Innovation in the biotech and pharmaceutical industries outpaced the combined activity of 12 technology sectors between 2009 and last year, according to a report released today by Thomson Reuters.

Pharma innovation grew 12% year-over-year and biotech innovation, 7% year-over-year, as measured by number of patentable inventions, Thomson Reuters concluded in The Future is Open: 2015 State of Innovation.

Across all 12 technology sectors studied by the report, in contrast, patentable inventions increased 3%—the smallest increase in activity since 2009. This year marks the first time in Thomson Reuters’ five years of annual innovation reports that high-tech fields were eclipsed by life sciences fields.

“We think it’s partly due to the slowdown in high tech, which is driving the slowdown in innovation overall,” Bob Stembridge, customer relations manager, scientific at Thomson Reuters, told GEN. “In terms of what’s happening in biotech and pharma, it certainly seems to be that we’re seeing an uptick in activity in those areas.”

That uptick, Stembridge said, is being driven in part by increased research activity in China. Three Chinese institutions accounted for most of the five largest generators of innovation last year, based on the number of published applications or granted patents—Chinese Academy of Sciences (second with 309 inventions), Jiangnan University (third with 280), and Zhejiang University (fifth with 237).

“We think what’s happening is that they are seeking to commercialize their research in this area, and that’s probably an increasing awareness of the value of patent protection in China as a means to grow their economy,” Stembridge added. “They’re seeking to transform their economy from a manufacturing economy to a knowledge economy, and the biotech and pharma space is one of the key areas where they can bring to bear scientific discovery and seek to translate that into commercial return.”

The other two generators of patents were U.S. corporate giants: Top-ranked DuPont (456 inventions) and Monsanto (fourth with 249). Filings from Japan declined, Stembridge said, as companies there are refocusing on more specific tech specialties. According to the most recent Japan Patent Office Annual Report 2014, updated September 16, the number of patent applications fell 4% to 328,436, despite a nearly 1% uptick in “PCT” international patent applications, which inched up to 43,075.

The report also recorded a slowdown in innovation through another measure, the total number of scientific papers published across the 12 tech sectors. That number fell to below 250,000, sliding from 350,000 in 2008 and about 300,000 in 2013.

This is the first year Thomson Reuters added data on numbers of scientific papers in its annual innovation reports. The addition is intended to paint a more comprehensive picture of tech innovation activity, Christopher King, manager of Thomson Reuters ScienceWatch, an open web resource for science metrics and research performance analysis, told GEN.

Among institutions publishing scientific papers, a top 10 list was created for each tech specialty ranked on “relative” citation impact, normalized against average for field and year of publication. The Broad Institute of Harvard and MIT ranked highest in impact at 7.54 generated from 392 papers. The top-10 institution in biotech with the highest volume of papers was Harvard University at 2,922, followed by MIT with 1,355 (and a second-highest impact of 4.24).

Pharma’s rate of growth was the second fastest among the 12 technology sectors, and biotech’s was fourth-fastest. Food, tobacco, and beverage fermentation grew fastest between 2013 and 2014 at 21%.

Of 111,479 patentable inventions in pharma, almost two-thirds (65%) or 85,679 entries last year were categorized as “organics.” The category grew fastest among pharma segments at 18% over 2013, followed by inorganics, which grew 13% to 1,373, yet accounted for only 1% of inventions, as did steroids (1,075, down 7% from 2013). A fifth category, heterocyclics, generated 16,272 inventions in 2014, up 3% over the previous year.

Chinese Academy of Sciences (first with 481 inventions) and Zhejiang University (fifth with 320) also placed as among the top five innovators in pharma. Rounding out the top five were Roche (second with 400) Abbott Cardiovascular Systems (third, 338), and University of California (fourth, 324).

However, German institutions accounted for half the top 10 most influential scientific research institutions, led by Goethe University Frankfurt Hospital, which led the list with a relative citation impact of 4.87 and 392 papers. The top U.S. institution was Gilead Sciences (second with 3.76 and 458), while the most prolific among the top-10 pharma institutions was University of Bonn with 1,718 papers and an impact of 2.64.

Of 42,584 biotech patentable inventions, two-thirds (66%) or 29,374 entries last year were categorized as “general biotechnology.” The category grew 9% over 2013, but was not the fastest-growing biotech segment. That distinction went to cancer treatments, which accounted for both 11% of total 2014 patents (4,855) and 11% growth from 2013–14.

Among other biotech categories, diagnosis of diseases accounted for 16% of patents (6,984) and 7% growth from 2013. The other two biotech categories were genetically modified crops (5% or 2,183 patents, 13% decline from 2013-14), and drug discovery (2% or 951, down 21%).

In addition to biotech and pharma, the tech areas categorized by Thomson Reuters included aerospace; automotive; cosmetics; domestic appliances; food, tobacco and beverage fermentation; information technology; medical devices; petroleum; semiconductors; and telecommunications.

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