Biotechnology, the controlled use of living organisms or cellular constituents for practical purposes, has been recognized worldwide as a critical technology. As such, Japan has pursued biotechnology in various modes including Japan's Key Technology Center (JKTC) program. To date, 10 corporate biotechnology centers have been established over the span of 13 years (since 1985). The centers, both past and present, are listed in Appendix D.

While not all current centers were visited, a selection was made that permitted visits to centers that are characterized as old (established) or new, small or large, and practical or fundamental science in nature. Additionally, some centers are more oriented toward economic development in addition to establishing a base of science and technology.

While generalizations are always subject to reality checks by exceptions, the following comments apply to the centers visited and to the JKTC program. In addition, information was gleaned from other sources such as technical information presented by the JKTC headquarters, discussions with others in Japan, or prior information released by a specific company center.

In summary, the JKTC centers dedicated to biotechnology have and continue to represent different areas of science (from genomics, biophotonics to immunology), different end applications (biopharmaceuticals, medical diagnostics, and environmental screening of pesticides), and different end industries (pharmaceutical, medical imaging, and industrial and agricultural chemicals). New areas have definitely been recognized (genomics and bioinformatics) and represent major activities now being pursued. Other areas such as tissue engineering, bionanotechnology, or combinatorial biology do not yet have a dedicated company center nor was there any discussion on such possibilities dealing with these topics in the immediate future during the site visits. Given the nature of how centers are formed, like in the United States, a champion for a particular effort needs to be there to make it happen.

New JKTC centers, as well as those involved in cutting-edge science, have more academic interaction and foreign scientist participation, reflecting the reality that science is now global and that hot biotechnology areas such as genomics are highly competitive. Some centers, in fact, are starting to have discussions with foreign firms as an outlet for their technology but not necessarily as participating members. However, foreign companies operating in Japan can be members and some indeed are members.

Published: September 1999; WTEC Hyper-Librarian