Expansion into Asia: 3 Transferrable Lessons from Biotech

Biotechnology companies looking to expand internationally see some of the greatest successes—and overcome some of the most profound challenges—by looking to Asia. With huge pressures to innovate and bring treatments to market quickly, these companies are great examples for any organization planning to build a multinational presence.

Why Asia Is Important to the Biotech Industry

On the one hand, Asia’s importance in the biotech industry is based solely on math. Asia makes up more than half of the global population and available talent, so the potential value of expansion there is obvious. However, this is a complex region with substantial differences in economies, regulatory environments, and even culture that have historically made expansion complicated. Traditionally, American biotech companies focused on their home markets and Europe; however, because of the following factors, this is starting to change:

  • As a region, Asia accounts for 60% of the global population. This creates enormous markets and available talent pools for biotech and pharmaceutical firms to hire from.
  • In a 2008 survey of international biopharmaceutical leadership, 94% of respondents expressed interest in expansion beyond their home countries, with 90% interested in Asia specifically.
  • The Asian cancer treatment market alone will have jumped 40% from 2015 to 2020, according to the World Health Organization’s numbers.

How have biotech companies begun to realize the benefits of Asian markets? Here are three takeaways that can inform any company’s global expansion approach—no matter your target region.

Transferable Lessons for Global Expansion

  1. Watch for accelerating regulatory and public investment reforms.

Asia’s thirst for innovation and investment is largely self-motivated; Its populations see much higher treatment needs across a variety of conditions and demographics. When governments’ actions begin to align with your market goals, a good match might be emerging.

  1. Focus on more than just market size.

The enormous numerical advantages of Asia are clear, but expansion has to be about more than that. Biotech has succeeded in Asia because Asia disproportionately needs biotech firms and solutions, not merely because Asia is a huge population pool.

  1. Pick partnerships and specific markets, not locales.

For most biotech entrants, partnership is the most desirable strategy (as opposed to building their own presence from scratch). Whether they do this via acquisitions, joint ventures, out-licensing (when a smaller pharmaceutical company joins in a licensing agreement with a larger pharmaceutical company), or other methods, this offers substantial growth potential while avoiding the effect of “going in blind.” 


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