Germany’s Siemens Healthineers has tied up with the Indian Institute of Science in Bengaluru on clinical research projects and to supply medical devices to the upcoming hospitals and medical schools associated with the institute. The two parties signed a related memorandum of understanding on Tuesday, according to Elisabeth Staudinger, a managing board member at the German firm. In a conversation with DH’s Dhanya Skariachan and two other reporters, she shed light on the German medical device maker’s plans for India. Edited excerpts.
How important is India in your larger scheme of things?
India is a very important location as well as market. In terms of location, it – especially Bengaluru – is the hub where we have (an) almost 3500-people strong software development team, where we also over the years have started building a manufacturing base. And we are now in this transition of further elevating the role of the team here in Bengaluru to become one of the key nodes in our global innovation network. So we are really moving to making Bengaluru one of the key places where we also innovate and work on the future for Siemens Healthineers, both in India as well as globally.
Does India have the potential to become a manufacturing hub for medical devices?
Already today, we have a first product which was entirely designed, developed, engineered and … built in India. We originally created this product to address the specific needs of the market in India. But in the meantime, we have started exporting that product. To me, this is a real success story and a good example of how by starting from kind of a focus on the specific needs of the market here in India, we can create global success stories.
Has India become a meaningful manufacturing hub for you already?
For India to be a meaningful manufacturing base, it’s extremely important to have a strong supplier ecosystem around you. If you ship all the parts here and assemble them here, it’s not really meaningful. It doesn’t bring a lot of cost savings. On the contrary, it may even increase cost and it also doesn’t create jobs for people in India. So it’s not a win-win type of setup and you can really create a win-win type of setup if, in addition to locating your own production manufacturing here in India, you also make sure you have as many parts that you need from your local supply base. And this is something which takes some time. This doesn’t happen overnight. But, step by step, we are building that ecosystem around us, which will allow us over time to further expand.
What fuels your optimism tied to the Indian market?
If you look at the metro areas in India, you have very good hospitals. Very, I mean, maybe sometimes difficult to afford for some patients, but the quality of care is excellent. If you go to more rural areas, yeah, even basic things sometimes are not there. And this is why we believe there is still a significant need to provide better access to care to people in India. And this also makes us very optimistic about the future market development here in the country.
How will you make healthcare services more accessible and affordable in India?
I’m actually quite confident here that we have very meaningful value products available, which can make a difference in these places. However, spending the money on putting a piece of equipment somewhere…is not really enough to be able to offer services to patients which make a difference. In order to do this, you need qualified staff, you need physicians, you need nurses, you need people who know how to diagnose a disease and to recommend them and follow up on a treatment. And this is where digitalisation really can make a difference. You can leverage digitalisation in many different ways. It starts from training people. It can be about providing the scanning service from a metro location (such) that you don’t need the specialised personnel on the ground here, which sometimes may be very difficult. So you can do things remotely. If you look at diagnostic information, be it lab results or imaging tests, the doctor who looks at the images can sit anywhere, right? If you use digital tools, you can send this information to wherever the expert is and send the diagnosis back. So digitalisation is a key enabler when it comes to providing better access to care.
Could you shed some light on your collaboration with IISc?
This morning, we had a meeting with the Indian Institute of Science, where we are also entering into closer collaborations to really capture this idea of creating an innovation hub here in Bengaluru. And in that context, there are also certain discussions around corporate social responsibility in the collaboration with IISc here in Karnataka, so it’s a bit of a different angle. But it’s also a way where we bring our expertise together with people here in the ecosystem who then multiply the impact together with us.
(IISc’s upcoming hospital on campus) will focus on not only training doctors, but it will also focus on this aspect of bringing science into medicine. So they want to develop programs where you have training as a medical doctor together with a PhD. And this is something which fits very well with who we are and how we work. So because we are the partners, to a certain extent, on the technological side. (We are) helping them with, kind of, building a strong research base, to go a bit beyond just providing medical services, but really look for pioneering healthcare.
How does India compare with China w.r.t. its position on the global healthcare map?
China may be a bit further down the road when it comes to really providing good access to healthcare to their populations. We are very optimistic about India. We do believe that the dynamics here in India, both in the economy, but also when it comes to providing better health care services will be positive over the next years to come. And this is also why we are now focusing here in India, investing here in India, building a manufacturing base, moving up the food chain, also in the software development work to becoming an innovation hub, because we believe that India, I mean, already today, it’s not small, but it will become an even more important element in our global network going forward.
What are the cutting-edge technologies you are heavily invested in right now?
There’s three pillars which make us unique. The first is what we call patient twinning. So this is our ability based on imaging, based on the blood testing, to enable a very early, very precise diagnosis, which then helps guide treatment. And this is extremely important. For the treatment to be effective, the better the diagnosis, the earlier the diagnosis, the cheaper it is to be treated, and the more effective the treatment will be. Then we have strengths when it comes to precision therapy. And this revolves around leveraging robotics, to guide therapy and make therapy ultra precise, which again, has significant benefits for patients. One really good example is in cancer therapy, where we provide the equipment that destroys tumours in the body. You use a very high energy radiation to do this. And this is harmful. You want to make sure that you only and very precisely only expose this part of the body which you want to treat, and that you spare everything else. So this is one area where we have absolute strengths and where we keep innovating because there is still a lot which can be improved. And these two pillars are all founded in our ability to work with digitalisation data, and artificial intelligence. And especially that pillar is enabled here by the work we do here in Bengaluru.
In 2020, you unveiled plans to invest ₹1,300 crore in an innovation hub in Bengaluru. Could you give us an update on where things stand now?
Tomorrow’s the groundbreaking ceremony for the investment we’re making here. The state-of-the-art facility, which is something we are really excited about, will bring together all the different disciplines we have in the company. We have our strong software development team, the innovation centre, the manufacturing footprint as well as our headquarters for India. So the people who work with customers here in India, who service our installed base in the country, everybody will be co located here in Bengaluru. And we believe that this will be a very interesting space, which can also drive innovation.
Are you planning to hire more people in India?
We have about 7000 employees in India, about half of those are based out of Bengaluru. We expect that we will add another 1800 people in the years to come. The building will be ready by 2025. Then, we will have the facilities to then, over time, add this additional headcount.