TAIWANESE INNOVATION: BOTH BUSINESS AND SCIENCE
When looking for answers as to why the Taiwanese biotech industry has yet to produce a single internationally approved drug,
many in the industry point to the fact that the investment climate over the last three decades evolved in a significantly
different way to that of the US, despite the best hopes and intentions of the Taiwanese government. Back in the early 1980s,
when the Executive Yuan first selected biotech as a key industrial driver for diversifying Taiwan's economy, it looked to
the US model and tried its best to emulate it, setting up biotech clusters and encouraging venture capitalists to invest in
Jo Shen, Founder, President & CEO, ScinoPharm
However, after years of investing in the Taiwanese ICT sector with its fast rates of return and rapid climb to global hegemony,
investors were put off by the slow cooking times and high dropoff rates they found in Taiwan's fledgling biotech industry.
Taiwanese biotech companies were forced to innovate to survive, and as a result a very different model began to emerge in
Taiwan. JM Chang, CEO of Pharma Power Biotec, explains his company's business model, and the way it has allowed his company
to continue to focus on its primary goal: "Many biotech companies are founded on the idea of a novel and niche technology,
but after burning through their initial capital they can often simply disappear. Pharma Power Biotec aimed to avoid this situation,
and create a sustainable business model that would ensure the company's continued growth. Therefore, we focused on creating
a revenue-driving business segment, using our drug delivery system to produce diabetic medicine. In this way, our company
is able to gain revenues, while simultaneously developing our Radion PDT (photodynamic therapy) product for the treatment
of early-stage oral cancer. By using this business model, we can work on treating this disease while continuing to improve
our company." The company has introduced a line of health foods that will continue to bring in revenues while the Radion PDT
product finishes development.
Another unique aspect of Taiwan's biotech industry is the number of companies focused on developing drugs for the Western
market from compounds that have been used for centuries in traditional Chinese medicine. By bringing these compounds into
a Westernized R&D process, biotech companies can drive revenues by distributing them in existing TCM markets like Taiwan and
China, and simultaneously develop compounds for Western biotech drugs. NatureWise Biotech & Medicals Corp. is one company
following just such a path. Working on an HDAC inhibitor to rival SAHA (the first of its kind to be approved by the US FDA),
NatureWise is hoping to tackle the global problem of neurodegenerative diseases using traditional Chinese remedies. "Because
our products come from nature, we have incorporated our products into dietary supplements in order to build the company's
revenues while we wait for drug approval," explains Chung Yang Huang, president and CEO of NatureWise.
However, he believes that in an ideal world, TCM and Western medicine should be separated by different regulations. "Many
East Asian governments including Taiwan have tried to make TCM compatible with FDA regulations. This only serves to slow down
the release of medicine and is not good for the industry. In order to make TCM a successful but regulated industry, the countries
where it is strongest need to create their own regulations, and lead the world in creating a structure where Eastern methods
can flourish and thrive."