Keywords: biotechnology, Japan, knowledge, start-up firms, technology transfer, technology commericalisation, bio-ventures, university-industry collaboration, intellectual property
The commercialisation of biotechnology in Japan: bio-ventures as a mechanism of knowledge transfer from universities
Japan has few biotechnology start-up firms and they have not played a significant role to date in the commercialisation of university research results. This is surprising, given the pivotal role ascribed to such firms elsewhere in the commercialisation of biotechnology. The aim of this paper is to present a case for the use of such bio-ventures as a mechanism to commercialise biotechnology research results from universities in Japan. In order to do so, first we provide an overview of the current methods of knowledge transfer from universities to the private sector in Japan, in the light of recent deregulation and legislative changes. This highlights several weaknesses in the commercialisation of public research. Second, we explain why the use of bio-ventures is a viable and appropriate means to commercialise Japanese biotechnology discoveries. Finally, we examine several examples of Japanese bio-ventures that are active in therapeutics and platform technologies, based on interviews conducted with the founders and chief scientists of these firms in Japan. Some of the salient characteristics of these firms are illustrated, including the extent of university collaboration and their ownership of intellectual property rights.