Sakura seeks to advance cancer diagnostic technologies

The 400-year-old company is working with partners in the U.S. and Europe to advance cancer diagnostics, putting itself on the front of the global battle against the ever-prevalent disease

The Meiji Period, from 1868 to 1912, is one of the defining eras of modern Japan. It was during this period that the nation underwent its own industrial revolution, and began to catch up with the West in terms of technology and industrialization. It was also during this period that the field of medical equipment manufacturing began to take off in Japan, which lead to companies like Iwashiya – a wholesale drug supplier at the time with origins dating back to the 1600s – to enter into this new lucrative industrial sector.

The company went from strength to strength, and in 1907, became Sakura (“cherry blossom”). Today, Sakura Global Holding Company is one of the world’s leading suppliers of medical and surgical instruments, operating through its core subsidiaries, Sakura Seiki Company, and Sakura Finetek Group (Sakura Finetek Japan, Sakura Finetek USA and Sakura Finetek Europe). Sakura Group’s business is currently divided into two main business lines: cleaning and sterilization equipment and cancer diagnostic technologies (pathology and cytology).

Chairman and CEO, Kenichi Matsumoto is the 17th generation of the Matsumoto family to run the medical company. Now approaching 80 years old, Mr. Matsumoto was the one that brought the company global back in the 1960s, a pioneering move for a chuken kigyo (the Japanese expression for a strong, medium-sized firm) at the time. The CEO’s international travels in the 60s and 70s to break the business into new markets really paid off: today, half of Sakura’s sales revenues come from overseas, particularly for the pathology and cytology business.

“Sakura’s globalization strategy, is summed up in two words – global niche – to really globalize in a specific niche business,” he says. “And what is essential about this global niche is that the health care business is extremely vast and a multi-billion-dollar industry. This idea of really focusing on a single field and becoming an expert within it enables us to be more competitive in our prices and we are also able to capture more of the market share, in fact over 50 percent of it.”

With cancer set to become a more prevalent problem over the coming decades, Sakura’s role in providing innovative cancer diagnostic technology will become all the more vital, particularly in developing economies, where lifestyle changes will lead to much higher rates of the disease.

Kenichi Matsumoto, Chairman and CEO, Sakura Global Holding Co.

Kenichi Matsumoto, Chairman and CEO, Sakura Global Holding Co.

“In terms of pathology and cytology, we need to develop more efficient diagnostic technologies. We are collaborating with other firms in the U.S. and Europe to advance Japanese technologies,” explains Mr. Matsumoto.

“I’m convinced that we can create the technology that will advance and enhance cancer diagnosis as well. Right now, the Japanese Ministry of Health is carrying out a home health care program to counter and respond to the aging population, where they do not necessarily always have to go to the doctor or to the hospital for the different scans or tests. We are trying to enhance that part for cancer diagnosis.”

Aside from his role in the 400-year-old family business, Mr. Matsumoto is also active in the sphere of public health, and has been chairman of Ometa, a non-profit organization, for 23 years. As Ometa chairman, he traveled to Central Asia in 2015 with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. Mr. Matsumoto signed an MOU on the establishment of a medical device information center in Uzbekistan to be funded by Japan.

“Even when I do go to different countries to establish these centers, it’s all my volunteer work,” adds Mr. Matsumoto. “I am close to 80 years old now, and I’ve been travelling the world with this great vision.”

Mr. Matsumoto will someday pass the torch to the next leader of the company, whom he hopes will continue his vision and incredible work in both the public and private spheres of global healthcare.

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Jonathan Meaney

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