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Betting on Biotech

Innovation and the Limits of Asia's Developmental State

Joseph Wong

Publication Year: 2011

After World War II, several late-developing countries registered astonishingly high growth rates under strong state direction, making use of smart investment strategies, turnkey factories, and reverse-engineering, and taking advantage of the postwar global economic boom. Among these economic miracles were postwar Japan and, in the 1960s and 1970s, the so-called Asian Tigers-Singapore, South Korea, and Taiwan-whose experiences epitomized the analytic category of the "developmental state."

In Betting on Biotech, Joseph Wong examines the emerging biotechnology sector in each of these three industrial dynamos. They have invested billions of dollars in biotech industries since the 1990s, but commercial blockbusters and commensurate profits have not followed. Industrial upgrading at the cutting edge of technological innovation is vastly different from the dynamics of earlier practices in established industries.

The profound uncertainties of life-science-based industries such as biotech have forced these nations to confront a new logic of industry development, one in which past strategies of picking and making winners have given way to a new strategy of throwing resources at what remain very long shots. Betting on Biotech illuminates a new political economy of industrial technology innovation in places where one would reasonably expect tremendous potential-yet where billion-dollar bets in biotech continue to teeter on the brink of spectacular failure.

Published by: Cornell University Press

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. 1-6


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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-xiv

This book is about betting on commercial biotech development in three key Asian economies: South Korea, Taiwan, and Singapore. After more than two hundred interviews with informants in the field, over twenty research trips to the region, and countless hours in the library and in front of my computer, ...

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Introduction: Betting on Biotech

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pp. 1-15

Since the 1990s, Korea, Taiwan, and Singapore have poured billions of dollars into the commercial development of biotech. Biotech and life sciences industries more generally have been hailed as the next “star” and “pillar” industries in what are already very advanced economies, and the aspirations of those economies are not modest. ...

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1. From Mitigating Risk to Managing Uncertainty

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pp. 16-42

Industrial development and diversification are about taking risk. Encouraging the growth of industry in new and unfamiliar sectors is always risky. It invariably involves costs, and the rewards are uncertain. Yet it is important to consider different kinds and levels of risk in industrial upgrading. ...

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2. Reorganizing the State

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pp. 43-80

The postwar economic miracles in Korea, Taiwan, and Singapore were facilitated by the developmental state’s strategic capacity and willingness to coordinate the allocation of resources in order to mitigate risk. By mitigating the risks of industrial upgrading, the state encouraged otherwise risk-averse entrepreneurs ...

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3. Organizing Bio-industry

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pp. 81-112

81 Chapter 3 Organizing Bio-industry Commercializing biotech is an extraordinarily complex process. It involves the generation of new knowledge in the upstream and the translation of knowledge into usable technological applications that bear market value. Marketable novel technologies need not be just cutting-edge knowledge but also include innovative business models ...

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4. Manufacturing “Progress”

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pp. 113-139

In late 2007, I gave a talk in Taiwan on the development of commercial biotech. By then, Taiwan’s drive to upgrade into biotech had been in full gear for nearly two decades, and Taiwan’s aspirations in the sector had become a central part of the discourse about the island’s economic future. ...

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5. Regulatory Uncertainty

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pp. 140-164

This chapter focuses on a very specific dimension of commercial biotech development—regulation—and the ways in which the state in Korea, Taiwan, and Singapore has both contributed to and attempted to manage regulatory uncertainty. Regulatory considerations are an important aspect of the biotech innovation process, ...

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Conclusion: Beyond the Developmental State

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pp. 165-190

The race is on. Ever since the rediscovery in the 1970s of the biological heuristic, which prompted the faint and distant hope for a new generation of cutting-edge health technologies, the world has focused tremendous attention on the promise of commercial biotech. ...


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pp. 191-200

E-ISBN-13: 9780801463372
Print-ISBN-13: 9780801450327

Page Count: 216
Publication Year: 2011

Edition: 1