Japan plans to improve its competitiveness in biomedical engineering with the creation of a liaison panel involving government, medical and industry representatives, government officials revealed Saturday.

The panel aims to promote exchange between researchers at state universities, medical institutions and medical equipment manufacturers, and will hold its first meeting by the end of the month.

The government expects the panel to hold regular meetings and develop into a Japanese version of the Bioengineering Consortium, an organization created in 1997 under the U.S. National Institutes of Health with the aim of promoting biomedical research and development.

The panel will be comprised of representatives from the Science and Technology Agency and the Trade, Health, Education and Posts ministries, as well as from the medical and business communities, the officials said.

It will look into ways to make medical equipment more readily available by relaxing regulations that now ban researchers at state universities from taking part in private medical engineering projects or sharing patents on medical engineering equipment with businesses, they said.

The panel will also study the possibility of relaxing rules on government certification of medical devices so as to speed up medical engineering development, and will look at ways to promote medical equipment venture businesses, according to the officials.

It will also consider steps to bring domestic medical equipment certificates and regulations into line with those of other countries so as to promote trade, they said.

The medical equipment market was estimated at 1.9 trillion yen in terms of domestic shipments in 1998, a 150 percent increase over 1989, and this market is projected to grow in step with the aging of the nation’s population.

But with U.S. and European manufacturers highly competitive in image-sensing and bioengineering systems, steps to boost the domestic industry’s competitiveness are required, the officials said.

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