Japanese trading house Mitsui & Co. plans to increase fivefold its investments in medical startups over the next three years, with a focus on Southeast Asian companies, Nikkei has learned.
The company hopes to invest JPY 10 billion (USD 68 million) in the years to March 2026 into startups that are developing cutting-edge technologies, particularly in the prevention of lifestyle-related conditions and their treatments, including home remedies.
Mitsui has not revealed any details but Taisuke Futamata, assistant vice president at one of its units that looks into healthcare-related startups, said the trading house wants to capitalize on the rising demand, particularly in Southeast Asia.
“In addition to having IHH as a footing, Asia has a large gap between demand and supply of high-quality medical care,” Futamata said in a recent interview with Nikkei, referring to Malaysia’s IHH Healthcare.
One of the largest hospital groups in Asia, IHH has approximately 80 hospitals in 10 countries, with most in Malaysia, Singapore and India. The group has 6 million outpatients a year and medical data of 30 million patients. Mitsui invested in the company in 2011 and is now the largest shareholder with a stake of just under 33%.
IHH aims to improve processes for patients by analyzing vast amounts of patient data, from the first point of visit to diagnosis, hospitalization, treatment, discharge, and prognosis. Mitsui is working with IHH to devise technological solutions for each of those stages.
An example is the medical testing kit made by Singapore’s Mirxes, another company that Mitsui has invested in as a shareholder in the company’s latest fundraising round.
Mirxes is the first company in the world to commercialize a technology for the early detection of gastric cancer using microRNA, which is inside the bloodstream of cancer patients.
Conventional tests such as tumor markers require specimens to be sent to one of a few dedicated analysis facilities. With the new technology, it is possible to analyze specific microRNAs in blood using PCR equipment—used widely to test for COVID-19—and significantly reduce the cost of testing to USD 80 to USD 100, from a couple of hundred dollars. IHH’s Singapore hospitals are using those test kits.
Demand for health care services in Southeast Asia is increasing as lifestyle-related diseases rise. German research company Statista expects Southeast Asia’s healthcare market to expand 50% from now to USD 2.7 billion by 2027.
On the other hand, there is a shortage of medical facilities and specialized staff. Mitsui believes that technology can plug this gap.
Mitsui is not the only Japanese trading house interested in the industry. Marubeni took a stake in June in Singapore-based Ranelagh, a leading online healthcare service provider in Indonesia. Sumitomo Corp. is also teaming up with a Singapore company to expand its business in Southeast Asia’s medical industry by offering health and medication instruction programs and an app that provides information about medical institutions.