ASTANA – The establishment of the IHT Central Asia factory, which produces coronary stents and balloons, represents a significant step in the medical industry development and medical technological progress in Kazakhstan and Central Asia, said Seitzhan Sypabekov, head of the Galamat Group medical holding, in an exclusive interview with The Astana Times.
Iberhospitex S.A. and Galamat Integra (part of the Galamat Group) established the IHT Central Asia factory in Kazakhstan to manufacture medical equipment for interventional treatments. The factory, which is unique in the country, contributes to the local expansion of high-tech medical device production.
“As a vascular surgeon, I was always interested in this topic. In 2017, we started looking for a distribution partner to import high-coronary stents to Kazakhstan. I participated in the exhibition in Düsseldorf (Germany) where I met representatives of the Iberhospitex company,” recalled Sypabekov.
Despite having no experience in stent production or sales, Sypabekov and his colleagues conducted a thorough market analysis, identifying competitors and challenges encountered by doctors during medical procedures. This information was submitted to Iberhospitex in Barcelona, where the company offered distribution cooperation from the Kazakh side.
“We achieved good results during our collaboration and concluded a technology transfer agreement. It was the first-ever case when a European company concluded an agreement with Kazakhstan. In 2019, the president of the Iberhospitex proposed establishing a joint factory to produce these vital tools in Kazakhstan. They decided to provide technology, and our side had to find a place for the production,” said Sypabekov.
From obstacles to success
At its inception, which coincided with the Covid-19 pandemic, the project struggled to identify a suitable location.
“We received support from the NURIS cluster at the Nazarbayev University, which provided us with premises for our factory. We decided to focus on export rather than the domestic market, especially in the Central Asia region, because we did not face tough competition there, demand was high, and we already had agreements with the Kyrgyz Republic and Uzbekistan,” said Sypabekov.
Sypabekov explained that they also had to receive a license to register the product. It was a pioneer initiative that never registered locally produced stents and balloons in Kazakhstan.
“In January 2023, we finally received a registration certificate for a coronary stent called Destiny and then for an Evolve balloon. Both are unique and have no analogs among the Commonwealth of Independent States,” he said.
Coronary stents and balloons are used to prevent and treat myocardial infarction. In clinical practice, depending on the case, doctors use two different balloons for pre-dilation (pre-expansion) and post-dilation (post-expansion). The Evolve balloon is double-acting, which enables pre-dilation and post-dilation features.
“A doctor developed the balloon during surgery. There are so many brilliant ideas that belong to health practitioners. Therefore, we are planning to launch a research and development center on the factory’s base to transform creative ideas into reality,” said Sypabekov.
The factory works with two catheters from the United States and expects seven more products from Spanish partners. The project is strategically vital for developing the region’s medical infrastructure and reducing dependence on imported medical devices.
“We have nearly seven ideas from Kazakh surgeons, which we will try to commercialize. I want to prove that in addition to importing products, we can also create technologies in Kazakhstan,” said Sypabekov.
Life changing eye surgery
He also mentioned that Galamat Group has a distribution company, a consulting agency, an IT company that develops its startups, and a transplantology company for corneal transplantation.
“The most complex penetrating corneal transplant, performed mainly abroad, has become available in Kazakhstan. In May, a series of such operations were performed in Almaty using new U.S. technology,” said Sypabekov.
According to the World Health Organization, nearly 10 million people worldwide require such operations. Kazakhstan is not an exception. The number of patients with serious eye diseases requiring immediate assistance is growing. The operation can have a major social impact, as it allows patients to be economically active.
“We concluded an agreement with the Lions Eye Institute for Transplant and Research, the largest eye bank in the U.S., which allowed us to receive the transplantation material. Thanks to the support of the Kazakhstan Halkyna Foundation, we could start performing corneal transplantation surgeries,” said Sypabekov.
They plan to perform 304 surgeries within the next two years, including the first-ever corneal transplantation following damage after previous operations.
“The bottom line is that the patient’s cornea is not completely removed, only its damaged part. It is a higher level of care for patients,” he concluded.
“City Cardiological Center of Almaty saves nearly 1,000 people a year by performing surgeries in an interventional way. Previously, we had to buy expensive stents and catheters from Europe. But today, the IHT Central Asia factory gives the opportunity to the Central Asian doctors to save even more people by using materials of European quality, but produced locally. And it also allows us to reduce dependence on imported medical devices,” said Almat Kodasbayev, director of the center.
“IHT Central Asia factory has been established to develop, manufacture and clinically implement domestically produced medical products in the most relevant and rapidly developing field of medicine – interventional cardiology. Several clinics in the country have already tested the products and are introducing coronary stents and balloons in their routine practice to combat acute coronary syndrome, effectively reducing cardiac mortality,” explained Dmitry Tyo, head of the interventional cardiology department at the multifield Regional Hospital in northern Kazakhstan.
He also stressed that the opening of a domestic factory is a powerful impetus to enhancing cardiology, science and high technologies in healthcare.
According to Gulzat Abdraimova, head of the ophthalmology department at the Central City Clinical Hospital in Almaty, keratoplasty in Kazakhstan opens up new opportunities for patients suffering from corneal blindness thanks to donor materials from the U.S. This type of surgery allows patients to regain their vision and offers new hope for an active and quality life without the limitations associated with corneal problems.
“We are delighted that the corneal replacement surgery has once again resumed in Kazakhstan, as the number of patients is growing every day,” she added.
“It always hurts when we see patients suffering and we have to send them abroad for surgery, because they can receive help only there. We had qualified specialists who knew how to perform operations, but we did not have the necessary donor material. Today, we can assume with confidence that corneal transplantation in Kazakhstan has been revived and will be carried out at the university clinics of the Asfendiyarov Kazakh National Medical University (KazNMU) in the most advanced way,” KazNMU Rector Marat Shoranov told the Vecherniy Almaty news agency on May 17.