Sun, Dec 18, 2011 - Page 8 News List

The biotech industry needs all of our support

By Lo Chih-cheng 羅致政

In April 2007, then-vice premier Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) approved an investment by the National Development Fund in Yu Chang Biologics Co, a new biotechnology company, in order to support Taiwan’s next key industry. In economic terms, that has proven to be the right decision.

However, the future of the biotechnology industry was still uncertain at the time and Yu Chang had problems raising funding. For the sake of Taiwan’s future, Academia Sinica president Wong Chi-huey (翁啟惠), world-renowned AIDS researcher David Ho (何大一) and F. Hoffmann-La Roche head of global technical operations Patrick Yang (楊育民) stepped up to the plate.

Convinced by these scientists, Tsai — who had already stepped down from her post as vice premier — raised the shortfall in capital from family members and served as the company’s unpaid chairwoman. The scientists turned to Tsai because of her image of neutrality and integrity as well as her experience as an international negotiator.

That biotechnology company, now named TaiMed Biologics, is the driving force behind Taiwan’s biotechnology industry, and it could yet invent the nation’s first anti-HIV drug. In this context, the company’s significance to Taiwan by far supersedes its business importance. Ho has said that if the company is successful, its success would not be measured in monetary terms.

Unfortunately, those in power are doing all they can to attack Tsai for the sake of the presidential election. In order to make their charges against her stick and confuse the electorate, these accusations are being made not only against Tsai, but also against Ho. Ultimately, the bloodymindedness of those in power could seriously undermine Taiwan’s biotechnology industry.

Although there are countless talented Taiwanese biotechnologists around the world, such vicious political attacks are likely to make them think twice before deciding to return to Taiwan.

People often bemoan the fact that Taiwan cares only about short-term profits and ignores the need to invest in fundamental research and development or the production of patents. As a result, most backward companies are forced to engage in original equipment manufacturing and earn meager profits, and are completely dependent on others for their survival.

The investment in Yu Chang represents the efforts of these scientists and Tsai to cultivate another lifeline for the long-term development and prosperity of the nation.

In terms of the Yu Chang controversy, the complexity of regulations and business maneuvers make it difficult for the public to gain a clear picture of the situation. Not to mention that certain media outlets have neglected to report the scientists’ defense of Tsai. Instead, they choose to question her repeatedly, a situation that infuriates me and makes me deeply concerned for the future.

That is why I decided to write this open letter to my former students. You are all capable of distinguishing right from wrong in this case and are unlikely to be deceived because you have access to a wide variety of information sources.

We need to support these scientists for the sake of Taiwan’s long-term future and a burgeoning biotechnology industry. This is not a matter of any specific political party or the pan-blue or pan-green camps; rather, it is about choosing what is good and shouldering the responsibility of what it means to be an intellectual.

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