Each year, more than 15,000 visitors from over 60 countries attend the Bio International Convention to learn about the new developments in the world of life sciences and to see where in the world biotech discoveries are happening. fDi asked representatives from up-and-coming biotech clusters present at the Philadelphia event why investors should be interested in their locations.
Ken Poonoosamy, managing director, Board of Investment of Mauritius
Mauritius, a picturesque island located on the Indian Ocean, is more popular among holiday revellers than biotech professionals. However, according to Ken Poonoosamy, managing director at economic development agency Board of Investment of Mauritius, while not losing its focus on the tourism industry, local authorities are looking to attract more biotech firms, as “biotechnology is one of the sectors in which we see great potential [for] job creation for our people”.
According to Mr Poonoosamy’s estimates, there are 25 biotech companies operating in Mauritius, employing about 2000 people. However, he expects that number to grow, thanks in no small part to the country’s pro-business stance. “Mauritius is a very welcoming country with a business-friendly environment, political and economic stability and a very well-educated population,” he says.
That offer should be particularly compelling for those businesses that have an interest in operating in Africa and Asia. “We are very much strategically located midway between Asia and Africa, so for those companies that are looking for a position from which to prosper and to explore opportunities in Africa, Mauritius is the place to be,” says Mr Poonoosamy.
Ajarin Pattanapanchai, deputy secretary-general, Thailand Investment Board
Like Mauritius, Thailand is more associated with tourism than its biotech offering, but also like Mauritius, there is more to Thailand than pristine beaches, according to Ajarin Pattanapanchai, deputy secretary-general at investment promotion agency Thailand Investment Board. “Thailand is one of the countries in south-east Asia that has a very strong [reputation] in biotechnology,” says Ms Pattanapanchai, who adds that the country's biotech strengths stem largely from its expertise in agriculture. Other biotech subsectors that are well developed in Thailand are biopharmaceutical diagnostics and biomolecular engineering.
The country has a number of research institutes focusing on biotech research, as well as the Thailand Center of Excellence in Life Sciences, a non-profit organisation supported by the Thai government that focuses on promoting the biotech sector in the country. However, investors interested in moving to Thailand can do so by contacting Ms Pattanapanchai’s organisation, which serves as the first port of call for incoming companies.
“We can lead [an investor] to the right partner or lab service... [We] provide the tax incentives such as tax holidays and corporate income tax exemptions, so we should be the first [port of call for interested parties],” she says.
James Kimotho, head of the production department, Kenya Medical Research Institute
While Mauritius and Thailand are both returning exhibitors at the Bio convention, Kenya, one of the Africa’s fastest growing economies, was making its debut at the event. “We have realised that we have been missing quite a lot [by not being at Bio],” says James Kimotho, head of the production department at the Kenya Medical Research Institute, a Nairobi-based medical research centre.
Kenya might be new at Bio, but biotechnology as a sector is well established in the country, with Mr Kimotho’s institution being established in 1979. Since then, according to Mr Kimotho, the industry has grown exponentially, thanks in no small part to biotech clusters at public and private universities in Nairobi and elsewhere in the country.
Although these university-supported clusters focus on a string of different projects, Kenya’s main strength lies in agriculture-related biotech, according to Mr Kimotho. “Kenya relies so much on agriculture... that we are a little bit ahead in [bioagricultural research],” he says, while adding that the Kenya Investment Authority, the country’s investment promotion and facilitation agency, is the institution that can advise companies interested in exploring agribusiness and other investment opportunities in the country.
Karniyus Gamaniel, CEO, National Institute for Pharmaceutical R&D, Nigeria
Another of Africa's more dominant economies, Nigeria, also boasts decades of expertise in life science research, according to Karniyus Gamaniel, the CEO of the National Institute for Pharmaceutical R&D, an entity established in the 1980s. “Biotech is not new [in Nigeria] because the government realised that R&D including technology is the only way to advance the development plans of the country,” he says.
While Nigeria ranks 170th out of 189 countries in the World Bank’s most recent Doing Business report, Mr Gamaniel says its size makes it particularly appealing to investors. “Nigeria is the seventh [most populous] country in the world. With population of 170 million it is really a massive market for technology and entrepreneurship in many sectors, especially in healthcare,” he says. “Nigeria has about 130 universities and most of these focus on science and technology. There are also almost 60 research institutes, including my own.”
Hana Chlebna, head of the sectors management department, CzechInvest
The Czech Republic was one of the most visible and confident attendees at this year’s Bio. This is, for the most part, because of the country’s achievements in the biotech sector, according to Hana Chlebna, the head of the sectors management department at CzechInvest, the country’s investment promotion agency. “As a nation of 10 million people, we gave the world Gregor Mendel, the founder of genetics, the contact lens and recently the antiviral compound developed by the Institute of Organic Chemistry and Biochemistry, the basis of extremely successful HIV drugs currently produced by Gilead Sciences [a California-headquartered pharmaceutical corporation],” says Ms Chlebna.
The biotech sector in the Czech Republic is located around three main centres: the Charles University in Prague, the country’s capital; Olomouc, a city of 100,000 people located close to Mr Mendel’s birthplace; and Brno, the country’s second largest city, which boasts the International Clinical Research Center, a research body that brings together renowned entities such as Minnesota-based Mayo Clinic and University College London with local universities.