Santé humaine


Japan, a giant under mutation

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Despite recently ranked 9th in the annual global competitiveness list of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Japan is undergoing a profound challenge to its economic model. Its keirestu – conglomerates of diverse businesses linked together by a dense network of financial and executive interests – once the driving force of its economy, have begun to crack under their own weight. If the government has chosen to put these “Too big to fail” companies afloat, it is with the firm intention to make them evolve, even if step by step. Although the country has often bet on disruptive innovation to overcome disasters that struck it, Japan also knows how to demonstrate great tenacity to put in place major structural changes. A corollary, no doubt, of its very great political stability.

In a policy speech before the Japanese Diet in January 2016, Premier Shinzo Abe said he was determined to make Japan “the most innovation friendly country in the world”. But the Japanese ecosystem in the life sciences sector still lacks a major segment to make the junction between the academic and industrial world. If there is a strong political will, a change in the way the population sees entrepreneurship must be made, or rather accelerated. Despite a great reluctance to overcome cultural and linguistic barriers, more and more young entrepreneurs want to get started. In collaboration with a fringe of the previous generation, they are becoming aware of the importance of fully developing the Japanese ecosystem of innovation. In the run-up to the emergence of this new model, there will be opportunities for foreign startups and SMEs if they are willing to adapt to the Japanese market and its specificities.

The aim of this special issue is to provide an overview of the biotechnology ecosystem in Japan. Institutional involvement, diversity of the companies and emerging trends are all keys to a better understanding of the bottlenecks and opportunities of a sector
that sees internationalization as one of the solutions to the diminution of its innovation capacity.

Aline Aurias, a science journalist residing in Tokyo in 2016-2017, fully designed and produced this special issue Japan after a thorough investigation. She is thankfull to all the participants who  contributed to this issue and especially Jean-Dominique François (see his interview)  for his help.