Biotechnology in Countries Beginning with “I” – Part 9: Iran

This is a guest post from Susan K Finston, President of Finston Consulting. Do you have a response to Susan’s post? Respond in the comments section below.

SKFinston-Headshot2-Jun2015Looking beyond the landmark nuclear deal, Iranian media sources are trumpeting the Islamic State’s prowess in biotechnology.  So how does Iran really measure up – globally and compared to other countries starting with “I”?

Iran’s Press TV, an English language news network affiliated with a state-owned Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB), presented an intriguing headline on July 7th: “Iran ranks 21st in terms of scientific productions in biotechnology.”  Iran’s state-controlled media blogged, tweeted and generally repeated this mantra.

The body of the Press TV article says that “the world’s largest abstract and citation database, shows that the Islamic Republic has achieved this international ranking in 2014 by offering 3,957 products in the field of biotechnology.”

The SCImago Journal and & Country Rank’s online database calculation cited by Press TV is based on the number of total science publications, however, not life sciences articles.  Nor does the number of published articles bear any relationship to new biotech products.

So this database tracks the total number of science publications and related citations by country.  Looking at the underlying drivers of Iranian growth in science publications, what area dominates Iran’s scientific output?  “Nuclear, nuclear, nuclear”

Although research relating to innovative biopharmaceutical and advanced agricultural technologies is increasing, in recent years “Iran’s publications have emphasised inorganic and nuclear chemistry, nuclear and particle physics and nuclear engineering. Publications in nuclear engineering grew 250 times faster than the world average….”  On this basis, the Iran state media coverage of Iran’s biotechnology ranking is misleading at best.  

In terms of commercial biotechnology, Iran has demonstrated domestic manufacturing capacity for vaccines, monoclonal antibodies and biosimilars, with several of the latter in the pipeline. Iranian media also report experimental production of its own GE cotton.  Iran’s leading private biotechnology company CinnaGen developed the first interferon beta biosimilar in collaboration with the Fraunhofer Institute in Germany in 2007, marketed as Cinnovex, and exported to at least 3 markets.

Turning back to world-wide rankings, the Scientific American Worldview Scorecard for 2015 – released at the recent BIO2015 Convention, provides a holistic analysis of innovative biotechnology capacity across 54 countries. Outranked by other countries beginning with “I” –  Ireland (13), Israel (18), Iceland (24), Italy (37), India (51) and Indonesia (52) – Iran fell below the threshold for inclusion in the 2015 Worldview Scorecard.

Of course it would be wonderful to see Iran truly become a top-20 biotechnology market.  Donning my rosewater-colored glasses, Iran could jumpstart commercial biotechnology by refocusing its demonstrated science prowess from nuclear-chemistry, physics and engineering to development of new, innovative therapies and cures to meet the needs of patients in Iran and around the world. 

About the author:
President of Finston Consulting LLC since 2005, Susan works with innovative biotechnology and other clients ranging from start-up to Fortune-100, providing support for legal, transactional, policy and “doing business” issues in the US and globally. Together with biotechnology pioneer Ananda Chakrabarty, she also is co-founder of Amrita Therapeutics Ltd., an emerging biopharmaceutical company based in India with peptide drugs in in vivo research. Previous experience includes 11 years in the U.S Foreign Service with overseas tours in London, Tel Aviv, and Manila and at the Department of State in Washington DC. For more information on latest presentations and publications please visit finstonconsulting.com.

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