As one of the many economies inspired by the 1980s Biotech Revolution, Taiwan has adapted to the growing demand for innovative and sustainable technologies. Since then, Taiwan’s biotech industry has grown to a total of over 1,000 biotechnology and pharmaceutical industry firms in 2015. With plans to grow its bioindustry even further to nearly $100 billion by 2020, Taiwan remains committed to fostering biotech innovation and making a statement on the global stage.
While Taiwan’s recent success in bolstering its biotech ecosystem has made it a regional influencer, the industry’s foundation began with relatively humble beginnings. With an economy historically focused on export processing, Taiwan authorities recognized the need to shift its reliance on labor-intensive industries toward more tech-focused fields. Accordingly, the Executive Yuan made the influential move in 1982 to identify biotechnology as one of its “key technologies”. This recognition meant big changes for the industry.
Over the next 25 years, biotechnology’s designation as a key industry would catalyze roughly $400 million USD of public investment in the sector. Further, its designation would also play a critical role in future discussions on Taiwan’s single-payer healthcare system in the early 1990s. But recognition and economic investment was just the beginning…
With the industry still in its infancy by the early 1990s, Taiwan set the goal of making itself a center for research and a leading location for clinical trials in Asia. In 1995, “The Promotion Plan for the Biotech Industry” strove to cultivate domestic talent in the biomedical fields and establish research institutions that fostered academic and industry collaboration. This plan paved the way for Taiwan’s renowned clustered biotech ecosystem in the early 2000s.
Establishing research centers, with the help of a Development Fund on new drug R&D, has been critical in fostering a pro-innovation environment. However, Taiwan’s investment in education, specifically higher education in science and tech fields, has played an equally important role in ensuring top talent is nurtured within those centers. Between the early 1980s and 1990s, thousands of Taiwan students studied and worked in the life sciences field abroad. Technology-focused individuals returned to Taiwan with new skills, seeking life science work. The ratio of those returning to Taiwan after studying abroad in these fields reached over 20%. With a freshly established biotech infrastructure and an educational system that took care of its own, returning individuals had a new dynamic spirit ready to innovate.
In 2009, the Executive Yuan approved the Diamond Action Plan for Biotech Takeoff. The plan served as the guiding principle for collaboration between Taiwan’s industrial, research, and academic sectors to invigorate the industry towards innovation. By 2012, the total annual revenue for the biotechnology industry, including applied biotechnology, pharmaceuticals and medical devices reached over $8.5 billion. This represented a roughly 9% increase compared to even 2011 revenue.
Further, Taiwan’s clusters of innovations have grown to include over 160 universities and nearly 100 incubation centers within academic campuses. The number of public and private nonprofit research institutions such as Academia Sinica, the National Health Research Institute (NHRI) and the Development Center for Biotechnology have also grown in influence and number. Most notoriously, The Nankang Biotechnology Park and Hsinchu Science Park have been home to almost 60 research institutions and biotechnology and pharmaceutical manufacturers. Further, Academia Sinica has collaborated with other public partners to establish incubation centers within the biotech science parks as centers that foster start-ups.
Accordingly, Taiwan has grown a reputation as a promising hub for biotech start-ups seeking to innovate. The Taiwan Biotechnology and Pharmaceutical Industries Promotion Office (BPIPO) provides a single-contact window for the biomedical industry, designed to help domestic and foreign companies receive quick, convenient service relating to any regulatory or policy issues they may be facing. Taiwan also has approximately 130 teaching hospitals that can serve as clinical trial sites for IND. With goals to be an increasingly knowledge-based economy, Taiwan also benefits from having the possibility of engaging with the regional markets. For example, in 2016, China’s Food and Drug Administration announced that clinical data from four Taiwan hospitals can be used when applying for drug approval in China, which can be a way for companies to increase efficiency when conducting multi-regional trials. President Tsai’s “New Southbound Policy” will also prioritize medicine and health-related cooperation with Taiwan’s Southeast Asian trading partners. This further makes the Taiwan market particularly favorable for foreign companies.
Under President Tsai’s 5+2 Major Innovative Industries policy, the Tsai Administration aims to focus on key high-value-added and solutions-oriented industries, including biomedical, green energy, and smart machinery. The plan involves further enhancing areas such as human resources, finances, and intellectual property rights protection. BIO is especially welcoming of the passage of the Amendment of the Pharmaceutical Affairs Act by the Taiwan Legislative Yuan in December 2017, which paves the way toward establishing a patent linkage system in Taiwan, as well as to strengthen Regulatory Data Protection.
Looking toward the future, can Taiwan become the leading start-up hub of Asia? That is yet to be seen. However, Taiwan has made a significant commitment towards growing and diversifying its biotech industry and that should not be overlooked. The economy has created an environment that fosters its entrepreneurship and start-up ecosystem. Stakeholders and associations alike are investing heavily in promoting the portfolio of Taiwanese companies.
Dr. Apo Huang, Secretary General of Taiwan Biotech Industry Organization, the leading trade association covering the Taiwan biotech industry, writes, “With this kind of [public] support and with Taiwan's strong human and financial resources, the industry is starting [and will continue] to flourish”. He also highlights, Taiwan has the potential to specialize globally in the following areas:
- 505(b)(2) with strong API, formulation and clinical capabilities
- Diagnostics and Medical devices, leveraging its strong ICT industry
- Regional diseases especially Taiwan-prevalent diseases such as lung and liver cancers
- Healthcare management, in part because of Taiwan's National Health Insurance system with its huge accumulated medical info databases and related Big Data and AI analysis possibilities
More and more, Taiwan biotech and pharmaceutical companies seek to showcase the dynamic innovations of its companies. That said, we welcome you to learn more about the innovative work Taiwanese companies are engaging in at the 2018 BIO Asia International Conference, on March 19-21, 2018 in Tokyo, Japan. The conference will highlight these cross-border collaborations and will feature presentations from Taiwanese companies that reflect rich innovation.
Below are some of the Taiwanese presenting companies at BIO Asia International Conference:
- ACT Genomics Co., Ltd.
- Mycenax Biotech Inc.
- Personal Genomics, Inc.
- Tanvex BioPharma, Inc.
As Taiwan turns to the future to address a culture that is aging, treatments that are becoming more precise, and adapting to the challenges of developing smart tech, it will need to devise innovative solutions. Despite these larger challenges, as the 7th largest economy in Asia, Taiwan has established itself as a global innovation hub that is truly making history.