GENET archive


7-Business: Tawain's ROC has high hopes for biotech sector

                                  PART I
-------------------------------- GENET-news -------------------------------

TITLE:  Tawain's ROC has high hopes for biotech sector
SOURCE: Tawain Journal, by Steven Crook
        posted by Checkbiotech, Switzerland
DATE:   18 Jul 2005

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Tawain's ROC has high hopes for biotech sector

In many countries, the issue of genetically modified food is one that is
caught up in a quagmire of ethical issues. This is not so in Taiwan,
where the vast majority consider it, and the larger field of
biotechnology, as a potentially lucrative revenue source and a playing
field on which Taiwan might be able to compete internationally. Regular
Taiwan Journal contributor Steven Crook examines the issue from a
business perspective.

Biotechnology, which encompasses the improvement of plants and animals
and the creation of new medicines and microorganisms, is an industry
embroiled in controversy. Yet, at the same time, it is a toolkit of new
technologies that is being hailed as humanity's best hope of ending
certain diseases and chronic hunger.

In several Western countries, rows over so-called Frankenfoods and
genetically modified "terminator" seeds threaten to overshadow the
concrete achievements made in the field. Scientists have already created
strains of rice with increased levels of beta-carotene, which promise to
reduce vitamin A deficiencies prevalent among Asia's poor. By modifying
other food products, biotechnology may help combat cardiovascular disease
and obesity in rich countries.

In Taiwan, where cloning and genetic modification have not prompted such
heated ethical debates, the life sciences, which include biotechnology,
has been identified as a field of the future. Eager to find replacements
for the country's declining traditional manufacturing industries and the
now-mature IT sector, the government is investing in biotech research,
talent and hardware.

The ROC government identified biotechnology as one of eight key
technologies back in 1982 and has made the industry a major plank of the
Challenge 2008 Six-Year National Development Plan, as well as of its "Two
Trillion, Two Star" economic plan.

Government officials announced in 2002 that state support for the sector
would be assured until at least 2012. The government will be putting its
money where its mouth is by setting up multi-billion-dollar seed funds.

According to the Ministry of Economic Affairs (MOEA), Taiwan's
biotechnology companies now number more than 1,000. They earned a total
of US$4 billion in 2003, a 13-percent increase over 2002.

David Silver, president and CEO of BiotechEast Co., Ltd.--a marketing and
business consulting company that works with life sciences companies,
institutes and investors--is among those who think that Taiwan has a good
chance of becoming a biotechnology center of regional, perhaps global,

According to Silver, Taiwan's biotech sector has several things going for
it, including, he pointed out, government support for the industry. The
island has a "large and highly qualified pool of bio-scientists--both
those based in Taiwan and expatriate Taiwanese working abroad," Silver
said. In addition to Taiwan's existing strengths in precision
manufacturing, IT and miniaturization, it has a vibrant venture-capital
industry willing to invest in biotech start-ups. Finally, Silver
concluded, Taiwan is home to a number of research centers.

The Industrial Technology Research Institute's (ITRI) Biomedical
Engineering Center (BMEC), the Development Center for Biotechnology and
Academia Sinica are government-backed bodies that contribute to biotech
research and development (R&D).

Policy and legal issues are handled by, among others, the Science and
Technology Advisory Group of the Executive Yuan. This group, whose broad
mission is to promote scientific and technological development in Taiwan,
organized a Biotechnology Industry Promotion Committee.

Among the government agencies working to promote the business side of the
sector is the MOEA's Biotechnology and Pharmaceutical Industries Program
Office (BPIPO). Set up in 1996, The BPIPO focuses on marketing and
enhancing the investment environment. According to Jenny Chen, a BPIPO
spokeswoman, the office can be seen as a matchmaker, assisting foreign
companies that are looking for investment opportunities in Taiwan. It has
organized seminars with many of the trade offices that foreign countries
operate in lieu of embassies in Taipei, she said. Many of these have led
to the signing of Memorandums of Understanding (MOU).

