Fri, Jul 16, 2004 - Page 10 News List

Investments in biotech require long-term view

INVESTMENT ADVICE Industry insiders said the government and investors must be willing to wait years, if not decades, to see a return on their cash

By Amber Chung  /  STAFF REPORTER

Despite the government's vow to boost the nation's biotech industry, the focus on a quick return may not be feasible for a sector that requires long-term commitment and effort, an industry veteran told the Taipei Times yesterday.

"I think Taiwan is doing the right thing [boosting its biotech industry]," Stefan Ziegler, general manager of Novartis Taiwan Co, said on the sidelines of a forum held by his company in Taipei yesterday.

The government has put a lot of effort into increasing investment in biomedical research and catching up with advanced countries in this field, Ziegler said.

Expectation for short-term returns, however, is an issue that the government and the industry have to address, as the sector requires long-term commitment, he said, noting that the research and development of the drug Gleevec, which entered the market in 2000, began in the 1960s.

Waiting for results from the money-burning R&D process may not be inspiring to local venture investors.

"Life science research and industry development requires time, but investors also need incentives [to invest]," said Lai Por-hsiung (賴博雄), president of President Life Sciences Co (統一生命科技), one of the speakers at the forum.

Investors seeking quick returns could raise the proportion of their investment in divisions such as medical devices, Lai said.

With capitalization of US$100 million, President Life Sciences, the biotech venture-capital arm of Uni-President Group (統一企業集團), has 40 percent of its money invested in biotech, 30 percent in herbal medicine and pharmaceuticals and the rest in medical technology.

"Investment in research oriented fields, such as gene therapy and molecular diagnostics, cannot be reaped quickly and thus may not be so appealing to local investors ? but they are beneficial to Taiwan's long-term development," said Johnsee Lee (李鍾熙), president of the semi-official Industrial Technology Research Institute (工研院), another speaker at the forum.

Since these fields are more related to pharmaceutical companies than end users, the nation could take advantage of its skilled personnel and lower research costs to become a R&D hub for overseas pharmacists, Lee said.

Minister of Economic Affairs Ho Mei-hsueh (何美玥) said on Wednesday that the government would target new drug development and medical devices in its efforts to promote the biotech industry, which is included in the "Two Trillion, Twin Star" investment plan, along with semiconductors, flat-panel displays and the digital-content industries.

The biotech industry generated NT$131.6 billion in revenues last year, with NT$61.4 coming from pharmaceuticals, NT$40.6 billion from medical devices and the rest from new biotechnology, according to the Biotechnology and Pharmaceutical Industries Program Office.

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