Taiwan: Pharma at the Tipping Point - Pharmaceutical Executive


Taiwan: Pharma at the Tipping Point

Pharmaceutical Executive

Chung Y Hsu, CEO of China Medical University Hospital
"In 2002, I was invited by a group of scientists to build up a new company, the purpose of which would be to screen new candidates for cancer therapies—new leads and new drugs," explains Alex Liu, chairman of Golden Biotechnology. Liu decided to focus his attentions on antrodia camphorata, a fungus unique to Taiwan that was known in traditional herbal medicine for having anticancer properties. However, after several years of development, he was surprised to find that the international reaction to herbal extracts was not what he hoped it would be. "We presented our findings to BioTokyo that year. We were surprised to find out that the reaction to our research in Japan was very different from what we had experienced in Taiwan—biotechnologists in other countries were simply not excited by herbal medicinal extracts. I realized that without a compound, there was no point in continuing." So Liu turned his attentions to developing a drug from the fungus that was more in tune with traditional Western medicine. Golden Biotech's new cGMP facility allows for production of this new compound, but also allows the company to take advantage of the large market for the traditional herbal extract that exists not just in Taiwan and China, but increasingly in Western markets such as the US and Europe. "My strategy has always been to find a way as early as possible to make a profit from this discovery, while still pursuing high scientific goals. This facility design enables Golden Biotech to produce a semi-purified extract to be turned into a health food and also a purified compound for the clinical trial. Every product has its own market. We have put all our energy into this product, and it is beneficial to cancer patients."

Ming-fong Chen, superintendent of National Taiwan University Hospital
Jen Chen, general manager of Genovate Biotechnology, wanted to get his strategy right from the very beginning. On coming back from the US and forming Genovate in 1995, he made sure that the initial investors in the company would have to be well chosen in order to make sure that the business model was a success. "Genovate has three types of shareholders," explains Chen. "Each is crucial for the successful development of the company. The first of these is the government, as we know that for a pharma company to be successful, regulatory synchronization is the key. You have to work with the government to make sure that regulatory issues can be managed.

"I also thought it was necessary to have successful private Taiwanese business involved at a shareholder level. Taiwanese people are particularly business-oriented, and have had great successes with high-tech products over the years. I wanted to learn how to become a good OEM, and how to turn it into a profitable business. Biotech in a global sense is not a profitable business. Having these business minds on board was key to discovering the best way to run a biotech company that was also profitable while it was in its development stage.

Chang-hai Tsai, Chairman of China Medical University
"The third key shareholder is US biotech. No matter what happens in the Asian biotech sector, people will always look at the US as the golden standard. In Taiwan, 16 of the top 20 companies are multinationals. This is not because they make generics better than local companies, but because people still have the preference to buy imported generics from well-known brand companies rather than from local companies."

From these firm beginnings, Genovate has grown into a player for all segments of the market. As well as working on new drug discovery, the business also involves itself in OEM, sales and marketing, and clinical trials, truly taking the best of everything that Taiwan has to offer.


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