The Rise of Asia in Biotech R&D

June 14, 2011 § Leave a comment

China, South Korea, Malaysia, Making the Biotech R&D Push

Publication output in information technology in 2009. China overtook the US for the first time.

The U.S. may still be the world’s leading nation when it comes to developing, protecting, and commercializing new technologies, but recent global patent numbers point to other countries vying for the top spot. China and several Asian nations are emerging as formidable innovators.

According to the European Patent Office, U.S. applicants brought forth 60,588 applications in 2010, a figure surpassed by the 82,828 filed by the 27-nation EU, whose innovations accounted for almost 90% of the 92,553 filed by the 38 nations comprising the European Patent Convention. The EU’s patent applications rose just 5% over the 2009 figure, compared with 6% for EPC and 12% for the U.S.

However, China’s 12,698 patent applications in 2010 marked a 54% increase over 2009 and a doubling from 2008. Not too far behind was South Korea with 12,342 patent applications, up a healthy 21% from 2009. And weeks before it was devastated by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami, Japan finished last year with a 10% year-over-year gain in patent applications, rising to 41,917, second among all countries.

Emerging Asian nations are expanding their biotechnology industries beyond initial strengths in manufacturing and R&D toward more innovative work in developing treatments, tools, and technologies. Another emerging Asian nation with a growing interest in the sciences is Malaysia. Last month, the Prime Minister outlined plans to improve innovation and economic development in the country.

A major issue confronting science in Malaysia is the declining interest in a science career, said Tan Sri Dr Ahmad Tajuddin Ali, President of the Academy of Sciences Malaysia in the New Straits Times. Unless addressed soon, Ali predicts, the country may not have the critical mass of scientists to drive innovation.

“Now, only 20 per cent of secondary school students opt for a Science course. Some educationists blame it on the uninteresting ways Science is taught,” he said. “They are urging the government to revive inquiry-based Science education (IBSE) earlier piloted in some select schools. In countries such as France and China, IBSE has been a major success in reviving interest in Science.”

Even though the United States is still one of the most innovative countries in the world, Matthew Harper of Forbes argues taht “collaboration is key”.

“America is among the most collaborative – raising the possibility that collaboration may actually lead to higher quality,” he said in his four part series examining the scientific output of different nations in biology, clean energy, and computer science. “Want to stay ahead of China? Opening doors to working together might not be a bad idea.”

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