Fri, Nov 28, 2003 - Page 10 News List

Biotechnology projects net US$500 million this year

By Bill Heaney  /  STAFF REPORTER

Taiwan netted US$500 million in biotechnology investments -- in over 60 projects ranging from new drug discovery to medical devices and herbal medicine -- in the first 10 months of the year, government officials said yesterday.

"This is a combination of the government and the industry working together under one goal," said China External Trade Development Council (CETRA) president Chao Yung-chuan (趙永全), adding that the industry exported US$1 billion worth of products last year.

Biotechnology is one of the key industries the government is promoting to ensure Taiwan's economic prosperity as low-level manufacturing moves to China.

By 2011, Taiwan aims to have 500 new biotech companies and 18 major investments -- which means projects worth more than NT$500 million each -- by 2010, said Jerry Chen (陳啟祥), director of the Biotechnology and Pharmaceutical Industries Programs Office under the Ministry of Economic Affairs.

Last year there were 165 new biotech companies, up from 108 in 2001.

If pharmaceutical and medical device companies are added, there are already 970 biotechnology companies in Taiwan. Last year they had combined revenues of US$3.2 billion, Chen said.

But there are hurdles to the development of the sector.

"The quality of biotechnology research here is not first class yet," said Liu Chung-cheng (留忠正), deputy director general of the Biomedical Engineering Center at the Industrial Technology Research Institute.

Lots of papers are published but they are rarely referred to by other academics, he said.

Taiwan has a strong research base but it lacks direction.

"The challenge is how we leverage good resources for the benefit of biomedicine," Liu said.

The path to a more successful industry lies in Taiwan's strengths in technology.

Companies should work in areas such as minute sensors, molecular level circuitry and genetic research, Liu said.

Taiwanese companies could lead in the upcoming areas of personalized, preventative and regenerative medicine, which rely on genetic research.

As the salaries of skilled scientists in Taiwan are also lower than the US or Europe, global companies can outsource much of their research here before completing the final stages of approval back in their own country, Liu said.

Other costs are also much lower in Taiwan.

"You can build a world-class [drug production plant] for US$120 million," said Jo Shen (馬海怡), president of ScinoPharm Taiwan Ltd (台灣神隆).

"In the US or Europe it would cost at least US$500 million," Shen said.

But even with a world-class plant, you may not have world-class staff.

"We are not worried about the shortage of scientists," Chen said. "We are worried about the experience of managers."

"We are worried about the experience of managers," Chen said.

To counter this, the government has launched programs to train scientists in managerial and financial skills, he added.

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