"We've signed MOUs with the Canadian and Australian trade offices, and
hold biotech committee meetings with them three or four times a year,"
said Chen.

An analysis of South Korea's burgeoning biotech sector published in the
journal Nature Biotechnology in December 2004 suggests that Taiwan is
moving in the right direction. "Three major lessons are apparent for
encouraging startup activity in countries with a relatively well-
developed educational, research, financial and industrial
infrastructure," the issue advised: Create a mix of small and large
firms, exploit existing competitive advantages, and go global.

Large companies have brand recognition and deep pockets, while smaller
companies are often more nimble. The Taiwanese government hopes to have
18 large-scale international biotech companies operating on the island by

Taiwan, like Korea, is renowned for precision manufacturing and chip
design--strengths that could be leveraged in the creation of
bioresorbable polymers, bioceramics and biomaterials such as implants
that release drugs slowly or only when needed.

Foreign capital and expertise are obviously needed, and the government is
working on attracting both. Moreover, looking overseas is essential
because of Taiwan's small population: As ITRI acknowledges on its Web
site, "The weakest point of Taiwan's biotech medical industry is its
limited local market." ScinoPharm Taiwan Ltd., which was founded in 1997
and began initial operations in the Tainan Science-based Industrial Park
in 1999, is one of the biggest companies on Taiwan's biotech scene. Its
biotech division, established in May 2001, focuses on biopharmaceutical
products and their production technologies.

Other notable mentions in Taiwan's life-sciences sector are Advanced Gene
Technology Corp., Medigen Biotechnology Corp. and AbGenomics Corp.

According to ScinoPharm Executive Vice President Hardy Chan, the company
combines the best of the East--cost savings, work ethics, high
educational standards--with the best of the West--intellectual property
protection, quality, Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP) compliance,
enforcement of environmental, health and safety practices, plus Western
management and service attitudes.

The company's biggest challenge, he says, is convincing investors and
workers that the pharmaceutical industry takes a long time to mature and
become profitable.

Chan thinks Taiwan's biotech sector can progress if more people "learn
about the unique nature of the biotech industry," and there is greater
willingness to sustain the industry long term. Significantly, the authors
of the Nature Biotechnology article see the Korean government's
commitment as "beginning to wane." Following the pattern established by
its successful IT industry, Taiwan's life sciences enterprises are
already tending to cluster. The existing science parks in Hsinchu and
Tainan have biotech zones, and the government has established a
Biotechnology Plaza in Taipei's Nankang Software Park.

Meanwhile, the Pingtung Agricultural Biotechnology Park in southern
Taiwan is designed to cover various fields including seeding, health
foods, tropical flowers, animal vaccines, aquaculture and ornamental
plants. Enterprises deemed to be making a "special contribution to the
development of agricultural biotechnology" enjoy free five-year leases.

Taiwan is already a world leader in orchid cultivation, and the use of
biotechnology at the new Taiwan Orchid Plantation in Tainan County could
help the industry grow further. A flower park is being set up in Changhua
County, in central Taiwan.

Taiwan's subtropical climate will distinguish its products from those of
temperate-zone, advanced biotech countries like the United States and the
United Kingdom. The island's tremendous biodiversity is another advantage.

In addition to the exciting possibilities of agricultural biotech,
especially floriculture, BiotechEast's Silver foresees a niche for Taiwan
in the discovery and development of drugs derived from traditional herbal
and botanical medicines.

At the end of last year, the central government approved a plan to build
a herbal medicine science park in Chiayi. At least 13 companies have said
they will participate, according to media reports.

Along with Germany and Japan, Taiwan is already one of the world's top
three manufacturers of herbal medicines that comply with GMP standards.
Since 2001, the BMEC has been working on a herbal medicine project for
liver disease and asthma.

According to the Committee on Chinese Medicine and Pharmacy, a division
of the ROC Department of Health, the country's herbal-medicine sector
could generate annual revenues of US$6.4 billion by 2008, up from US$1.3
billion in 2003.

