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The Turkish response to the innovation score I generated for them in the Scientific American Worldview Scorecard was pretty clear. They interpret their low score — 39th out of 48 countries measured — as an indication that they continue to ‘miss the biotech train.’ The primary reasons for Turkey’s low score are:

  • Relatively weak intellectual property protection
  • Relatively low intensity of biotechnology activities
  • Relatively poor capital availability for biotechnology ventures
  • Relatively weak educational output of scientists
  • Relatively low R&D expenditures by domestic companies

The solution to improving Turkey’s standing seems pretty clear — strengthen IP, implement programs to encourage students to study science, and support investments in company formation and R&D. But, these are not simple changes. As India has seen in their dispute over Novartis’ Glivec patents, strengthening IP protection may mean balancing short-term domestic interests with the future potential of foreign investments. Promoting company formation and the development of scientists can also be challenging. My recent study of the locations of pharmaceutical drug inventors came to a surprising conclusion: the dominant countries are the legacy pharma countries. Despite their significant investments, emerging markets have yet to produce measurable outputs in innovation.

So, what is Turkey to do? I think that it is a bit harsh to say that they continue to miss the train. Many countries strive to develop biotechnology industries, and fail to show progress despite significant investments. Turkey is blessed with a strong entrepreneurial culture, and can get ‘on the train’ if they decide to provide patient sustained support. The key to developing a stronger biotechnology industry is to continue to find and clear hurdles to innovation. Case studies from around the world are in plentiful supply — the challenge is to identify and implement the solutions best suited to Turkey.

My recent presentation at the “Biotechnology for Turkey” conference has been posted online. My central thesis was that the challenges faced by Turkey (and most any other location) are shared by many states within the United States. I’ve heard too many people opine for the seemingly easy start-up environment in the United States. The reality is that outside of the major hubs, biotechnology can be very hard to develop. It can even be difficult within the major hubs. So, instead of looking longingly at the strong position of leading regions in the U.S., why not look at the aggressive strategies being used by developing regions?

Check out my talk here.