Globalization of biotechnology?
Keywords:  Technology transfer; Private industry.
Correct citation: nn. (1995), "Editorial: Globalization of biotechnology?" Biotechnology and Development Monitor, No. 22, p. 2.

In literature on technological development it is often stated that developing countries should never rely only on the import of technology when they intend to develop a domestic industry. Just as every country nowadays, they obviously need access to global science and technology. The point is that import of technology should not be seen as an alternative to the establishment of an internal R&D capacity, since such a capacity is essential to understand, modify to local objectives and conditions, and improve, imported technology.

For the development of their domestic biotechnology R&D capacity, most developing countries depend on the assistance of international public organizations. However, several developing countries increasingly focus on co­operation with foreign private industry. These countries hope to gain from the strategy of private companies to increasingly to locate R&D activities outside their home country, and from the increasing number of cross­border inter­firm agreements regarding joint R&D activities. This process is often referred to as 'globalization of technology.' An interesting question is: What are the prospects for developing countries to benefit from this process of globalization of technology in establishing an internal biotechnology R&D capacity?

Although it is true that international private co­operation in biotechnology R&D is growing, this co­operation is mainly restricted to the economic Triad USA, Europe and Japan. It therefore has the characteristics more of a 'triadization' than a 'globalization' of technology. Private companies tend to transfer or contract out their R&D activities to those countries that have a lead in R&D in the sector concerned, in order to improve the companies' access to advanced R&D and qualified scientists. Consequently, it is no surprise that companies' foreign R&D laboratories are almost exclusively located in Triad countries, with a few exceptions such as East Asian countries, India and Brazil.
Concerning inter­firm co­operation in technology development, the picture is very similar. In the period 1980­1989, 94 per cent of the strategic alliances in biotechnology took place within the Triad, while only 0.1 per cent was between Triad countries and developing countries. Screening journals on biotechnology industry co­operation nowadays, it seems that this trend has not changed significantly. Therefore, it will remain difficult for most developing countries to develop an internal capacity in biotechnology R&D through collaboration with foreign private industry.

For some developing countries it might be possible to follow the example of Japan, which has been effective in establishing an internal biotechnology industry in co­operation with foreign companies. Because of a combination of import of biotechnology, research alliances especially with US companies and the acquisition of some foreign biotechnology companies, Japan has been very successful in developing its own biotechnology R&D capacity in the last decade. Obviously, Japan's well developed research base in other sectors, its internal market, and its overall economic position has been contributive to this success. Countries without such a favourable starting position are likely to face more difficulties in initiating collaboration with foreign private companies.

This Monitor issue addresses biotechnology development in Japan. It is the first issue out of three which will focus on biotechnology developments in the Triad. We will not only pay attention to official governmental policies and developments in research, but also focus on existing differences in opinion, doubts and opposition that surround the development of biotechnology in these industrialized countries.

Contributions to the Biotechnology and Development Monitor are not covered by any copyright. Exerpts may be translated or reproduced without prior permission (with exception of parts reproduced from third sources), with acknowledgement of source.


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