Biotech sector primed for rapid growth in Asian giants

Growth and interest in biotechnology is growing in key Asian markets, driven by increased government spending, a loosening of regulations, price reforms and private sector funding.

China leads Asia in biotech research and development, number of companies, jobs and IPOs. The government has poured billions of dollars into biotechnology since the 2015 launch of its “Made in China 2025” initiative, an industrial upgrading strategy that aims to shift China’s economy into higher value-added manufacturing sectors. New regulations in Hong Kong that allow pre-revenue companies to go public have made China an attractive destination for public biotech companies. And the Chinese government has made a priority of luring back well-educated Chinese STEM professionals living overseas.

Japan stands just behind China in the size and impact of its biotechnology sector and is making strides to grow the cutting edge pharma industry still more. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is seeking to speed approvals of new drugs by cutting regulations, and his government has identified regenerative medicine for future expansion.

South Korea has awarded more patents to biotechnology companies than any Asian country except Japan and China, and trails those same countries in research and development in the biotechnology sector. It has long been attractive to multinational biotech companies, but this year has seen some backsliding. Bayer plans to shut down a contrast-agent production plant in Anseong by the end of the year, and Johnson & Johnson subsidiary Janssen Korea plans to close a solid-dosage factory in Hyangnam in 2021.

India, long home to multinational pharma firms, has pivoted in recent years to a policy of nurturing and expanding its relatively small domestic biotechnology sector. More than 1,100 biotech startups launched in the country between 2012 and 2016, and another 475 opened operations in 2017 alone. Currently, India is home to more than 4,500 pharmaceutical companies and about 850 biotech firms.

Australia is also taking major steps to boost its biopharma and biotech industries. In May it announced tax incentives to research and development firms. And the government plans to invest about $340 million over the next decade on the nation’s first human genome project. The Australian Genomics Health Futures Mission is expected to boost the nations biopharma industry and expand access to genomics technology.