinical research, and utility verification on both domestic and international stages, laying a solid foundation for our global market entry.

Thirdly, we have a clear business model and a sustainable revenue structure. Our model integrates the sale of surgical devices with the supply of disposable consumables, ensuring stable revenue generation. By offering additional services such as device maintenance and surgical training programs, we aim to increase customer satisfaction and enhance our market competitiveness. Our immediate goal is to launch our product in the domestic market, with plans to expand globally thereafter.

[Korean Startup Interview]

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