Betting on Biotech: Innovation and the Limits of Asia’s Developmental State

Wong deftly evaluates the efforts of three Asian “tigers” -- Singapore, South Korea, and Taiwan -- to enter the biotechnology sector, seen by leaders in all three places as a vital industry of the future. All three have devoted significant public funding to biotechnology development and adjusted local laws and practices to support their bets. The chosen vehicles for their prospective success differ among the three: small and medium-sized local enterprises in Taiwan, large and diversified firms in South Korea, and multinational enterprises in Singapore. In all three, the responsibility for carrying out specific initiatives has been left more to individual firms than to government agencies, but all three governments have supported a few conspicuously high-performing companies. Nevertheless, the overall results have been disappointing so far. It is taking much more time and training to achieve successful commercial biotechnology development than it took to develop the electronics industries that thrived in all three places during an earlier era. Compared to developing electronics, developing biotechnology is proving to be a much more difficult task for these three economies, and their success in the field is far from assured.

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