Leveraging Taiwan’s remarkable talent pool in chemistry, some of the country’s fastest-growing companies have been concentrating their efforts on technology platforms that allow them to develop a plethora of potentially game-changing products, rather than focusing all their resources on the risky development of a single, potentially groundbreaking product.
Taiwan needs to be a pioneer in a way that goes beyond technology, which requires developing and implementing new business models that will allow our companies to rapidly stand out from the international competition
“The true core of our company is our in-house developed technology platform, OralPAS®, a self-microemulsifying drug delivery system which allows the transformation of an existing, non-oral product (for example an injectable) into an oral dosage. In this regard, we clearly position ourselves as a technology-based biotech company rather than being focused on a specific therapeutic area,” confirms CS Hsu, president of Innopharmax, which was ranked seventh fastest growing high-technology company in Taiwan in 2015 by Deloitte’s “Technology Fast 500 Asia Pacific” ranking. “Our teams have developed our technology platform from scratch, an effort that has clearly paid off as we now hold many patents in various international markets, covering not only the commercial rights of our products but also their APIs,” he says when analyzing Innopharmax’ impressive year-on-year growth rate of 519 percent that made it one of the fastest-growing life sciences companies in the region in 2015. “The potential of our technology platform has been drawing the interest of a rapidly-growing number of international pharmaceutical companies over the past years, essentially from China or India but also from North America and Europe, and we are now involved in several commercial partnerships all around the world, ” reveals Hsu.
InnoPharmax’s focus on developing products complying with the requirements of the US FDA’s 505(b)(2) NDA, an appealing drug approval pathway that avoids unnecessary duplication of studies already performed on a previously approved drug, is actually far from unusual in the Taiwanese biotech landscape. “By fully leveraging our proprietary technology platforms, 505(b)(2) products should bring great growth prospects to the company, as many crucial treatments are still only available through injectable and/or oral dosage forms around the world,” confirms Howard Lee, chairman and CEO of Easywell Biomedicals, which was recently ranked the tenth fastest-growing high-tech company in Taiwan by the same Deloitte ranking, thanks to an eye-catching 367 percent growth rate in 2016. In this regard, Lee also highlights the importance of holding the global rights of all the company’s products under development, “in comparison to some Taiwan-based companies that rely on in-licensed products for which they only own local rights”.
Besides being extremely rewarding, the process innovation developed by these companies’ technology platforms also reveals itself as truly life changing. “In the US, there is so far no approved medicine for the treatment of cholangiocarcinoma, beside an injectable available under NCCN guidelines. Nevertheless, after a 6-month chemotherapy, it is physically difficult for patients to handle the frequent injections as prescribed, while oral treatment are more convenient and lightly dosed than injectable products”, explains Innopharmax’s Hsu, as the company received in January 2016 US FDA Orphan Drug Designation for an in-house developed Gemcitabine Oral, which is about to enter a phase II trial.
In the same vein, Easywell Biomedicals’ transdermal Parkinson patch, for which the company started a Pivotal PK Clinical Trial in Malaysia, also holds mind-blowing market potential, as the global sales of the current oral treatment already amount to over USD 600 million. “By bringing a transdermal patch to the market, we expect to both ease treatment usage and increase patient adherence, meaning that market size should increase too. In other product categories, we already saw that the market entry of transdermal treatment form increased market size up to fivefold. In the past, most of the patches brought to the market were also more highly priced than oral dosages – usually around twice the price of the pill – as soon as the heightened efficacy and therapeutic advantages of the patches are clearly proven, ” anticipates Easywell’s Lee.
Finally, this focus on in-house developed, proprietary platforms also comes with the broader ambition to develop a novel class of drugs holding greater targeting power and lower side effects than existing drugs. “In this regard, my long-term vision is to establish our company as a world-class design center for smart protein and peptide drugs, where scientists can leverage our Antibody Switch-on Cytotoxicity (ASC) platform to combine their research and turn it into marketable products, envisions Chen Min-Che, founder and managing director of Asclepiumm, whose ASC platform comprises a very innovative way to block or control intracellular signals. “To put it bluntly, this technology operates as an ASC shuttle that brings antibodies and peptides directly to targeted cells. As most existing effector molecule are cell-penetrating peptides, they are integrated with cell signaling regulation peptide functions after reaching their targets, while we found out during our animal studies that our technology platform enhanced effectors to reach the cells’ nucleus and operate at the gene level,” explains Chen. “As this ASC technology could allow us to control gene expression and protein interaction, we now want to develop our research capacity with the ambitions to develop ASC bio-drugs in areas such as oncology, anti-aging therapies, and tissue-specific hormones therapies, ” he adds.
Nevertheless, Taiwan’s world-class scientific and technology capacities should not overshadow the importance of implementing the right commercial strategy. “In Taiwan, there is a popular saying which states that “it is easier to train a good scholar than a good businessman.” This is precisely the challenge that our biotech sector is currently facing: Taiwan needs to be a pioneer in a way that goes beyond technology, which requires developing and implementing new business models that will allow our companies to rapidly stand out from the international competition,” warns Minister of Economic Affairs Chih-Kung Lee.