• High-quality scientific publications from Japan decreased by 17% between 2015 and 2019, while China's increased by 80% during the same period.
  • Women make up only 15% of the R&D workforce, and foreign researchers account for only 5.6% of the R&D workforce in Japan vs. 28% in the US
  • Investment in R&D in Japan is far below that of the US or China (US$18.1bn vs. US$179bn and US$100bn, respectively).

 

TOKYO, JAPAN - Media OutReach - 29 September 2020 - Medical innovation in the life sciences requires a holistic policy and market access environment that supports everything from basic science to product research and development (R&D) and, ultimately, commercialization. Though North America and Europe are historically leaders in innovation for the life sciences, Japan has been a leading contributor from Asia for decades. However, emerging life science sectors in South Korea, and more recently China, are quickly catching up after investing heavily in infrastructure, human capital, and R&D, as well as enacting national policies to further bolster their life sciences ecosystems.

 

Supporting an innovative life sciences ecosystem in Japan is a report by The Economist Intelligence Unit, sponsored by Pfizer. It describes findings from a research project to investigate the enabling factors contributing to an environment prioritising innovation in the life sciences sector and how Japan compares to global peers. The research consisted of a benchmarking scorecard exercise conducted between December 2019 and January 2020 covering four countries: Japan, the US, South Korea and China.

 

Overall, while Japan is still producing life science innovation at a high level, it appears to be stagnating while the US remains ahead, and regional competitors are either catching up to or surpassing Japan.


  • High-quality publications from Japan's life sciences sector decreased by some 17% between 2015 and 2019, whereas China's increased by nearly 80% in the same period, according to data from the Nature Index. Meanwhile, patents granted for pharmaceutical or medical technology innovation are trending upwards in South Korea and China but remain broadly stable in Japan and the US.  While Japan remains far ahead of regional neighbours South Korea and China in receiving new drug approvals from the US Food and Drugs Administration, it is notable that these all come from large, established biopharmaceutical companies in comparison to smaller relatively new biotech firms prevalent in the US. 
  • Japan's R&D workforce is also under pressure, with universities shifting to employ researchers under short-term contracts, a small proportion of women researchers (15%),  and a lower number of international students or foreign researchers compared with the US (5.6% vs. 28%, respectively).
  • Finally Japan is also falling behind in terms of financing R&D; with US$18bn funding assigned in the last financial year where data were available, behind China's US$100bn and US$179bn in the US. 

Several priority policy areas were identified that should be addressed for Japan to maintain competitiveness on the innovation global stage. These include: maintaining and expanding a strong workforce (by encouraging more women into the R&D workforce, supporting foreign research scientists to work in Japan and reskilling existing employees); increased government spending on R&D and better incentives for business enterprise; clarifying regulations around IP dispute; encouraging technology transfer; and a clear and transparent policy for pricing and financing innovative medicines.

 

Jesse Quigley Jones, editor of the report, said, "Japan has a tradition of innovation in the life sciences and many strong contributing drivers in this field. However, progress appears to be stagnating and, like with many countries, areas for improvement exist. In order for Japan to maintain and strengthen its global position as a leading innovator in the life sciences, a renewed investment in basic research, supporting technology transfer and commercialization, and bolstering the life sciences workforce are areas for priority."

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