Precision medicine is one of the hottest field within the biotechnology sector and has attracted considerable investments by national governments worldwide. The basis of development in the field of precision medicine is gene sequencing. “Owing to major initiatives in many countries, the global market scale of next-generation sequencing (NGS) instruments and reagents will expand rapidly at a CAGR of 13.5% in the 2015~2020 period, from US1.8 billion to US$3.35 billion,” said Sean Liu, biotechnology analyst for TrendForce.
“The basic principle behind precision medicine is to understand diseases in terms of their different genetic characteristics as well as how they occur and develop,” Liu pointed out. “Under this approach, patients of a disease are divided into sub-groups and receive tailored-made treatments. Different types of cancer, for example, have their own gene expression characteristics. Treatments will therefore have to be specific, taking account of gene data of cancer cells together with information on individual patients’ physiological conditions and progression of their tumors.”
The U.S. began its Precision Medicine Initiative in 2015 and plans to invest US$125 million and build a genome database of one million of its citizens for the starting phase of the program. China likewise has given great importance to precision medicine research. Within the country’s 13th Five-Year Plan is a RMB 60-billion project that includes gathering genomes from millions of people. Countries such as France, Australia, South Korea and the U.K. are also launching their respective precision medicine or human genome projects.
Taiwan’s government too has created a “biobank” that will collect gene data from tens of thousands of people. However, the access to biobank is limited to academic institutions and not open to the private sector. This resource may likely follow the fate of Taiwan’s National Health Insurance Database, which currently has limited value to the biotechnology industry.
Generally, precision medicine or human genome projects worldwide are sponsored by national governments. Government support therefore has been instrumental in the emergence of a precision medicine industry in several countries. However, Liu noted that Taiwan’s development path is different: “The private sector in Taiwan is much more active than the public sector. Numerous companies related to gene sequencing have sprung up in recent years, such as ACT Genomics, LIHPAO Life Science, Genomics, Vita Genomics, SOFIVA GENOMICS and GGA Corp. Their diverse business models include providing one-stop gene testing solutions, analysis of gene sequence, writing medical commentaries, assisting in research projects and prenatal testing.”
“Because these Taiwanese companies that are involved in gene testing are small in scale, they have difficulty compete against larger international counterparts that have built up mega platforms of information on diseases and human genomes,” Liu added. “If Taiwanese companies can share their resources and work together, they will be able to complement each other’s strengths.”
Furthermore, Taiwanese biotechnology companies can focus on developing algorithms for gene data analysis because these algorithms can be used to discover genes that are important to tasks such as classification of specific diseases, prognosis and treatment efficacy. On the whole, these related fields are suitable niche opportunities for Taiwan.