Thu, Jul 24, 2003 - Page 10 News List

Biotechs could see rapid growth

NASCENT SECTOR As the country hosts its largest biotechnology show to date, analysts are optimistic that Taiwan is ready to be a leading player in the industry

By Bill Heaney  /  STAFF REPORTER

Paochi and Paohsiang, Taiwan's first cloned goats, were on display at the Bio Taiwan 2003 exhibition yesterday. The goats were cloned by the Taiwan Livestock Research Institute and are the unofficial mascots of the biotech fair.

PHOTO: GEORGE TSORNG, TAIPEI TIMES

The local biotechnology industry is expected to grow rapidly in the coming years, but companies need to pair up with overseas partners to ensure growth and an international presence, industry experts said yesterday.

"We expect to see more than 25 percent growth in the local biotechnology industry over the next few years," said Johnsee Lee (李鍾熙), general director of the Biomedical Engineering Center at the Industrial Technology Research Institute (ITRI, 工研院).

In 2001, there were 750 biotechnology companies in Taiwan generating US$3 billion in revenue. In the past two years combined, private companies invested more than NT$20 billion in biotechnology enterprises, Lee said.

"The industry has become three to four times bigger than it used to be, and we are seeing many new companies setting up," Lee said.

But the key for companies to continue to grow is finding overseas partners.

"Small companies need to collaborate and build alliances internationally," he said.

One of the venture capital companies working to bring overseas and Taiwanese companies together is the Taipei-based Cheng Xin Technology Development Corp (誠信開發).

"Part of what we do is tying up local companies with overseas partners for licensing and technology transfers," said Adeline Wong (黃麗平), a Cheng Xin fund manager who travels to biotechnology conferences around the world looking for prospective investments.

To encourage more local-international pair-ups, the government planned a themed month of biotechnology events for this month. Unfortunately SARS disrupted most of the international participation, forcing the organizers to postpone two core events to the fall.

The APEC Biotechnology Conference 2003 is now scheduled to take place on Sept. 28 and Sept. 29, and BioBusiness Asia 2003 will follow directly afterwards on Sept. 30 and Oct. 1. Twenty-four foreign biotech companies have been invited to present their business models to local hopefuls at the second event, Lee said yesterday.

The Bio Taiwan exhibition will start as planned today at the World Trade Center. The event is open only to trades, with no entry fee, everyday from 10:30am to 5pm until Sunday.

"The exhibition's 500 booths are all fully booked and we are expecting 100,000 visitors, making this the largest biotechnology event in Taiwan ever," Lee said.

One focus of the exhibition will be a SARS area, featuring companies that have worked on the genomic analysis and identification of the virus, diagnostic tools to detect the virus and possible vaccines and therapeutic treatments for sufferers.

At least one investor was looking forward to the exhibition.

"This is a very good opportunity to look at the better biotechnology companies in Taiwan all at once," said Willie Lin (林衛理), vice president in charge of a US$250-million biotechnology investment fund at the China Development Industrial Bank (中華開發工銀). A fifth, about NT$1.7 billion, of the fund is invested in Taiwan.

But one industry watcher was disappointed by the high proportion of government involvement in the exhibition.

"Of the 500 companies exhibiting, around 200 are government bodies or research institutes," said David Silver, director of Biotech-east.com, a Web site that promotes Taiwan's biotechnology and pharmaceutical industries. "I think it's a pity there aren't more private companies, but the SARS-related area will certainly be an interesting part of the event."

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