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Home > Tech Reiews > Emerging Technology Report
Emerging Technology Report #19: August 22, 2002

Recent MEMS Market Trends in Japan

- Summary -

Global Emerging Itechnology Institute

In Japan, policy measures have been implemented since the late 1990s in order to strengthen university-industry collaboration and to encourage the creation of start-up companies based on university research. Yet the number of MEMS start-ups is still fairly limited, and large firms continue to play a key role in ongoing R&D and are playing a key catalyst role in the commercialization of MEMS technology.

Currently, electronics giants are aggressively advancing into the biomedical field. Electronics manufacturers see enormous growth potential in the convergence of microelectronics and the tools and devices for drug discovery and diagnosis. The significant potential of the use of genomic information for drug discovery, diagnosis and treatment of patients, as well as the rapidly aging Japanese population, are driving large firms to go after the medicine, biotechnology and healthcare sectors for business development. Also, there is an elevated interest among well-established companies in teaming up with US start-ups for product development and distribution. Recent examples include:

- Hitachi, Ltd. offers a wide range of services including DNA sequencing, SNP discovery and genotyping, gene expression analysis, protein functional analysis, and bioinformatics. In August 2000, Hitachi and Nanogen, Inc. of California entered into a long-term collaboration for the development, manufacturing and distribution of products based on Nanogen's and Hitachi's proprietary technologies. Hitachi also develops and markets proprietary electrophoresis microchips and systems.

- Analytical equipment suppliers are conducting research and development of microchip-based systems. Olympus Optical Co., which offers a variety of analytical services of genomic information to the medical and healthcare industries through its subsidiary NovusGene, developed an optical DNA assay system integrating micromachined PCR (polymerase chain reaction) module and free-flow module.

- Shimadzu Corp. has established a strategic global business unit called Shimadzu Biotech to offer a wide range of key products covering technologies from DNA sequencing to high performance mass spectrometry. Shimadzu Biotech has formed a partnership with Boston-based startup GenoMEMS to commercialize an ultra-fast automated DNA sequencer in the second quarter of 2003.

Japanese companies are aggressively participating in the wide-spread global growth of BioMEMS development and it is expected that they will continue to utilize their comparative advantage in precision manufacturing and electronics in order to enhance the potential to create lucrative markets for drug discovery tools and advanced medical devices.

On the pubic funding side, recognizing the importance and potential of lab-on-a-chip technology, the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) has initiated a 5-year program to support research and development in this field. The program has three major goals to achieve: 1) development of "microchemistry plant" technologies (i.e. technology development for building blocks such as micro reactor, micro mixer, micro heat exchanger, micro separator, etc.); 2) technology development for microchip systems such as an environmental monitoring system, high-speed screening system, and multi-stage synthesis system; and 3) integration and systematization of microchemistry process technologies. The Ministry has allocated 810 million yen (US$6.7 million) for this program in fiscal 2002. METI is currently soliciting companies who will participate in the 5-year R&D program.

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