Biotechnology in Asia: A Growing Industry

Compared to the U.S. and many European countries, the biotechnology industry in Asia is embryonic. However, in recent years, several Asian countries have designated the expansion of biotechnology as crucial to their economic development. Some governments in Asia have thus begun taking steps to ensure growth and development of the biotech industry in their countries.

For example, while in the past many Japanese pharmaceutical companies have set up relationships with U.S. biotech companies, the Japanese government has now devised a biotechnology strategy that hopes to develop the estimated one trillion yen (US$7.55 billion) industry into one valued at almost 28.75 trillion yen (US$217 billion) by 2010. This scheme also expects that nearly 80,000 people will be employed at 1,000 biotechnology companies, and wants the biotechnology sector to become a well-defined industrial category, similar to “electronics” or “automobiles”. Government funding, low cost loans, and other preferential treatment are the primary tactics being used to boost Japan’s domestic biotech market.

The Chinese government began developing their biotech industry in the mid-1980s, and it “intends” to be on par with Western countries by 2004 – a lofty goal that is obviously not doable. Beijing announced last year that it will build the world’s largest “medicine valley” in the Beijing Economic and Technical Zone, which currently hosts about 60 medicine and biotechnology firms. According to the China Economic Times, the new “medicine valley” will serve as an improved headquarters for the medical and biotech industries. The 60 companies that are currently based in the Zone focus on research and development of new medical and biotech products, in addition to creation of medical equipment.

Hong Kong and Singapore will also be using new biotechnology centers, similar to China’s “medicine valley”, to expand their domestic biotech industries. Hong Kong’s government says that it will build a science park for biotechnology research and development, while Singapore expects its science research center, “Biopolis”, to be finished in two years. Biopolis, which will be located near the National University, will have the newest laboratories, equipment, retail stores and residences, and the Singaporean government predicts that at least 1,000 new jobs will be created.