A Q&A with CEOs of Melody International and Abdul Latif Jameel Health on their exciting new partnership in perinatal care

Abdul Latif Jameel Health (through Abdul Latif Jameel General Trading Co., Japan) and Melody International announced an exciting new collaboration in October 2021 for the distribution of Melody’s innovative iCTG remote fetal monitor, a cloud-based mobile wireless fetal monitoring platform.

The partnership aims to address the lack of access to adequate fetal monitoring in some markets due to the limited availability of medical care and maternity physicians, or lack of access to primary healthcare facilities among geographically dispersed populations.  It will focus on selected markets in Asia, the Middle East, and Africa.

We caught up with Yhuko Ogata (尾形 優子), CEO of Melody International, and Akram Bouchenaki, CEO of Abdul Latif Jameel Health, to discuss the groundbreaking technology; the ambitions behind the collaboration and the opportunities they hope to explore together.

Could you provide a brief background on Melody International and its mission?

Yhuko Ogata (尾形 優子), CEO of Melody International holding the innovative iCTG remote fetal monitor.

YO: I established Melody International in 2015.  We are headquartered in Takamatsu City, Kagawa Prefecture, Japan.  It is the second business I have started.  In my first business, I successfully commercialized Japan’s first electronic medical records system for obstetricians and gynecologists.  As a result, I was awarded Best Smaller Enterprise Agency Director in the Japan Venture Awards 2009.

From then on, I have been consistently involved in the obstetrics and gynecology industry.  Obstetrics and gynecology are very challenging fields, particularly when it comes to pregnancy and births.  Obstetricians and gynecologists are always busy responding to emergencies; there is a shortage of doctors and there are high litigation risks.  At the same time, the number of at-risk pregnancies is increasing.

Using my experience of working with digital networks and medical ICT since its beginnings, Melody International set out to establish and commercialize a perinatal telemedicine platform to enable safe and secure deliveries around the world for expectant mothers.

It is based on Japanese technology developed in the mid-1970s by Prof. Kazuhiro Hara and Prof. Yasuhito Takeuchi.  They created a disruptive breakthrough on Doppler-based fetal monitoring with their ‘real time adaptive autocorrelation’ method.  This has since become the global standard method in this field, used in virtually all clinical fetal monitoring to date.  Our iCTG mobile fetal monitor – the smallest approved fetal monitor on the market – uses this same principle, and both professors are now advisors to Melody International.

Can you explain the iCTG mobile fetal monitor in simple terms?  Why is it innovative?

YO: iCTG is composed of two small devices.  One device measures the fetal heart rate, and the other measures  uterine contraction, based on the technology first developed by professors Mr. Kazuhiro Hara and Mr. Yasuhito Takeuchi.   

Melody InternationalBeing a fetus is like being on the top of Mount Everest: there is never enough oxygen.

In fact, pregnancy and childbirth are very risky activities.  

Thanks to this technology and the platform developed by Melody International, we have made it possible for both expectant mothers and medical personnel to know the condition of the fetus anytime, anywhere.  By using the iCTG fetal monitor, we can provide online medical services without the necessity for hospital visits.  All that is needed is an internet connection.

This is a huge advantage for mothers who may not have easy access to primary medical care.  This is particularly the case if the pregnancy is deemed a risky one requiring frequent monitoring.

In the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, it can also help reduced exposure to possible infection by reducing the need to attend busy hospitals.  In addition, in an emergency, or even a simple transport situation, fetal monitoring can be performed from an ambulance or evacuation center.

One of the key innovations of the iCTG is that, despite its size, it has the same functionality as larger and more expensive fetal monitoring machines.  Until now, such devices were available only inside the hospital environment and used by trained personnel, but iCTG’s portability allows it to be used at any location and its intuitive design means that even non-medical personnel can use it easily.

The system is affordable, portable, convenient, and paperless, sending data to the tablet display or smart devices.  The transducer’s weight is similar to a smartphone and one hour’s charge provides up to 6 hours of monitoring capability.

Has the iCTG been approved for use on patients?

YO: Yes, the iCTG is already approved by the Pharmaceuticals and Medical Devices Agency (PMDA) of Japan, and for ISO13485.  It has also been approved in Thailand, Myanmar and Bhutan, and we are currently preparing for application of the US FDA.  Obtaining international approvals such as these will enable us to take our remote fetal monitoring service to those global markets and B2C markets where it is most needed. 

Training top use the Melody International iCTG in Thailand (Photo credit © Melody International)

What attracted you to the collaboration with Abdul Latif Jameel Health?

YO:  We respect the work the Jameel Family have been doing in investing in the infrastructure of people’s lives over many decades, through both Abdul Latif Jameel and Community Jameel. In fact, this year is Abdul Latif Jameel’s 75th anniversary, I believe.  From its automotive roots, Abdul Latif Jameel has diversified and expanded globally with interests in sectors including energy, water, finance, real estate, and now health.

Abdul Latif Jameel Health was established to help address the continuing disparity in global healthcare access, especially in the developing world, and builds on the Jameel Family’s work with MIT in the US, in particular the Jameel Clinic, and with the Jameel Institute at Imperial College in London

The mission of Abdul Latif Jameel Health, exemplified by these strategies and partnerships, is very much in line with our own.  Through our new collaboration, we can bring our advanced technology to a wider population, reducing risk and saving lives across the globe.

