Liberty Times: When Yu Chang Biologics Co, now known as TaiMed Biologics Co, was created to import the TNX-355 drug, the participants wished to make it an example for the biotech industry. However, some are questioning whether the process of acquiring assistance from the National Development Fund [NDF] went so smoothly because there might be have been an “abuse of privilege.” What are your thoughts on this?
Patrick Yang [楊育民]: In January 2007, Academia Sinica President Wong Chi-huey [翁啟惠] and [then] National Science Council minister Chen Chien-jen [陳建仁] hosted a Northern Hsinchu BioMed Park Area Steering Committee meeting in which the participants discussed a general blueprint for the biotech industry. They touched on matters regarding research and development [R&D], clinical tests, legal statutes, funding issues and the establishment of protein factories, in hopes of finding a possible plan with the potential to go from R&D through to manufacturing.
At the time, I was executive vice president of product operations at [US biotech firm] Genentech Inc and the deal to acquire Tanox and its [second-phase clinical trial] TNX-355 had been certified. I told Wong of the news, and the Executive Yuan decided to make a bid for it in February.
At the time, there were already about 10 countries and corporations that had professed an interest in the new drug, with three corporations even offering to buy the drug, so Taiwan was under pressure from a lot of international competition.
At the time, Taiwan did not have a complete set of legal regulations concerning human testing, biotech investment and fundraising.
Wong and then-minister without portfolio Ho Mei-yueh [何美玥], and even then-deputy premier Tsai Ing-wen [蔡英文], spared no efforts in cementing the foundations that went on to become TaiMed, which then made a bid for and succeeded in acquiring the patent rights to TNX-355 in August 2007.
This all went through discussion and planning that lasted for months, while competing with international companies and negotiating with Genentech, as well as taking measures to accommodate Taiwan’s administrative procedural limitations. The NDF was only one checkpoint on the procedural path, and it was also assessed and reviewed by the government; in any case, we were racing against time.
In other countries, making a bid for patent rights is seizing an opportunity, but in Taiwan, it’s being described as an “abuse of privilege.” It’s incomprehensible.
LT: The founders of Tanox mentioned having applied to the NDF about chipping in and mass producing TNX-355, but their application was rejected, while TaiMed’s TNX-355 application passed. How would you view the two cases?
Yang: I haven’t seen the complete contents of the Nanhwa case [the failed bid for NDF funding by Taiwan Biopharmaceuticals Co, a company invested in by Tanox and then-Euroc Venture Capital Co chairman Kao Yu-jen [高育仁] for the research and development of TNX-355], but from the information gleaned from the various other sectors, the two cases are in actuality incomparable.
Taiwan Biopharmaceuticals Co was applying for an NT$1.7 billion [US$56 million] investment by the NDF and spending NT$7 billion to NT$8 billion on building a factory. But, at that time, it wasn’t even certain what sort of drugs would be mass produced.