Taiwan invested over NT$20 billion (US$571 million) in biotechnology in 2001, up over 100 percent compared to 2000. Premier Chang Chun-hsiung announced last year that Taiwan’s government plans to increase its NT$10 billion (US$285.5 million) annual investment in biotechnology by 25 percent annually. Taiwan has already set aside NT$52 billion (US$1.48 billion) for biotechnology investment over the next five years. In late 2001, there were 150 biotechnology firms in Taiwan, most of which were engaged in the production of antibiotic and patent medicines. The government has also created a number of research centers and revamped science parks in hopes of cultivating a vibrant domestic biotech industry.
One problem plaguing the Taiwanese biotechnology industry is the government bureaucracy surrounding the industry. At least five Ministry of Economic Affairs agencies oversee the industry, including the “Development Center for Biotechnology” and the “Biotechnology & Pharmaceutical Investment Programs Office.” Two other government agencies and several research groups also exert some influence over the sector. Government officials announced recently that they would soon open a “one-stop center” for biotechnology under the Committee for Biotech and Pharmaceutical Industries Development. It remains to be seen whether this new “one-stop” entity will streamline government oversight or add yet another layer of bureaucracy to the already overburdened industry.
Taiwan’s biotechnology industry will also face challenges in the wake of its recent WTO accession. Local companies will be exposed to increased competition from international firms looking to penetrate Taiwan’s domestic market. On the other hand, domestic biotech companies will benefit from trade liberalization on both sides of the Taiwan Strait (China was also recently admitted to the WTO). Moreover, trade liberalization may attract foreign investment into Taiwan’s biotechnology industry.
Despite the potential pitfalls, biotechnology has the potential to be a huge growth industry for Taiwan. With its strengths in computing technology, Taiwan is particularly well situated to be a major player in the growing bioinformatics industry. (Bioinformatics refers to the use of computer applications in the biosciences.) Though government efforts to develop “superstar” domestic companies in this field have been disappointing, several local firms are making their mark on the industry. U-Vision Biotech Corp., for example, is using gene sequencing to help test the efficacy of traditional Chinese medicine compounds in the search for new drugs. Another company, Digital-Gene Biosciences Co., is active in the field of proteomics. The firm provides protein identification services and does protein sequencing.