Virtual Event Explores “Brave New Era” for Biotech Industry

Despite being held virtually this year due to COVID-19 restrictions, BIO Asia-Taiwan 2021 gave attendees the chance to enjoy a broad range of presentations, panel discussions, and business networking opportunities from the comfort of their homes.

For the first time in its history, BIO Asia-Taiwan went completely online this year. The event, which took place from July 21-25, featured keynote speeches, online company presentations, one-on-one meetings, online seminars and workshops, and an online exhibition. The aim of these activities was to overcome the distance resulting from COVID-19 travel restrictions to connect biotechnology and pharmaceutical executives and investors from around the world with business opportunities in Taiwan’s emerging biotechnology sector.

With over 400 online booths, 100 speakers, 100 company presentations and entrepreneur pitches, and more than 1,600 registered participants – more than 30% of which were international – BIO Asia-Taiwan 2021 offered biotech professionals and companies ample opportunities for virtual networking.  

Presentations at the event were organized around five key biotechnology and public health themes: Combatting Pandemics, Advanced Therapies, Precision Medicine, Digital Health, and Investment and Regional Collaboration.

The conference’s first main session, “Global Perspectives: A Brave New Era for Biotechnology,” contextualized the importance of biotechnology development in supporting global health. BIO Asia-Taiwan 2021 Chairman Johnsee Lee introduced the session’s topics and panelists, which included such distinguished names as Michael Houghton, director of the Li Ka Shing Applied Virology Institute and a Nobel Laureate, and Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor Robert S. Langer, a Wolf Prize and Breakthrough Prize Laureate.

Speakers emphasized the importance of finding new approaches to biotech development and asked conference attendees to ponder how the industry will reshape itself after COVID-19. The pandemic and the associated government response have created new market conditions, policy and regulatory environments, and development frameworks. Asia’s biotech companies will play an important role in preparing for the post-pandemic era.

The second session, titled “Pharma-Biotech Partnering & Collaboration,” included a panel discussion on the opportunities and challenges associated with attracting more R&D innovators to partner with Taiwan. One of the discussants, Deputy Minister of Economic Affairs Chen Chern-chyi (“C.C. Chen”), noted that the annual revenue of Taiwan’s biotech industry has reached US$21 billion, and that the industry grew by 9.4% last year, likely due to Taiwan’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, which drove up international investment. The session also contained an overview of available collaboration models, which include cross-disciplinary partnerships between large companies and smaller ones, cross-border collaborations, and public-private partnerships.

In his opening remarks for this session, International Research-Based Pharmaceutical Manufacturers Association (IRPMA) President Henry Chen noted that “Taiwan is at the intersection of challenges and opportunities. Taiwan has comprehensive health data, world class ICT capabilities, and high quality medical standards.” He stressed that now is a critical time to expand Taiwan’s public-private biotech collaborations.

The panel discussion for the next session, “Growth with Exit Strategy,” was organized by PricewaterhouseCoopers Taiwan and Vivo Capital and featured major investment bankers, corporate fund managers of multinational companies, leading venture capitalists, financial experts, and pharmaceutical industry insiders. Participants in this session covered investment and exit options for biotech companies. While initial public offering (IPO) is the most popular option, M&A and early-stage financing deals offer alternative pathways to a successful exit. The sessions also highlighted as case studies recent biotech IPOs, mergers, acquisitions, and licensing deals.

The fourth and final session of BIO Asia-Taiwan addressed the latest developments in data-driven precision health, a field that encompasses the entire healthcare process, from preventative care to post-treatment and long-term care. As the presentations in this session made clear, Taiwan’s robust artificial intelligence capabilities and ICT industry, paired with the abundant health data collected and managed by the National Health Insurance Administration, make the island uniquely suited for development and collaboration in the area of precision health.