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Coronavirus

Coronavirus spurs Terumo and Senko to make more heart-lung machines

Japanese medical equipment makers respond to government production subsidies

Japanese medical equipment maker Terumo plans to double its production capacity for heart-lung machines as demand for the devices surges, along with the number of coronavirus patients.

TOKYO -- Japanese medical equipment companies will increase production of heart-lung machines used to treat severe pneumonia, as they work to meet surging demand in response to the growing number of novel coronavirus infections.

Terumo, Japan's largest manufacturer of catheters, will increase its output of heart-lung machines, more than doubling its capacity over the next few months. At present, the company makes a little over 100 of the devices each year.

Tokyo-based Senko Medical Instrument, Japan's second-largest maker of the devices, has also decided to increase production.

The companies will operate at full capacity in response to the Japanese government's decision to provide subsidies to companies that increase production of ECMO machines.

Terumo and Senko Medical Instrument will step up production of the devices, called extracorporeal membrane oxygenators. These are used to treat patients with severe pneumonia who cannot breathe, even with the help of a ventilator. ECMO machines draw the patient's blood out of the body using a special tube, where it is supplied with oxygen and the carbon dioxide removed, then returned to the body.

ECMO machines are starting to be used for coronavirus patients with severe pneumonia. Japan's medical institutions had about 1,400 ECMO devices as of February.

Terumo, which controls 70% or so of Japan's ECMO equipment market, has requested component makers to increase their production. The company introduced a new shift at its factory that operates even on weekends as it gears up to meet the increase in demand.

Terumo is also preparing to increase the production of circuits used to connect to ECMO equipment. Terumo's share of this domestic market is nearly 70%; it produces about 10,000 units per year for domestic and overseas shipments.

Until now, domestic supplies have been sufficient, but Terumo decided to invest after demand from medical institutions increased.

Meanwhile, Senko Medical Instrument, which accounts for about 30% of Japan's ECMO market, will increase its annual production to a maximum of 80 units from the current 60.

Increasing production will only go so far, though. ECMO equipment operators must have advanced knowledge and skills to regulate oxygen flows while also monitoring a patient's heart rate. Securing professionals with this skill set will be an issue as the number of coronavirus infections grows.

Regulatory barriers also remain; businesses must gain government approval before entering the medical device manufacturing sector.

With the coronavirus crisis raging on, Japan will need flexibility as it attempts to produce the needed equipment while also maintaining safety protocols.

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