Interview with Hsi-Wen Tsai, Director of the Incubation Center, NHRI
Currently, there are more than one hundred incubation centers in Taiwan, which mainly provide resources for startups and small to medium-sized enterprises in their early stages of development. Those resources include spaces, instruments, technology, capital, business-related services, management consulting, etc., to reduce their initial start-up cost and risk. Most incubation centers are set up within the universities and government agencies. Among them, the Incubation Center of the National Health Research Institutes (NHRI) has immense experience in focusing on the biotechnology and biomedical sector and has played a vital role in developing Taiwan’s biomedical industry.
Foundation of NHRI’s Incubation Center
“During the year 2000, Taiwan’s biotechnology and biomedical industry were still in its infancy, and it did not develop as vigorously as it is now. Many biotechnology companies still have a long way to go before they can develop independently. Therefore, a great amount of government-funded research will be needed for the industry,” said Hsi-Wen Tsai, Director of the Incubation Center of NHRI.
With that goal in mind, the Ministry of Health and Welfare (then, the Department of Health) established the NHRI, hoping to uplift the biotechnology and biomedical industry and improve the welfare of the society. In 2001, the NHRI set up its technology transfer office with a focus to consolidate the R&D results from the institute, manage intellectual property, and promote technology transfer. In 2007, the NHRI established an incubation center that integrated with the technology transfer office into the NHRI Technology Transfer and Incubation Center. Its structure can be divided into three groups: Intellectual Property Technology Transfer, Industry-Academia liaison and Planning, and Innovative Incubation Center. The services range from internal patent protection and promotion, cooperation with academia and industry, and the incubation of start-up companies.
Establishment of Biomedical Value Chain: Minimizing the Risk of Biomedical Manufacturers
“The incubation center of NHRI is not only the bridge between academia and industry but also an important link in the biomedical industry value chain,” said Director Tsai.
In an ideal biomedical value chain, the main task of academia is to perform basic research and educate students and create a pool of industrial talents. On the other hand, the industry is responsible for business development and marketing. Therefore, NHRI supports further development of basic research from academia, reduces risks of biotech companies down the line, and in turn, improves their entrepreneurial success rate. “Scaling up” is one of the challenges when the technology is transferred to the manufacturer. In a research setting, usually, developments occur in a small quantity in a controlled environment, and it is easier to manage. However, when the product needs to be scaled up and commercialized, the risk for the manufacturer is aplenty since those issues or defects will be amplified.
Take, for instance, the non-exclusive authorization of the “COVID-19 Rapid Screening Reagents” given to five biotech companies. NHRI and the National Defense Medical Center jointly developed the reagent and minimized the risk of developing new rapid screening reagents and manufacturing. We also enhanced the reagent’s specificity and sensitivity, which allows the biotech companies to invest their resources in market development.
NHRI Incubation Center – The Bridge Between Academia and Industry
“In addition to providing technology transfer pipeline, the university’s incubation center should aim to cultivate more talents needed by the industry.” Director Tsai emphasized that the roles of the school and the NHRI’s incubation center should be differentiated. In addition to teaching R&D knowledge and technology, professors at educational organizations should allow students to learn the process of technology transfer and licensing when developing a new research project, or even establish new startup through industry-university cooperation. That way, students have the opportunity to experience the industry setting.
Utilizing Resources and Connecting with Manufacturers to Build a Biomedical Ecosystem
In order to maximize NHRI’s abundant research resources and strong R&D capabilities to benefit the biomedical industry, the incubation center will first understand the entire biomedical economy market. This is achieved through partnering with venture capitals, recruiting biomedical companies of immense potential, and analyzing from the aspects of technology, capital, market, and regulations. The center will then provide relevant development funds, resources, and space, hoping to help them grow into mid-size companies, and eventually enter the international market as large companies. Conversely, some companies aim to grow steadily with good products that could become targets of mergers and acquisitions by other large companies. To strengthen the business strategy, the NHRI incubation center invites industry leaders as consultants, provides resources and funds, and even merges them into a subsidiary.
In summary, the NHRI incubation center hopes to build a new biomedical economic ecosystem. In addition to helping entrants become medium-sized and large-scale companies, it also facilitates peer-to-peer connection or key corporate investment and acquisition.
For example, Enimmune, a subsidiary of Adimmune, which specializes in vaccine research and development, is a key member of the NHRI’s incubation center this year. It provides resources and assistance for startups in this area. Besides, the genetic testing company Taiwan Genome Industry Alliance, founded by the NHRI’s incubation center with the support of industry leaders, is cooperating with the NHRI to develop next-generation sequencing (NGS), cancer animal models, tumor cell culture and other technologies in the clinical space.
In conclusion, Director Tsai encouraged more biomedical startups or small and medium-sized enterprises to join the incubation center and become partners. As the Chinese saying”fish helps water, water helps fish,” a company can grow stronger and become profitable through a mutual relationship with the incubation center, thereby advancing the biotechnology and biomedical industry forward.
To contact NHRI Incubation Center: [email protected]
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