"Taiwan's knowledge, documentation, and experience in medicinal
botanicals that can be used in a biotech framework," Silver says, "are
strengths." He pointed out that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration
recently revised its rules, making it easier for makers of herbal
medicine to gain official approval.

The practice of Chinese herbal medicine is formalized in Taiwan, with
licensing and regulation systems comparable to those for Western
medicine. The National Health Insurance Program covers Chinese herbal
treatments; the centralized insurance system, Silver notes, "lends itself
to medical-related logistics for large scale research projects or
clinical trials." This, together with the existence of several large
medical centers, means that conditions for clinical trials of herbal or
Western medicines are optimal.

Of course, biotech companies need more than just capital, land and test
subjects if they are to thrive. In an industry dependent on innovation,
expertise is vital. The cost of research in Taiwan is said to be just
one-third of that in the United States. Despite the rapid growth in life
sciences R&D, Taiwan is somewhat disadvantaged in having a pharmaceutical
industry that is too dependent on generic drugs, at least compared to
biotech heavyweights like the United States and the United Kingdom.

In Silver's estimation, Taiwan's biotech sector would benefit from a more
international mindset, including better language skills. In this regard,
Singapore--a multicultural country and former British colony--has obvious
advantages over Taiwan. But, he points out, South Korea and Japan face
the same problems as Taiwan.

Intellectual property rights (IPR) are critically important in
biotechnology and pharmaceuticals, because the cost of manufacturing
medicines and other products is often minor compared to the cost of
developing them. Although Taiwan still finds itself on the U.S. Trade
Representative's "Special 301" watch list for IPR violators, it still has
a slight edge over rival China in this regard.

                                  PART II
-------------------------------- GENET-news -------------------------------

TITLE:  Taiwan unveils rules for transgenic plant field trials
SOURCE: Taiwan Journal, by Cecilia Fanchiang
        posted by Checkbiotech, Switzerland
DATE:   18 Jul 2005

------------------- archive: -------------------

Taiwan unveils rules for transgenic plant field trials

The Council of Agriculture (COA) instituted its Administrative
Regulations for the Field Testing of the Transgenic Plants June 29. The
regulations were instituted just one day before enforcement of an April
21, 2004 amendment to the Plant Variety and Seed Act was scheduled to
begin June 30.

The COA issued a press release July 10 to announce the new regulations
and to tout government efforts to regulate the use of genetically
modified (GM) crops in Taiwan.

Taking its cues from the safety-control measures adopted in several
Western nations and Japan, officials from the COA reassured the public
that all GM foods would be required to undergo examination by the Bureau
of Food Safety under the Department of Health.

According to the press release, the COA will be responsible for
controlling all biotechnological applications, and experts employed by
the council will be charged with the task of testing all bio-engineered
samples to eliminate the risk of environmental damage.

Before they wrote the measures for transgenic plant field trials into
law, COA policymakers first consulted the Cartagena Protocol on
Biosafety, an international agreement that regulates the cross-border
movement of living organisms modified through biotechnology. The council
promised to abide by all food and agricultural policies promulgated by
the United Nations.

Taiwanese academics and scientists have studied the experience of other
countries and regions, including North America, Europe, China and
Australia, where the development of GM varieties is concerned.

The COA has decreed that any genetic-engineering technology must be
proven safe through scientific testing conducted in an isolated
environment before it can be used on actual cropland on an experimental
basis. As mandated by the new law, bio-safety field trials must include
different evaluative steps in order to prevent mishaps, such as the
accidental spread of GM crops to unintended areas. Furthermore, bio-
agents that cause diseases or pose the risk of creating a negative
environmental impact must be filtered out through the testing process.

Persons found violating the law will face fines of up to US$160,000,
according to the press release. The government has promised the people of
Taiwan that it will continue to monitor the safety of GM crops in an
effort to address the well-being of farmers, who are expected to benefit
the most from the development of biotechnology: one of the most promising
new technologies of this century.


European NGO Network on Genetic Engineering

Hartmut MEYER (Mr)
In den Steinäckern 13
D - 38116 Braunschweig

P: +49-531-5168746
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