By Patricia Mirasol  

Biopharma (or pharmaceuticals manufactured by biotechnology methods) and medical technology (medtech) are the biggest healthcare investment opportunities in the Asia Pacific region, according to investment experts from the region.  

“I’m excited by opportunities in biopharma. It’s attracted a lot of capital with a lot of innovation coming in… That’s the biggest opportunity in Asia over the next several years,” said Vikram Kapur, partner and Asia Pacific (APAC) Healthcare Practice head of Bain & Company, a global consultancy, in an Oct. 28 webinar on the topic.  

In 2020, healthcare investors in APAC deployed $16.9 billion dollars of capital, up from $11 billion the previous year, as per Bain & Company’s 2021 report. The biopharma sector secured over half of this capital, with 86 deals in 2020 as compared to 28 in 2019. 

Among the firms that snagged biopharma investments were China- and South Korea-based ones developing CAR (Chimeric antigen receptor) T-cell therapy, a treatment that changes immune cells in the lab so they can seek and destroy cancer cells.  

Healthcare, Mr. Kapur said, is almost like the next national defense. A lot of nations now have universal healthcare, with regulations that now exist to support telemedicine and digital health. 

This is a situation where “turbulence attracts capital,” Mr. Kapur told the webinar audience. “I’m hopeful the trend continues.”  

For Johnson & Johnson Innovation, the venture capital arm of Johnson & Johnson, a pharmaceutical company, a key criterion for supporting an innovation is its transformational aspect.  

“[We look for those] that might change the standard of care and… shift to a framework that is viable to future needs,” said Andrew Wong, Johnson & Johnson Innovation APAC’s regional vice-president for Early Innovation Partnering. An analogy between incremental versus transformational, he added, would be coming up with a better candle versus coming up with a lightbulb.  

One medical technology application Johnson & Johnson Innovation has bet on is the MONARCH Platform. Developed by California-based Auris Health, Inc., the system uses robotics, software, and endoscopy to help doctors view – and get a tissue sample from – a patient’s lungs.  

As with any type of business, execution is key. 

Technology will not walk itself out of the lab, said Simone Song, founder and senior partner of ORI Capital, a Hong Kong-based venture capital firm with a focus on healthcare innovation.  

“The skills required to run a company are different from the skills required to be great at a lab,” she said at the Oct. 28 virtual event. “We look at the quality of the team, the shareholders, and the investors… If the science is there, if the team is there, that will make me jump [at the opportunity].”