Saturday, January 17, 2009

Spotlight on Brazil's Emerging Biotech Players

A report published last year in Nature Biotechnology points to the healthy growth of Brazilian biotechs against the backdrop of emerging players in India, China and South Africa. 

Of the main author's of the paper, Dr. Peter A. Singer,  states that "One thing is clear: when you think of biotechnology, its no longer just San Francisco, Boston, London and Tokyo. It's also Hyderabad, Shanghai, and Sao Paulo. While in the emerging economies it is still in it's adolescence, biotechnology is no longer the sole hegemony of the rich world. Biotechnology innovation is becoming globalized."

The paper covers 19 case studies of Brazilian-owned private health biotech companies and four public research groups. Unlike it's Indian and Chinese counterparts, the Brazilian case studies point to a focus to find affordable health technology for it's domestic population. While there is still no Pelé for biotech, there's several contenders.

"What you call a neglected disease, I call a business opportunity," said Fernando Kreutz, president of Porto Alegre based FK Biotecnologia. That type of optimism is what is needed to stay ahead of the investment opportunity curve. For Stateside investment firms not paying attention, firms like FK and diagnostics maker Katal Diagnostics, who makes a $25 TB test to replace the $150 version, represent real opportunities where development meets entrepreneurship and results in benefits for all both patients and investors. I don't want to play an armchair investment manager, but it's not hard to conclude that those who react to the current economic climate by circling the wagons and staying within our borders will miss out against those who choose to diversify abroad. 

The paper's press release notes some of the accomplishments of the Brazilian industry:

Notable products in the pipeline of various companies include:
  • several monoclonal antibodies for cancer treatment (Recepta Biopharma, of São Paulo);
  • a recombinant protein for treating melanoma as well as anti-hypertensive and an analgesic peptide – both isolated from snake venom (COINFAR, of São Paulo); and
  • fetal, neonatal and adult stem cell therapies for cardiac disease, type I diabetes and neonatal hypoxia (Cryopraxis, Rio de Janeiro).
as well as some barriers to escalation:
A patent regime in desperate need of reform.
- Seven year wait period for patent processing
- Laws against IP protection of key biotech tools such as recombinant versions of proteins found in nature
- The national regulatory agency's final word on patented pharmaceutical products based on public access

Regulatory issues
- Lack of practical product development and manufacturing experience by regulators
- Long delayed in ethics approvals for clinical trials
- Complex navigation of biosafety and biodiversity rules

Human resources
- University centric academic models of research have yet to effectively transfer human resources specifically tailored to the health biotech sector
- Private enterprise are still working on ways to match career incentives systems currently found in academia and government sponsored research programs

We'll keep an eye of for the South African research paper and try to come up with a nice comparative review for our readers.