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Tracing the Rise of KingMed and its Future Route - A Correspondence with Hongbo Li
By Sonal Khetarpal
Edited by Sulastri Kamis

With one sixth of the world’s inhabitants residing in China and their rapid economic development in the global marketplace, it is not surprising that with time, even the healthcare sector has to catch up. Enter the KingMed Center for Clinical Laboratory, an Independent Medical Laboratory providing third-party medical diagnostic services to meet the rising demands of quicker, better and faster diagnosis. APBN finds out more about KingMed, the challenges faced as a first entrant into the industry and the future plans it has with regards to China’s moves towards health reformation.

APBN: What laboratory services does KingMed provide?

Li: In general, the KingMed Center For Clinical Laboratory provides what we call third-party service of medical diagnostic testing or detection, which classifies KingMed as an Independent Medical Laboratory (IML) or commercial laboratory. Specifically, KingMed’s services can be divided into four sections: (1)Medical diagnostic testing – testing samples from patients to obtain information regarding diseases; (2) Hygiene testing – examining the variety of samples from materials, products, environment and other resources to identify for poison, toxic or biological hazardous substances; (3) Clinical trials testing – offering specific services following the requirements from clients, in most cases, pharmaceutical companies, i.e. Contract Research Organization(CRO) services, which conducts clinical or experimental tests on new medicines or products and (4) Medical research service – utilizing KingMed’s technique platforms and academic expertise to offer hospitals, universities and research institutes services for scientific research.

APBN: Are these services different in any way from other IML's in China?

Li: It is no doubt that Medical diagnostic testing is the main core service of all IMLs in China and I believe that each IML has the ambition to expand the scope of their services. For instance, I know that Daan Gene, one of the leading IMLs in China, provides the Medical research service too but I am not aware of any other IMLs doing so. For Hygiene testing, KingMed is the only private laboratory that has obtained government authorization to provide that service. For the Clinical trials service, as the most profitable service amongst all offered by IMLs, which is the target every IML is fighting for, I am proud to say that in terms of the test items, service amount, income, and customer numbers, KingMed is far ahead of the others. In short, only KingMed has evolved into the four independent service sections and each of them has a significant amount of services accomplished.

APBN: Where do you see KingMed ten years from now?

Li: Where can KingMed be in ten years? It is a good question and also a difficult question to answer. However, before we can see what may happen in the future, I would like to look back what have happened in the past, because the future will be developed beyond the past, and the past is the mirror from which the future might be reflected.

KingMed was established in 1994 and now she is 18 years old; in my opinion, the 18-year history of KingMed could be divided into two phases: the first phase, from 1994 to 2005, what had been done basically happened in the inside of KingMed, although a lot of things has been accomplished in the period of 10 years, actually all those could be transformed into one achievement, i.e., creation of a workflow to generate high quality detection results; the second phase, from 2006 to present, KingMed has been expanding her “body”, i.e., establishment and operation of service network and after 8 years of hard work, it is almost done. Let me point out two examples to display the achievements from the two phases respectively: the world-class accreditation for laboratory quality management, including CAP, ISO15189 is representative of the first 10-year achievements and for the achievements obtained in the second phase, the well-establishment and successful operation of 19 branch laboratories covering most areas in China. In short, the past has laid great foundation for the future, so what I can see clearly in the incoming ten years are as follows:

  1. Achieving world-class laboratory quality management in the entire KingMed;
  2. Accomplishing the hierarchical structure of laboratory network with five levels of service laboratories will be built up: patient service centers, rapid response labs, primary testing labs, regional centralized labs, and headquarter testing center;
  3. Introducing and developing advanced diagnostic testing items to catch up with international leading laboratories, particularly increasing the portion of esoteric tests;
  4. Promoting the clinical-orientated testing service to help clinicians utilize KingMed’s services easily and effectively;
  5. Collaborating with world-class organizations and agencies, for instance, the College of American Pathologist (CAP), on behalf of CAP’s request to play more active and constructive roles in the internationalization of laboratory quality management in China.
APBN: What were the challenges faced in dealing with international clients and how were they overcome?

Li: Since KingMed just started services for international clients, mainly with CROs and services in Hong Kong, the involvements are still limited. However, in the future multi-language challenges might be more serious with the increase of international business. For such potential challenges, KingMed is preparing by various approaches, including recruiting staff with international background, employing personnel native to the area, and encouraging the young employee to learn different languages.

APBN: KingMed is one of the earliest commercial laboratories in China. How is it thriving in the current overly competitive market?

Li: I think the alterative way to ask this question should be “what is the backbone for KingMed to survive and develop?” I would like to” borrow” your word “commercial” to answer your question. Although the commercial lab is the nickname of IML, KingMed has established and operated by non-commercializing; in other words, KingMed always prioritizes the testing quality instead of earning profits. Looking at KingMed’s philosophy, one can see the reason: Quality, Integrity, Accountability, Innovation, and Collaboration; those are the key factors for KingMed’s success which also represent KingMed’s values.

APBN: Who are your chief competitors? What's your strategy to outcompete/collaborate with them?

Li: Next to KingMed, there are three other IMLs that have reached a comparable scale, but they are all at a similar level so that it is hard to say which one is the chief competitor. In some cities, two, three or more IMLs share or fight for the market, and a mechanism for collaboration among the IMLs does not exist yet. The strategy for KingMed to outcompete includes three items: emphasizing detection and service qualities, introducing new tests to achieve item superiority, and holding academic activities to keep and enhance a healthy relationship with clients. We believe that our strategies will work well.

APBN: Are China's regulatory policies for Chinese IML's different from foreign IMLs'?

Li: it is difficult for me to comment on it specifically because I personally did not make a comparison between the policies from different countries. In general, it is not easy in China to get approval for the establishment of an IML but the quality management and supervision are unlikely stringent enough. However, in the USA and European countries, the situation appears quite contrary to those in China.

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