The excitement generated by “Biolatina” held last month in Sao Paulo, Brazil, confirmed that biotechnology is emerging in Latin America as a major economic sector, building momentum with new technologies and partnering opportunities. Fundação Biominas, the prime organizer of Biolatina, believes that the meeting contributes to a more favorable business environment in Latin America, facilitating the creation and development of biotechnology companies.
Brazil is the preeminent Latin American country in terms of the number of biotech companies—there are 71 established biotechnology companies in Brazil. Approximately 10 Brazilian biotech companies have fully emerged from academic and research programs, and they are perceived to have excellent chances of success through partnering and providing products for the local market. The remaining 60+ Brazilian biotech companies are still academically based and success is less certain.
To drive the development of these nascent firms, the Brazilian Innovation Agency recently announced a three-tiered funding program. Although there was broad approval of the program at the meeting, many local biotech executives wondered whether this funding will drive academic expectations of company valuations too high and whether there will be sufficient local venture capital community to fund these companies once the federal funds are exhausted.
Several speakers provided insights into the realities of corporate relationships, private and public funding, governmental policies, regulations, and clinical studies. Steven Burrill, president of Burrill & Company, provided his perspective on the biotech industry over the last year, and his analysis and predictions through 2020. He believes that Latin American biotech companies can compete globally with their health-, agriculture-, and biofuels-related technologies.
Mark Edwards, founder and managing director of Recombinant Capital (now part of Deloitte), subsequently examined the realities of alliances between academic and corporate entities. This topic was especially important to the Brazilians that see partnering as central to the development of biotech in Latin America. Christian Suojanen, secretary general of the European Federation of Biotechnology, further counseled the nascent industry to focus on its strengths and comply with international standards.
The regional nature of the Biolatina meeting was exemplified by the diversity of groups participating from all over Latin America. Neos is a private technology transfer office located in Santiago, Chile. It was formed in 2003 to facilitate the spread of Chilean and Latin American innovations across developed countries. Its goal is to serve “as a connecting channel between universities and state companies, so as to detect and seize the synergies that provide value to local technological innovation.”
Octantis, another Chilean initiative that counsels developing companies, has invested over $20 million into firms operating out of its incubator in Santiago, Chile. Ocantis also advises clients to visit the U.S. to obtain partnering exposure and raise funds.
These Chilean efforts, like those of Fundacao Biominas in Brazil, are examples of private-sector entrepreneurial efforts to create and foster commercialization of local technological innovations. In the U.S., Europe, and Japan such efforts are coordinated by trade association.