KOCHI: Kerala is slowly emerging as a manufacturing hub for medical devices, thanks to a clutch of local entrepreneurs who have made the state their base for this highly advanced industry, which requires expertise in plastics and precision engineering, besides qualified engineers.
Industry insiders reckon Kerala is home to around 20 established medtech players with around Rs 7,350 crore in annual turnover. If small and medium enterprises (SMEs) are also considered, Kerala has nearly 60 registered medical device manufacturers — of the total 900 in the country — that contribute 20-25% of the total production in the country.
Some of the companies are leading players in their segments. Consider this: Thiruvananthapuram-based Terumo Penpol is India’s largest blood-bag manufacturer; Dentcare Dental Lab in Muvattupuzha is Asia’s largest producer of dental products; Kochi-based Agappe Diagnostics is India’s leading in vitro diagnostics company; NeST, also Kochi-based, is the original equipment maker (OEM) for many multinational corporations, including GE and Philips.
‘State can become medtech hub in one or two years with policy changes, autonomy’
Based in the state capital, central PSU HLL Lifecare, which specialises in blood transfusion and neo-natal care equipment, contraceptives, and surgical and healthcare products, reported a turnover of `500 crore in 2022-23.
Industries Minister P Rajeeve said Kerala accounts for around 20% of the medical device manufacturing in the country. The government aims to make it 50%. “The Thonnakkal Life Science Park and the expansion of medical device manufacturing companies in the state have benefited us. We also ensure support to the sector. The industrial policy outlines our aim to make the state a medical device manufacturing hub,” he said.
According to Thomas John, the MD of Agappe Diagnostics, Kerala contributes significantly to the Indian market. “The state has around 20 established companies in medtech sector. Highly skilled employees, technology and other factors make the state conducive for setting up the firms,” he said.
Balagopal Chandrashekar, the founder of Terumo Penpol, said there are several states with potential in the sector. “With just 7% of the total registered companies, Kerala accounts for around 20-25% of total output. The majority of the companies are small and medium enterprises with turnover in the range of Rs 50 crore to Rs 200 crore,” he said, adding that the numbers show that there is a flourishing medical device manufacturing sector in Kerala.
The industry is technology-driven, and Kerala has the required skilled professionals to drive growth. “Medical manufacturing is a sector that requires research and development. Kerala has it. Also, it is not very labour-intensive and requires skills, which we are blessed with. These factors make the state a better option to start a business,” added Thomas.
C Padmakumar, the special officer of the Kerala Medical Technology Consortium (KMTC), said companies can benefit from the experience and expertise of institutions like the Sree Chitra Tirunal Institute for Medical Sciences and Technology (SCTIMST) and other universities which are directly or indirectly involved in research in the field. “It helps in reducing imports and raising the quality of products,” he said.
Kerala has other facilities that can help manufacturing units flourish, says Balagopal. “Testing facilities, research institutions and the strong base of higher education institutions that do research in the field, besides the presence of manufacturing units are key to establishing medical devices manufacturing units. Also, the geographical character, topography, pattern of land colonisation, and the distributed and dispersed urbanisation patterns of Kerala can help,” emphasises Balagopal.
The government, too, has a role to play. “The establishment of KMTC with people from the medical devices manufacturing sector was a good move on the part of the government. However, there’s much more the government must do,” he added.
Various departments should come together to ensure the growth of the sector, stresses Padmakumar. “By making use of existing infrastructure, enabling collaboration between universities, industries, hospitals, and startups, and connecting them to global leaders, we can make the state a hub for medical devices manufacturing. KMTC is working towards realising the goal,” he said.
“Medical device industrial parks with ancillary units and supporting systems are required. It will help if manufacturers are provided land at cheaper rates with extended period for making payments and support for capital expenditure, such as long-term interest-free or low-interest loans, common warehousing facilities, and subsidies for power and water,” said Thomas.
“Policy changes, along with the efficient functioning of KMTC, with a certain amount of autonomy, will allow the state to become a hub within one or two years,” added Balagopal.