Medeon Biodesign, Inc.
Boldly Bridging Research and Industry
Biomedical R&D is like a relay race that begins with great ideas and courage. Yue-Teh Jang chose to concentrate on the front end of the development chain – the riskiest area – to nurture good ideas into medical equipment that helps society.
Boldly Bridging Research and IndustryBy Judy Lin
From CommonWealth Magazine (vol. 533 )
For Yue-Teh Jang, a man that National Science Council Minister C.Y. Cyrus Chu called the "grand monk" of biotechnology, agreeing to answer the government's call in 2011 and returning to Taiwan to raise money for the Taiwan Medtech Fund (TMF), was quite an ordeal.
The timing could not have been worse, as the National Development Fund tightened up its purse strings in the wake of the European debt crisis, torpedoing fundraising efforts. Last July, while waiting for a flight at Taoyuan International Airport to depart Taiwan and return to the United States, Jang received a phone call.
The man on the other end of the line was Rongjin Lin, chairman of TTY Biopharm. Lin implored Jang to stay on in Taiwan and finish the job, or to accept a more radical proposal and get on board an investment of his in biotech equipment development that posed even greater risk with even lower odds for success.
"At the time, we only had a concept, but no business plan," recalls Jang, who had had more than his share of government red tape. Lin Rongjin and Hong-Jen Chang, chairman of the YFY Biotech Management Company and the man in charge of the conglomerate's venture capital efforts, got Jang on the phone and reeled him in with a figure of US$15 million. "It was so dramatic, like a sworn pact between blood brothers," he recalls.
Biotechnology R&D consists of theoretical development, test production, and clinical testing, plus obtaining state approval before going to market. In some ways the process resembles a relay race. Although Taiwan produces world-class biomedical papers, a wide chasm spans the territory between theses and the industry. Traditionally, venture capital interests were only willing to invest in the low-risk later phase of development or products with lower technological barriers.
Yet Yue-Teh Jang's Medeon Biodesign, Inc. has chosen to invest at the front end of the development chain to nurture good ideas into products. Moreover, they are going directly after the most tightly regulated area, the highest-risk Class III medical equipment used in minimally invasive cardiovascular surgery, internal medicine and osteopathic procedures.
"Compared to him, I'm like an elementary school student," offers Lin Rongjin, who departed from his customary insistence on overseeing everything to let Jang take the helm.
'Soft needle' Benefits Hundreds of Millions
Jang began pursuing an interest in medical equipment and treatment methods while a junior at National Tsing-Hua University, where he received a degree in material science. This led him to doctoral work in material science at the University of Utah in the United States.
Jang was one of the originators of the "soft needle" over a hundred million people use each day.
Thirty years ago, while a freshly minted graduate working at a medical supplies company in Salt Lake City, he observed that patients with thinner arteries receiving IVs were more susceptible to arterial wall damage if the needle tip was too hard. This caused much anguish and pain, but needles that were too soft could not penetrate the skin.
This led him to thinking that, if the tip of the needle could be as hard as metal when pricking the skin, but become as pliable as dough as soon as it comes in contact with blood, it could provide a possible remedy.
When he found a polyurethane co-polymer that softens upon coming into contact with the warmth of blood he had the piece needed to invent the soft needle. Seeing how he could contribute to humanity's betterment inspired Jang to dedicate his career to medical equipment research and development.
Jang subsequently headed up several small startup companies as chief executive, where he established good relations with venture capital firms. This attracted interest from the US-based Vertical Group, which recruited him as a partner and set him on the path to a career in venture capital.
Unlike other VC firms, Yue-Teh Jang's Medeon is equipped with full development capacities.
Located in an office building off the main road in Taipei's Shilin District, Medeon's laboratory dominates the premises.
There, young research engineers attentively handle microscopes and surgical implements, getting together from time to time to discuss solutions. Surrounded by white walls, with full-length windows separating the conference room and office space, it has the feeling of a hospital.
Jang explains that according to Medeon's business model, autonomously developed medical equipment must pass assessments for market potential, patent approval, difficulty of legal approvals, and national health service coverage in order to calculate an investment figure. The firm will both commercialize and license its products to generate royalties.
If outside inventors with an original idea come to Medeon seeking collaboration, the company will set up a new subsidiary with Medeon in charge of operations. Following technical appraisal the inventor receives technology shares and becomes a company shareholder.
Overseeing Total Personnel Training
Some of Jang's young staffers come from research NGOs, whilst some have given up stable professorships, not wanting to "write up summary reports" for the rest of their lives.
The demands on Class III invasive medical equipment are high. Taiwan lacks sufficient facilities and experience, as well as various personnel. Consequently, Jang is compelled to lead the young people through a complete course of training.
Jang always tells them, "Imagine that the first patient to use your product is your own mother. Unless you have that level of confidence, I won't allow it to be used by patients. It will never make it out of the building."
Once, with a menacing typhoon on the way, a staff member stayed at the lab until one in the morning so as not to delay animal testing scheduled for the next day, impressing Jang with the dedication and professionalism of Taiwan's young people.
A devout Christian who decided to return to Taiwan at the age of 60, Jang says a major motivation in life is using the strength God provides him to satisfy society's needs.
Now, this internationally renowned figure in the medical equipment field is prepared to dedicate his art to Taiwan.
Translated from the Chinese by David Toman