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From Korea to India to Singapore to China, Nations Compete Fiercely in Biotech Development, Business and Industry Trends Analysis

Drug companies and government research agencies in many other countries are enhancing their positions on the biotech playing field, building their own educational and technological infrastructures, and in some case creating vast new biotech research districts or complexes.  Not surprisingly, countries such as India, Singapore and China, which have already made deep inroads into other technology-based industries, are investing in major efforts in biotechnology, which is very much an information-based science.  Firms that manufacture generics and provide contract research, development and clinical trials services are already common in such nations.  In most cases, this was just a beginning, with original drug and technology development a rapidly evolving, symbiotic industry.
The government of Singapore, for example, has made biotechnology one of its top priorities for development, vowing to make it one of the staples of its economy.  Its “Biopolis” research and development center opened in 2003.  Biopolis is part of a master planned science and technology park called One-North.  The complex is recognized as a center for stem cell and cell therapy research.  It is a melting pot of scientists and corporations from all over the world, attracted to Singapore’s central location, direct airline access to all of the world’s major cities and status as a highly respected health care center with a well-educated, largely English-speaking population.  For example, the Novartis Institute for Tropical Diseases at Singapore has more than 100 researchers from 18 different nations.  Biopolis was built in five phases at an estimated cost of $700 million.  Phase I encompasses 1.99 million square feet and opened in 2003.  Phase II added two seven-story buildings (398,268 square feet total) and opened in 2006.  Phase III, completed in 2011, includes more than 400,000 square feet of laboratories, research facilities, office and retail space.  Phases IV and V, adding additional space for research and clinical trials, were completed in 2013.  (Another unit of the One-North development is called Fusionopolis, a 24-story building housing researchers, designers and entrepreneurs in media, software, communications and entertainment.)
India already has hundreds of firms involved in biotechnology and related support services.  In 2005, the nation tightened its intellectual property laws in order to provide stronger patent protection to the drug industry.  As a result, drug development activity by pharma firms from around the world has increased in Indian locations in recent years, although at least one foreign firm was disappointed when it attempted to enforce its patents in India.  The FDA has approved hundreds of industrial plants in India for drug manufacturing and raw material production for use in the U.S.  (Many factories have also been approved within China.)  Meanwhile, pharmaceutical firms have hired sales representatives within India in the thousands.
The costs of developing a new drug in India can be a small fraction of those in the U.S., although drugs developed in India still are required to go through the lengthy and expensive U.S. FDA approval process before they can be sold to American patients.  India has its own robust biotech parks, including the well-established S. P. Biotech Park covering 300 acres in Hyderabad.
Stem cell (and cloning) research activity has been brisk in a number of nations outside the U.S. as well.  To begin with, certain institutions around the world have stem cell lines in place, and some make them available for purchase.  Groups that own existing lines include the National University of Singapore, Monash University in Australia and Hadassah Medical Centre in Israel.  Sweden has also stepped onto the stage as a major player in stem cell research, with dozens of companies focused on the field, including firms such as Cellartis AB, which has one of the largest lines of stem cells in the world, and NeuroNova AB, which is focusing on regenerating nerve tissue.
More importantly, several Asian nations, including Singapore, South Korea, Japan and China, are investing intensely in biotech research centered on cloning and the development of stem cell therapies.  The global lead in the development of stem cell therapies may eventually pass to China, where the Chinese Ministry of Science and Technology readily sees the commercial potential and is enthusiastically funding research.  On top of funding from the Chinese government, investments in labs and research are being backed by Chinese universities, private companies, venture capitalists and Hong Kong-based investors.
China has made drug research a priority, and Chinese drug research spending has grown rapidly.  In addition, China is the world’s largest producer of raw materials for drugs.  This became controversial during the Coronavirus pandemic, as many members of the U.S. Congress called for much less reliance on China in this regard.
The Made in China 2025 initiative includes efforts to speed up drug approvals and spend more on health care.  This is a shift from focusing on cheap generics and the production of basic ingredients necessary to the pharmaceuticals manufacturing industry.  China is making strides in new therapies such a cancer drugs based on PD-1 inhibitors, which are cutting edge treatments for advanced cancer.  Shanghai-based Junshi Biosciences Co. offers Tuoyi for melanoma for about a third of the cost of a rival drug made by Merck.  In 2018, China began accepting clinical trial data from other countries rather than requiring separate tests on Chinese patients, which further speeds the drug approval process.
Meanwhile, leading biotech firms, including Roche, Pfizer and Eli Lilly, took advantage of China’s education systems and relatively low operating costs in order to establish R&D centers there.  In this manner, offshore research can be complemented by offshore clinical trials.
Taiwan has four biotech research parks.  The Taiwanese government has a biotech development action plan which includes a $2 billion venture capital fund, a super-incubator and plans for expansion of the country’s existing Development Center for Biotechnology.  Meanwhile, Vietnam has plans to open six biotech research labs.  Australia also has a rapidly developing biotechnology industry.
South Korea is a world leader in research and development in a wide variety of technical sectors, and it is pushing ahead boldly into biotechnology.  Korean government leaders are focused on increasing research capabilities and basic sciences, particularly at research-oriented universities.  The combination of government backing and extensive private capital in Korea could make this nation a biotech powerhouse.  One area of emphasis there is stem cell research.  (In Seoul, the government is also backing Digital Media City, a hub of developers and entrepreneurs in electronic games, media content and communications technology.
Another initiative is the Korea Research Institute of Bioscience and Biotechnology.  In addition to fewer restrictions, many countries outside of the U.S. have lower labor costs, even for highly educated professionals such as doctors and scientists.

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