How does Melody International fit into the mission and vision of Abdul Latif Jameel Health?

Akram Bouchenaki
Akram Bouchenaki
CEO, Abdul Latif Jameel Health

AB: We are confident this innovative and intuitive monitoring system will be of great value in accelerating accessibility to perinatal monitoring and improving outcomes for millions of expectant mothers.

In particular, there are three facets to our partnership and to the way that both Melody International and Abdul Latif Jameel Health are working towards a shared vision.

  1. The mission of Abdul Latif Jameel Health is to act as a bridge to accelerate access to healthcare innovation in parts of the world that would not otherwise benefit from these innovations. Or at least, markets where the innovations would take much longer to reach.  Our collaboration with Melody fits perfectly into this ambition.
  2. Our vision is to address unmet medical needs. We believe the iCTG fetal monitoring device addresses the fundamental unmet need of increasing the safety of pregnancy for millions of women.  The markets that Abdul Latif Jameel Health focuses on have some of the highest birth rates in the world.  For example, the annual birth rate in Nigeria alone is greater than the combined annual birth rate for all of Europe.  So, there is a strong necessity to address these unmet needs, and by doing so, we can make a huge impact.
  3. Another element of our mission is to use innovative technologies to help improve capabilities in the healthcare systems of the countries we operate in. With the iCTG device, there is an opportunity to do exactly that; to mutualize resources and make sure that even remote locations can benefit from quality care and quality follow-up.

This is why we see this partnership as such an exciting one that fits perfectly with our mission and our vision.

Can you elaborate on the nature of your collaboration?

YO:  Our collaboration aims to expand the distribution of the iCTG model fetal monitor across the Middle East, Africa, and Asia.

The Middle East and Africa, in particular, are a long way from Japan, and Melody has no established networks there.  Abdul Latif Jameel has been developing business in the region for over 75 years, with a corporate philosophy of confronting global social issues that matches the corporate philosophy of Melody.  I am confident our partnership will be a successful one.

AB: We see this partnership as a very important relationship, as it touches upon a vital unmet medical need and will bring such a valuable service to people.

Melody’s device is superior to anything currently available in that it can provide highly accurate perinatal care anytime, anywhere, regardless of the medical infrastructure.  In some parts of the Middle East and Africa, the necessary medical care is not yet in place, and both fetal and maternal mortality rates remain high.  We believe that spreading our products in these regions will give everyone access to healthcare and significantly reduce mortality.

We are thrilled to be collaborating with such a dedicated organization as Melody, with a track record of breakthrough innovation, leveraging our combined knowledge, expertise and resources to benefit millions of people.

How will your collaboration help both organizations to achieve your objectives?

YO:  During the COVID-19 pandemic, it has been shown that the risk of infection is reduced by avoiding close contact between people, especially in healthcare settings, where the risks would be higher.  With its remote monitoring functionality, the iCTG enables high quality medical to be provided without close contact between the healthcare professional and the expectant mother.  Melody’s remote fetal monitoring platform is built on proven technology and robust data, and it is recognized as a very reliable product.  As this pandemic is not over yet and the virus will be with us for years to come, we want to get this message out as soon as possible to help save lives and improve care.

Abdul Latif Jameel Health can help us achieve this in key markets.

AB: We operate in countries where natality is very high, such as Niger in the Sahel region, where the birth rate can be up to seven children per woman, for example.  This is much higher than any Western country and is a useful indicator of the scale of need for this product and the impact it can have.  Not only in terms of the device itself, but also in training local healthcare professionals and helping to improve the local healthcare system. 

It also fits well within our portfolio of healthcare products and services, such as Cellspect, another innovative Japanese company, which has developed a portable point-of-care testing (POCT) device.  Innovations like these will enable us to have real and long-term impact in markets where it is most needed.

What are the biggest challenges you expect to face?

AB:  There is not a clearly identifiable ‘single’ set of universal challenges that we need to address.  Every country, every region, every population and every medial infrastructure environment will pose its own unique challenges, such as the regulatory frameworks or the capacity of the healthcare system to leverage new technologies.  But we expect this, and we are ready and able to adapt our approach for the needs of the different markets in order to realize the maximum possible benefits.

What’s next for Abdul Latif Jameel Health?

AB:  Our mission continues: to build strong partnerships, such as the one with Melody, to form a portfolio of tools and technologies that will work well together and, over time, contribute to an improvement in the quality of healthcare available to people in currently under-served markets.

We’ve seen some of the serious challenges that have faced global healthcare systems during the pandemic.  We expect many of these challenges will be even more acute in the developing world.  But we believe that the opportunities we are bringing, together with our partners, will greatly help to address these.

When do you hope to make the iCTG mobile fetal monitor available in your target markets?

AB:  We are already talking to our Abdul Latif Jameel colleagues in Japan, as well as our partners at Melody, with the ambition of getting the product out to our markets in the next few months.  The product is ready, it is already being used.  Next, we need to build the most effective distribution channels to get it into the hands of healthcare providers.  This is something we are working on right now.