With a mission to help OSA (obstructive sleep apnea) patients lead a normal life, Dr Chen, Chung-Chu, founder of Somnics, Inc, voyaged his journey from an engineer to entrepreneur. Electronics For You connected with him to find out his inspiration behind starting his company, its pioneering product and their India plans.
Q. Since when has Somnics, Inc. been in business and what exactly does it specialise in?
A. Somnics, Inc. was established at Hsinchu Biomedical Science Park, Taiwan in 2011.
There is a long, long story of why I started my business. I myself am a severe OSA (obstructive sleep apnea) patient with AHI (Apnea-Hypopnea Index) over 40, and it took me more than 20 years to find a therapy that worked for me.
I started CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure). However, I could not tolerate the pressure, the high flow, the mask, and the loud and bulky machine and almost gave up initially just like many other CPAP rejecters.
In 2006, I went back to Taiwan and worked at the Medical Electronics and Device Technology Center of ITRI (Industrial Technology Research Institute) where I got the chance to develop a whole new therapy theory using intraoral negative air pressure, iNAP, which treats the OSA differently and oppositely comparing to CPAP.
Then in 2008, I joined the Stanford-Taiwan Biomedical Fellowship (STB) as a medical device fellow at Stanford University School of Medicine. I learned medical device innovation and commercialization in the Biodesign Program. I transformed myself from an engineer to an entrepreneur during the program.
Q. Can you share highlights of iNAP?
A. When people sleep, the muscles in the upper airway relax. If they relax too much, it may cause stop breathing. This is obstructive sleep apnea. And if this lasts for 10 seconds, it will cause the brain to wake up, which means the patients wake up feeling unrefreshed in the morning, become increasingly tired and often sleepy during the day.
Currently, most physicians use CPAP as a mainstream therapy for OSA patients, but about 50 per cent of patients quit CPAP due to inconvenience.
Comparing to CPAP, iNAP Sleep Therapy System is an innovative, comfortable, effective and easy to use alternative therapy to treat OSA. The iNAP One therapy device uses “intraoral negative air pressure” that treats the problem differently and without a mask: it delivers a light, oral vacuum to comfortably open the airway while breathing normally through the nose during sleep.
Q. How do you define your product category to customers?
A. Our product category could be “respirator” or on a broader view, “sleep healthcare”. Our mission is to provide innovative solutions and support which are patient-centred and user-friendly, to build a healthcare ecosystem that satisfies the unmet needs of patients and physicians for comfort and restful sleep.
Q. What is the USP (unique strength) of iNAP that sets it apart from other similar products/solutions?
A. The system has a soft, flexible oral interface that enables excellent wearing comfort; it’s quiet battery-powered console with a smartphone size makes it ultra-portable in any situation.
The major advantages of iNAP Sleep Therapy System including:
- Natural Breathing
- Portable and Rechargeable
- Discreet and Quiet
- Excellent Wearing Comfort
- Digital Healthcare
Q. Can you share some details about Somnics’ leadership team?
A. Most of the Somnics, Inc. management team members are my colleagues from ITRI of Taiwan. The Somnics leadership team conducted all the research and development, clinical studies, regulatory approval, and volume production. They are all R&D elites with PhD scholarships and worked out the original iNAP patent along with me.
Q. What percentage of your annual revenue is for exports (outside Taiwan and Mainland China)? Which are the top nations you export to?
A. According to our year 2020 annual revenue, around 30 per cent is from export to Hongkong, Singapore, Thailand, Australia, Italy, Greece, Germany and the US.
Q. Have you been doing business with India? Do you have plans to set up operations in India any time soon?
A. We do not yet have our business in India but we do have plans to set it up in the future, and that’s why we joined the Taiwan EXPO India. We are looking forward to gaining attention from people who are looking for some innovative and effective solutions for OSA in India through such events and market communication.
Q. Why do you think this product is the right match for the Indian market?
A. According to a 2019 worldwide study from The Lancet Respiratory Medicine suggests that 936 million individuals between the age of 30-69 may have mild-to-severe OSA (AHI≥5), including 425 million with moderate-to-severe OSA (AHI≥15). Countries with the highest numbers of OSA individuals were China, followed by the U.S., India, and Brazil; rounding out the top 10 were Pakistan, Russia, Nigeria, Germany, France, and Japan.
This means, in India, there is quite a potential need for OSA treatment. We believe that iNAP should be the best alternative therapy for CPAP rejectors. iNAP is not for everyone; however, for most customers who suffered from OSA, iNAP treatment can be a life-changing thing. Allowing more OSA patients to be diagnosed and treated and live better lives is our mission.
Q. Besides B2B Customers, are you also looking for agents (distributors, channel partners, etc) in India too? Any specifications that you would like them to meet with, for them to apply as a partner to you?
A. Yes, we are looking for a sole agency partner for the iNAP brand in the Indian market, preferably sleep medical device/respirator agents in India market; better with CPAP experiences, distributors/dealers with medical device marketing licenses in the Indian market, sleep center/clinic which provides diagnosis and treatment for sleep apnea.
Q. Those interested in being your agent—whom should they contact?
A. Our Sales Manager Jason Tsai, who is in charge of the Southern Asia region, is the one to be contacted by those who want to discuss the iNAP India market business.
Email ID: [email protected]
Q. What is your target of growth in the near future and on a global operation where does India feature in your plans?
A. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, we put our international efforts into conducting multicenter clinical trials in Germany and the USA to collect data for the US market clearance. We completed the pivotal study last year and received the FDA 510(k) in mid of 2020.
Besides Taiwan TFDA and USA FDA approval, iNAP Sleep Therapy System also got medical device certifications in Europe, Singapore, Indonesia, Thailand, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Israel, and Australia. We believe in the next few years iNAP will be available to all these countries through the sleep telemedicine platform we are going to launch in the USA sooner this year.
To Somnics, the Indian market has high potential with probably the 3rd largest potential OSA patient population. It is one of our most important target markets into which a lot of effort has been put. People will soon see our gradual moves in India because it has been echoed to the New Southbound Policy of Taiwan industry in our future business strategy.
Q. Any special packages or offers planned for Indian agents or B2B customers?
A. Currently, the retail price of the whole set of the standard iNAP One model is more than USD 900 per set, which is almost three times higher than the average price of a first-line CPAP device in India. With such a price range and product positioning, we don’t think there will be much of an advantage for iNAP to be accepted in the Indian market.
To fix this problem, Somnics is now developing a new iNAP version with improvements, which aim to provide a cost-saving new model but still keep iNAP negative air pressure major function. We believe such a revision will be ready by the end of next year, and such a product could benefit people who have been frustrated with first-line sleep therapies and are looking for some new solution for OSA.