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TAIWAN: Preparing for Takeoff
The past three years have been some of the most eventful in memory for Taiwan's life sciences industry. At this year's Bio
Taiwan exhibition, the annual conference that invites the international life sciences community to the island, the excitement
was palpable. Foreign companies turned out in record numbers to a keynote address from President Ma Ying-Jeou, who acknowledged
that Taiwan was a latecomer to the sector, but nonetheless had the capability and will to compete. Buoyed by a successful
wave of financing, good product strategy, and increasing international penetration, the industry seems confident.
PAINTING BY ADELE CHEN
Albert Liou, vice chairman of PAREXEL International, thinks that now Taiwan needs leadership, and success stories. He points
to the drug development chain. "Taiwan has great capabilities in each step along the chain," he says. "But the linkages are
not as strong as they could be. Academically and therapeutically, Taiwan is very capable in certain areas, like liver disease.
But in terms of drug development from discovery to market, we are several years behind the West. We need leadership that can
unite the links in the chain. We need, as well, our first success stories to serve as motivation and as development models."
"We believe those first stories are coming shortly," Liou says. As for leadership, many in Taiwan look to a man that has emerged
as a major connector in the country's life sciences industry: Johnsee Lee, who chairs Taiwan's Development Center for Biotechnology
(DCB) and the Taiwan Bio Industry Organization (TBIO).
Johnsee Lee, Chairman, Development Center for Biotechnology
When Lee took over his post at the DCB in 2010, he felt that the institute focused too much on academic research: "The wrong
place for us," he says. Many industry stakeholders have pointed out that in the life sciences, Taiwan has too long emphasized—"perhaps
overemphasized," says Lee—basic research over commercialization, and that the DCB was doing the same work as other national
institutes like Academia Sinica.
Albert Liou, Vice Chairman Asia Pacific, Parexel
Lee quickly got to work positioning DCB as the "second baton in the relay race," a translational facilitator between the lab
and the shelf. As Taiwan implements a strategy that its economic council calls Diversify-Innovate-Globalize (DIG) to ease
away from the country's reliance on information and communication technologies (ICT), commercializing new industries is the
name of the game. Biotech is at the top of a list of six strategic emerging sectors: the "key industry" to watch in Taiwan
today, says EY's country managing partner James Wang.
James Wang, Country Managing Partner, EY
In his capacity as chairman of the TBIO, a unifying association in Taiwan's life science industry, Lee is responsible not
only for helping Taiwan's drug development effort, but for connecting the dots in a staggeringly diverse sector. In 2013,
Taiwan's Ministry of Economic Affairs (MOEA) counted 1505 life sciences companies in this market of 23 million people. Grouped
under the heading "biotechnology"—the term that we will use throughout this report—these companies may be surprising in number
for a small island nation, but they are perhaps most impressive in variety. Taiwan has 450 companies in the applied biotech
segment, 350 companies in the pharmaceutical segment and 705 medical devices companies!
Bio Taiwan 2013 with President Ma Ying-Jeou
Wang believes Taiwan is on to something. "The industry is extremely diverse, and it's filled with companies that are in most
cases much smaller than their Western counterparts," he says. "But that kind of structure is good— it's good for innovation,
incubation, and cultivating a knowledge focus."
An IPO case study: Medigen