Taiwan’s Biotech Boom

Nov 13, 2017
Volume 37, Issue 11

Move over Silicon Valley, there is a new biotech hotspot looking to attract the best and brightest—and it’s not in the US. 

Taiwan is beginning to attract technology and healthcare talent from inside and outside the region, as the small island nation is quickly becoming home to innovative healthcare care startups, such as Taiwan Liposome Company (TLC). 

“It’s trying to be a much more knowledge-based type of economy,” says George Yeh, president of TLC, a specialty biopharma based in Taipei, Taiwan.  

Pharm Exec recently sat down with Yeh to talk about his company and Taiwan’s courting of the biotech industry. Using its proprietary drug delivery technologies, TLC’s focus is on lipid-based formulation and George Yeh, president of Taiwan Liposome Companyscale-up  to improve the safety and efficacy of injectable drugs—and thus prolong their product lifecycle.

TLC has been a long-time supporter of the Taiwan economy. Dr. Keelung Hong founded the company in 1997 after serving as a consultant to a number of biotechs, including Nycomed, Salutar, Onyx, and Sequus. 

Yeh has been with TLC since 2002, following a stint as vice president of AsiaWired Group, where he was responsible for procuring corporate funding, strategic planning, and integration of high-level management and financial resources for startup companies. 

Having offices and working in both the Taiwan and  San Francisco areas, as well as his previous experience evaluating funding for startups, Yeh has his pulse on the emerging biotech space. His business connections to some of the top political figures in Taiwan also gives him insight into the economic development the country is leaning toward. 

As Yeh explains it, Taiwan’s economy is currently geared toward more IT-based businesses, and less on science-based fields—but there is a push to change that. In addition, doctors and medical professionals are well respected  in Taiwan, Yeh says, and as more people with medical degrees run for and are elected to political offices, the higher support there  will be on broadening the economy to bring in more biotech presence. 

Take Taipei, for example. The city’s mayor, Ko Wen-je, was a doctor at the National Taiwan University Hospital before being elected in 2014. According to his office’s website, he held numerous positions at the university, including assistant professor, associate professor, and professor at the College of Medicine, as well as chairman of the department of traumatology. In Wen-je’s Twitter biography, he refers to himself as a “truly independent political entrepreneur.” Entrepreneurs, specifically those in the biotech industry, are exactly who the country, and city, are trying to attract. 

The number’s back up Yeh’s comments. 

According to a report published last year in Taiwan Today, the country’s biotechnology sector is expected to reach $120.4 billion in production by 2025. 

Taiwan’s IT-based industries are a draw for many biotechs, Yeh explains. He predicts that in  five to 10 years, we will see a lot of traditional IT companies cross over into the biotech and pharma space. 

“We will see a lot more [pharma] technology start coming from Asia,” notes Yeh. 

Yeh, who earned a B.A. from the University of California at Berkeley and a master’s degree from the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, says that he is observing more and more people returning to Taiwan after their schooling. 

“Talent has been educated and working in the US, and now they are starting to come back  and build out technology [in Taiwan],” he says. “These are very entrepreneurial people who have a different type of technological ability. The culture there lends itself to becoming the next wave of the biotech talent pool.”

The combination of technological savvy thinkers, plus entrepreneurs, plus pharmaceutical knowledge is the perfect storm to create the foundation for a lively and active biotech community in Taiwan. 

 

Michelle Maskaly is Pharm Exec’s Senior Editor. She can be reached at [email protected] and on Twitter at @mmaskaly

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