Taiwan's biotechnology industry is likely to follow the electronics industry in outsourcing, with the trend working in the island's favour, according to industry leaders. The biotechnology industry, led by the United States, is fast moving towards outsourcing as much as possible, ScinoPharm Taiwan executive vice-president Hardy Chen said. 'Some want to keep it in-house, that's a minority. But others want to contract almost everything out,' he said. Taiwan had numerous areas in which it could contribute to the contracting process, with the government's commitment to the industry a key factor in its coming success. 'No place like Taiwan has a similar national commitment to biotech,' he said. 'The government puts its money where its mouth is.' Mr Chen compared Taiwan's biotech industry now with the electronics industry 30 years ago, when the government and industry leaders committed the island to developing a strong and efficient electronics manufacturing industry. Educated researchers, high quality control and investment funds are among the keys to success. By farming out various parts of research, clinical trials and production, biotech companies can focus on their own core competencies while sub-contractors can lend their own specialties to make the process quicker and more efficient. The biotech business is one of slow progress and big risks, but the potential returns are massive. One such company taking the plunge is Vita Genomics, which is hoping to find a treatment for the hepatitis C virus. By combining pharmaceuticals with genomics, the study of the human genome, Vita Genomics believes it can find a treatment for hepatitis C based on a patient's genetic make up. The project could take longer than seven years and millions of dollars in research spending. But if successful Vita Genomics could tap into a global hepatitis-treatment market of US$25 billion. Ellson Chen, president and chief executive of Vita Genomics, believes Taiwan can play a major role and also reap the reward. But first, it has to start proving itself. 'Taiwan has to get something going and then, with that, collaborate with the rest of the world,' he said. Eric Tzeng, president of Biotech start-up U-Vision Biotech, also pointed to the need for a broad range of skills. 'Biotech is an integrated science,' he said. In addition to laboratory researchers, a modern biotech company also needed electronic engineers and other specialists, he said. To help encourage the industry and attract funding, the government has set up the Development Centre for Biotechnology. The development centre has many similarities with other semi-government groups such as the Industrial Technical Research Institute , acting as research and development partner for industry and adviser to the government on the biotech industry. According to Paul Hsu, director of the BioFronts programme at the development centre, the government and private sector will invest US$5 billion in biotechnology over the next five years. That investment would push the number of biotech companies to 500 by 2010, he said. Taiwan can expect to reap the reward of those investments not only through the returns on research, but also by being the key Asian channel for biotech marketing.