The Journal The Authority on Global Business in Japan


April 2014
Tackling the Lag
Group highlights global best practices in medicine
Custom Media

Much like the ACCJ itself, the chamber’s Healthcare Committee has a long history. Japan is one of many countries with universal healthcare but, according to William Bishop, the committee chair, “equal access may be the most distinguishing characteristic” of the local healthcare market.

“A coordinated approach to the government of Japan, members of parliament, and medical associations is critical,” said vice chair Bruce Ellsworth. This is because the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare looks to parliament for a long-term vision and relies on the advice of leading healthcare practitioners when making policy decisions. The ministry not only oversees approval of new drugs and medical technologies, and administers industry compliance, but also evaluates and determines new product pricing, among other charges.

The committee has 215 members, and acts as an umbrella for five subcommittees: Pharmaceutical, Medical Device & Diagnostic, Bioscience, Health IT, and Dietary Supplements. Each have a membership of between 55 and 95.

The role of the committee is to “highlight the value of evidence-based global best practices to provide better patient outcomes and more effective resource allocation,” according to Bishop.

There has been progress in shortening the lag in getting drugs and medical devices into the Japanese market, especially when compared with approvals in other developed countries.

The Healthcare Committee notes there is also a “practice lag.” Although this is not unique to Japan, it often occurs as new guidelines evolve and are adopted around the world.

The committee strives to make recommendations for “the adoption of evidence-based global best practices that are most likely to yield a significant positive impact,” Ellsworth explained.

In addition to its comprehensive advocacy efforts, the committee also provides ample opportunities for networking and information gathering. Between 12 and 15 speaker events are held annually, as well as a quarterly Working Meeting.

In 2013, the Healthcare Committee began collaborating with the European Business Council (EBC), which provides further chances for networking with key private and public sector participants in the medical sector. The partnership has also been very beneficial in terms of advocacy, Bishop commented.

The first ACCJ–EBC joint speaker event on April 2 will be titled “Japan Pharmaceutical Market Perspectives,” featuring Alan Thomas, director of client relations at IMS Japan K.K. The collaboration will also result in a Health Symposium this fall.

In addition to the joint speaker series, the 2014 ACCJ–EBC Healthcare Kickoff Planning Meeting was held on February 5, during which the partners “agreed to roll out a new Health Policy White Paper microsite and officially launch the ‘evergreen white paper’ initiative,” Bishop said.

The committee’s most recent luncheon, on February 21, was titled “Creating Shred Value by Reconceiving Products and Markets, Redefining Productivity in the Value Chain and Enabling Local Cluster Develop.” It attracted over 50 attendees.

Of all the Healthcare Committee’s events to date, committee leadership was unanimous in citing the lunch with Dr. Shinya Yamanaka, winner of the 2012 Nobel Prize in Medicine or Physiology, as the most successful. The Bioscience Subcommittee coordinated and co-sponsored the event.

Over 125 people attended the October 2013 presentation, at which Yamanaka described promising new applications of induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells.

“His humble style and emphasis on family, vision, and hard work resonated strongly with the audience. Yamanaka’s clever wit and sense of humor also kept the audience entertained and engaged throughout the talk,” Bishop said.

Looking ahead, the committee believes the rising frequency of homecare over clinic and hospital visits, as well as cost efficiency, will be driving issues, largely due to the rapidly aging population.

“It is now more important than ever for the government, healthcare practitioners, and private corporations in Japan to focus on promoting wellness and the prevention and early detection of chronic and infectious disease,” Ellsworth said.