Healthy Growth

From Taiwan Review 2018-07-03

A researcher selects samples for testing at Development Center for Biotechnology. (Photo by Huang Chung-hsin)

The biomedical sector is gaining momentum on the back of comprehensive industry support measures.


In February, Vice President Chen Chien-jen (陳建仁‬) welcomed representatives from some of the nation’s foremost biomedical companies and research teams to the Office of the President in Taipei City. The guests were winners of the 2017 National Quality Awards organized by the government-supported Institute for Biotechnology and Medicine Industry (IBMI). Chen praised the firms and researchers for fostering innovation and providing exceptional care in fields spanning health and well-being services, medical devices and pharmaceuticals.


Citing a report by Paris-based Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the vice president noted that going forward bio-based sectors are expected to account for more than half of gross domestic product in developed countries. Given the economic and social significance of this potential-laden field, the government is committed to positioning Taiwan as a regional hub of related R&D, he said.

A lab at DCB, the first major resident of the under-construction National Biotechnology Research Park in Taipei City (Photo by Huang Chung-hsin)

Biomedical Boom


Taiwan’s biomedical sector is going from strength to strength. According to the Ministry of Science and Technology (MOST), total industry revenues from products and services rose from about NT$330 billion (US$11 billion) in 2011 to NT$486 billion (US$16.2 billion) last year. The figure for 2017 represented an annual increase of 3.4 percent.


This growth follows wide-ranging government initiatives in past decades to bolster sector development. Helping spearhead these measures is the IBMI. “The institute’s primary role is to coordinate activities among the academic, public and private sectors,” CEO Chien Chung-liang (錢宗良‬) said. Other key responsibilities include honoring participants and certifying products and services.


In 2004, the IBMI launched its annual awards recognizing biomedical companies and researchers for significant contributions to patients, the industry and Taiwan’s overall health care environment. Among the 2017 winners were Gray Biomedical Co. based in central Taiwan’s Taichung City and National Taiwan University Hospital in Taipei. The former took home the prize for its leading-edge air purifier equipment, while the latter won for its extracorporeal membrane oxygenation-assisted cardiopulmonary resuscitation system.

Also in 2004, the IBMI unveiled the Symbol of National Quality (SNQ) to highlight the safety and high standard of Taiwan’s biomedical offerings. Last year, some 250 products and services received the label, which must be renewed annually. “SNQ certification is a rigorous process involving written reports and on-site inspections by specialists in areas like cosmetics, food, health care, herbal medicine, instruments and pharmaceuticals,” Chien said.


Fresh Focus


Government measures to accelerate sector growth kicked into high gear in 2016 with the introduction of the Biomedical Industry Innovation Program. The initiative aims to transform biomedicine into a trillion New Taiwan dollar industry by 2025 through fostering 20 new pharmaceuticals, bringing 80 high-value medical devices to market and cultivating at least 10 major health and well-being service brands.


Two laws were amended last year under the program. The Act for the Development of Biotech and New Pharmaceuticals Industry, promulgated in 2007 to offer tax breaks for investments in related R&D and personnel training, was expanded to cover emerging fields like preventative and regenerative medicine. The Fundamental Science and Technology Act was also revised to facilitate biotech talent flows between the academic and private sectors.


These efforts are paying handsome dividends as evidenced by the rising number of locally developed pharmaceuticals. As of the end of April, a total of 247 drugs produced by Taiwan companies were undergoing clinical research at home and abroad, an increase of 12.3 percent year on year, according to the MOST. Of this number, 140 got approval for trials from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Hepatitis B and C medications produced by Taipei-headquartered PharmaEssentia Corp. (Photo by Huang Chung-hsin)

Notable medications to gain commercial sales authorization this year include pancreatic cancer-treating Onivyde by PharmaEngine and HIV drug Ibalizumab from TaiMed Biologics. The Taipei-headquartered firms received market access for the pharmaceuticals in Singapore and the U.S., respectively. Taiwan’s medical device manufacturers have registered similar successes, with 55 innovations earning premarket approval from the FDA in 2017.

