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Wang Discusses Biotechnology in Asia

By Dana Levine

EXECUTIVE EDITOR

Institute Professor Daniel I. C. Wang ’59 spoke about the development of biotechnology industries in several Asian countries last night.

The talk, entitled “Impact of Biotechnology: The Pacific Rim,” discussed government and private attempts to develop the biotechnology industry in China, Hong Kong, Singapore, and Taiwan. Wang has served as an adviser on biotechnology to the governments of these countries for over ten years.

Illegal pharmaceuticals rampant

According to Wang, these nations do little research of their own, mainly producing generic versions of drugs developed in the United States and Europe. “Something very interesting is that when you look at our universities, we’re into developing new things, whereas they are into generics,” he said.

Although some of these generic drugs are copies of medicines whose patents have expired, most of these countries do not obey intellectual property laws. This permits companies to produce any patented drug for use within that country, including newer recombinant DNA drugs.

“If they use them internally, there’s no way to police that,” Wang said, likening their strategies to playing with an open hand of cards. “Give me one peek, and I’ll know exactly how to play my cards.”

The abuse of intellectual property laws in several Asian countries has led U.S. companies to be wary of introducing products there. Wang said that U.S. and European car manufacturers, for example, only distribute older models in China.

Pressure to tighten property laws

In response to the cautious attitudes of some Western firms, some countries in the region have begun to enforce intellectual property laws. China now recognizes patents granted after 1993, and the other countries have also begun to acknowledge U.S. patents. Singapore, which respects intellectual property rights, manufactures drugs for Merck, Gallaxo, and Schering. “A real strength in Singapore is the strength of the government. The structure is such that companies trust it,” said Wang.

China, however, has significant problems other than patent enforcement. Manufacturing processes in China are not up to the standards enforced by the rest of the world, as many of the plants were built with technology derived from the Soviet Union.

However, Wang said that “China has great potential in terms of size.” China’s government has pledged to invest billions of dollars over the next few years towards the development of new drugs and testing the efficacy of traditional therapies.

He also noted that many U.S.-trained scientists and engineers have been returning to China. “Ten or fifteen years ago, very few people went back to China. We’re seeing much more of that today,” said Wang.

According to Wang, these Pacific countries hope to shift their industry towards biotechnology in the next few years. As the manufacturing of traditional textiles and products is moving away from several Pacific Rim nations in search of lower costs, biotechnology research and development could fill in the economic gaps.