Making biomedicine the next trillion-dollar industry

  • Date: 2017-05-31

I. Background

Biomedicine is fast becoming one of the hottest industries in the world, driven by a confluence of factors including population aging, advances in medical technology, the constant appearance of newly emerging infectious diseases, and the development of personalized and precision medicine.

To take full advantage of these opportunities, Taiwan’s government has designated biomedicine as one of the “five plus two” innovative industries for priority development. The Executive Yuan also passed the Biomedical Industry Innovation Program on November 10, 2016 to make Taiwan an Asian-Pacific hub for biomedical research and development. This program focuses on the theme of “local, global and future links” and contains four action plans: building a comprehensive ecosystem, integrating innovation clusters, connecting global market resources, and promoting specialized key industries.

As of the end of 2016, Taiwan had 108 listed biomedical industry firms with an aggregate market capitalization of NT$976.1 billion (US$30.2 billion). Total business revenues for those companies in 2016 was NT$186.4 billion (US$5.8 billion), up 21 percent from 2015, and the government will continue to spur industry growth through strategic, value and commercial innovations. By the year 2020, the domestic industry is expected to develop 10 new pharmaceuticals, put 40 high-value medical devices on the international market, and achieve output value and export sales worth NT$650 billion (US$21.4 billion). By 2025, the goal is to develop 20 new pharmaceuticals and have 80 different high-value medical devices on the international market, creating an NT-trillion-dollar industry offering a wide range of quality products.

II. Progress of the Biomedical Industry Innovation Program

A. Building a comprehensive ecosystem

1. Strategies: Build a basic environment, and enhance the industry’s ability to innovate by focusing on talent, capital, intellectual property, laws, resources and topic selection.

2. Progress: Regulations were eased and several laws are being amended:

(1) Amendments to Article 3 of the Act for the Development of Biotech and New Pharmaceuticals Industry were promulgated on January 18, 2017, expanding the definition of high-risk medical devices and adding emerging biotech and pharmaceutical products to the list of items eligible for tax incentives.

(2) Proposed amendments to the Fundamental Science and Technology Act have been sent to the Legislature for deliberation, along with a bill on establishing a national drug evaluation center and draft amendments to the Pharmaceutical Affairs Act.

B. Integrating innovation clusters

1. Strategy: Form an innovative “biotech corridor” of medical equipment and pharmaceutical clusters running from northern to southern Taiwan.

2. Progress:

(1) The Center of Biomedical Industry Innovation Program was inaugurated on January 25, 2017 at the Hsinchu Biomedical Science Park to help nurture new biomedical companies. A service window for importing biomedical industry raw material was also established, shortening the time required for raw biomedical research materials to clear customs, and improving the timeliness and competitiveness of Taiwan’s research and development work.

(2) Building structures are in place at the National Biotechnology Research Park in Taipei. The entire park is scheduled to be completed by late December 2017.

(3) Construction on the National Taiwan University Hospital branch at the Hsinchu Biomedical Science Park began February 2, 2017, with a soft opening expected in 2019.

C. Connecting to global markets

1. Strategies: Leverage Taiwan’s strengths, promote strategic alliances including mergers and acquisitions, and develop Southeast Asian and global markets.

2. Progress:

(1) The Industrial Development Bureau under the Ministry of Economic Affairs previously established the Taiwan Pharmaceutical Alliance to lead efforts to tap overseas drug markets. Over time, this group of 14 companies has forged partnerships with the Japan Pharmaceutical Traders’ Association and other organizations. In April 2017, a delegation of 11 companies from the alliance attended the CPhI Japan pharma exhibition, meeting other industry professionals and developing closer ties with Japan.
(2) Central and local authorities have significantly reduced endemic cases of dengue fever by employing rapid testing kits, mosquito controls, geographic information, aerial drones, and other disease prevention technology. The government also discussed developing mosquito-borne disease control technologies with several Taiwanese corporations to help prevent disease in Taiwan and Southeast Asia, and market Taiwan’s products through foreign medical aid programs.

(3) The Ministry of Health and Welfare has invited medical leaders from Thailand, the Philippines, Indonesia and Malaysia, as well as doctors from Southeast Asia, to learn about dental equipment and diagnostic clinics at hospitals associated with Kaohsiung Medical University, Taipei Medical University and National Cheng Kung University. These exchanges will also open up markets in Southeast Asia for Taiwan’s medical devices and products.

D. Promoting specialized key industries

1. Strategies: Develop niche precision medicine capabilities, form world-class clusters for specialized medicine, and promote the health and wellness industry.

2. Progress:

(1) Academia Sinica, National Taiwan University and Chang Gung University are participating in the U.S.-led Cancer Moonshot initiative, sharing Taiwan’s progress in lung and breast cancer research with other countries while securing an early position on the global drug development value chain.

(2) To develop world-class clusters for specialized medicine, the government has revised plans for the Hsinchu Biomedical Science Park to include specialized medicine zones, and formulated strategies for attracting top specialty medical institutes to the park.

(3) To promote the health and wellness industry, the government has linked at least five medical or health care facilities for hardware installation and integrated service solution certification. By the end of 2017, a smart health service integration platform and cross-industry cooperation ecosystem will be formed, and applications will be submitted to license the resulting software-plus-hardware systems so they can be put on the market.

III. Conclusion

Today, biomedicine remains a “people-centered” industry that provides compassionate care and services. As the world grapples with population aging and its impact on the quality of life and health, Taiwan is receiving much attention for its outstanding medical and health care, medical equipment, and biotech pharmaceuticals, all of which offer vast business potential. The government will continue promoting growth and innovation in the biomedical industry, transforming Taiwan into an Asia-Pacific hub for biomedical research and development, and developing biomedicine into an NT-trillion-dollar industry. These efforts will not only boost the domestic economy but also benefit the health and well-being of the people of Taiwan.