China was once looked upon as a Country that was only capable of generating cheap labour for high level research projects in the Biotech Industry. For decades, global companies have viewed the country in the context of cost arbitrage and as a contract service provider. Chinese companies have for years on end sold drugs that were decades-old generics, and not innovative biological treatments minting fortunes like those in the West. What we did not notice with all the madness in the West pertaining to the field, is how the industry in China has quietly grown, left back this image and carved a niche for itself. Therefore establishing the fact that this swift shift that China has been able to achieve is not exactly an overnight success story despite seeming very much like it.
A large part of this change is traceable to the government initiative targeting Chinese-born academics and workers who trained overseas, beguiling them to come home with the promise of grants and tax breaks back in 2008. This master stroke specifically benefited the Chinese Biotech Industry, enriching the scientific community.
“Biotech is people, people, people, and with more and more people returning, the talent pool really starts to accumulate.” said Qinwei Zhou, who is the chief operating officer of China’s Innovent Biologics who was with Eli Lilly, a Pharma company in the U.S, for more than 20 years before returning to China.
And another chunk of this change is attributable to the regulatory reform by the Chinese Food and Drug Administration that facilitates faster and easier move of investigational medicines from the lab to the clinic. Additionally, the government has shelled out huge amounts in favor of sprawling science parks in major metro areas, and has been providing low-cost lab space in hopes of biotech startups flourishing
This stupendous development in the Chinese biotech space that the world is now witnessing was brought to the fore earlier this month at the Super bowl equivalent of the scientific world, the annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology, when Nanjing Legend Biotech, a little-known Chinese firm managed to snag a coveted spot among the meeting’s latest breakthrough presentations and unveiled surprisingly positive results from a complicated new approach to cancer immunotherapy.
Therefore, fueled through the influx of foreign-trained talent and loosening of otherwise stringent regulations, China has earned the “Powerhouse” tag.
“It’s just the beginning,” says Christian Hogg, CEO of the Hong Kong-headquartered Hutchison China MediTech. “You’re going to see in the coming years that more and more companies will be making these achievements and breaking into the global scene.”
Although the US- particularly Boston and San Francisco- is still ahead, this gap is quickly closing thanks to China’s ever increasing research budget and flocking native talent.