Nationwide Clusters


The growth of the biomedical sector is expected to further the government’s goal of promoting balanced regional development. Major biotech clusters are located at science parks nationwide, including in Taipei and Hsinchu County in northern Taiwan, Taichung, and the southern cities of Tainan and Kaohsiung. One of the largest of these, based in the capital’s Nangang District, is in the midst of a major expansion.


Adjacent from the existing Taipei cluster, Academia Sinica, the nation’s foremost scientific institution, is overseeing construction of the National Biotechnology Research Park (NBRP). Future occupants will include the IBMI, Taiwan’s FDA and the National Laboratory Animal Center under the MOST-administered National Applied Research Laboratories.


The park’s first major resident moved in last year: the Ministry of Economic Affairs-supported Development Center for Biotechnology (DCB). The institution was established in 1984 as part of early government measures to promote commercialization of local biotechnology research. DCB has since spun off four major enterprises in the fields of drug manufacturing and testing. These companies—EirGenix, Quest Pharmaceutical Services Co. Taiwan, TFBS Bioscience and Taiwan Advance Bio-Pharmaceutical—are headquartered near DCB’s former home in Xizhi District of New Taipei City.


According to DCB President Herbert Wu (吳忠勳‬), the center’s current focus is promoting emerging fields like cell therapy and precision medicine. The Nangang park is expected to further these efforts by providing facilities for cutting-edge R&D and fostering exchanges between local startups and international pharmaceutical companies. “The NBRP will house infrastructure for critical phases of prototype drug development like preclinical testing on animals,” Wu said. “Subsequent trials can then be conducted at associated Taipei medical centers.”

New Instruments


While the Nangang site is intended to serve as a research center for new pharmaceuticals, other clusters will primarily work to develop cutting-edge instruments. Southern Taiwan Science Park (STSP) in Tainan and Kaohsiung is home to 73 biomedical firms, 55 of which produce medical devices. The total revenues of these companies increased 4.6 percent year on year to NT$9.53 billion (US$317.7 million) in 2017, according to Joyce Chou (周怡祺), head of the Industry-Academic R&D Section in the Investment Services Division at the STSP Bureau.

Visitors attend the inaugural Taiwan Healthcare+ Expo staged Dec. 7-10 last year in Taipei. (Photo courtesy of Institute for Biotechnology and Medicine Industry)

Chou said that a growing number of devices from resident firms have been adopted by prominent Taiwan medical institutions such as the affiliated hospitals of Kaohsiung Medical University and National Cheng Kung University (NCKU) in Tainan as well as Shuang Ho Hospital in New Taipei operated by Taipei Medical University. Tom Lee (李國宏), chief of the Investment Services Division, attributed this success to bureau initiatives aimed at promoting communication between manufacturers and practicing physicians. The MOST-overseen park bureau also operates assistance programs to help resident companies attend trade shows and build relationships with doctors in Southeast Asian markets like Malaysia, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam, he added.


In line with these efforts, an STSP medical device research and commercialization center was launched at the University of Medicine and Pharmacy in Ho Chi Minh City last November. The facility exhibits products from 13 resident firms and collaborates with the Medical Device Innovation Center at NCKU on product development.


Global Expo


The most significant recent step to promote international awareness of the nation’s biomedical expertise was the 2017 launch of the Taiwan Healthcare+ Expo. Organized by the IBMI, it is intended to serve as the most comprehensive trade show of its kind in Asia.


Staged Dec. 7-10 in Taipei, the inaugural edition featured about 1,050 booths by more than 300 local and foreign companies and medical centers, and attracted over 70,000 visitors and forum attendees. This year’s event, scheduled to run Nov. 29 to Dec. 2, is expected to be even bigger and will focus on highlighting smart health care solutions, according to Chien.


“The strength of the local information and communication technology sector gives Taiwan a major advantage in developing innovative biomedical products and services,” he said. “In addition to spotlighting this competitive edge, we aim to deepen cross-sector collaboration so that the latest breakthroughs in artificial intelligence, big data and robotics can benefit patients at home and around the world.”