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The nearly two years’ epidemic, still wiping over major countries, urges innovations to be realized in weeks and months, rather than in multiple struggling years. The instant focus on biotechnologies like mRNA vaccines and POCT diagnostics pushes Life Sciences and Healthcare industries in China to blossom, and enterprises seize this moment to transfer decades of scientific research and investment into fruitful achievements. For only the first half of 2021, the fundraising amount for the Chinese Healthcare private market has expanded to around $15 billion. As an investor transitioned from a scientist, a Business Development (BD) management, and a consultant, I feel privileged to be an observer and a participant of this biotech blossom.
Policies also contribute. On September 3rd, top officials of the China Securities Regulatory Commission (CSRC) made it clear that “the forthcoming Beijing Stock Exchange shall be tailor-made for the small- and medium-size, innovative companies”. The cruises will leverage over those aircraft carriers listed in Shanghai and Shenzhen. Nonetheless, a cruise always calls for leadership and execution. High-profile managements from multinational corporates (MNCs), current or former, along with scientists and investors, echo the tide to stream into the domestic industry.
The first wave of top teams has migrated since around 2014-2016 to found biotech start-ups in China, concentrating on license-in strategies accompanied with independent research and development (R&D). The leaders usually held senior management positions in MNCs and even ran the subsidiary. Dr. Zang, who founded I- Mab in 2016 (the company listed on Nasdaq in 2020), had acted as the global senior vice president in GSK and head of GSK’s R&D Department in China. Dr. Wang, who founded Harbour BioMed in the same year (the company went public in Hongkong in 2020), had been Head of China R&D and of Translational Medicine, Asia Pacific, for Sanofi.
“The instant focus on biotechnologies like mRNA vaccines and POCT diagnostics pushes Life Sciences and Healthcare industries in China to blossom, and enterprises seize this moment to transfer decades of scientific research and investment into fruitful achievements.”
Unlike their predecessors, the founders of the second start-up wave in around 2017-2019 established careers both in MNCs and in domestic pharma, pivoting from in-depth research to senior management, which equipped them with independent pipelines and proper license-out strategies to maximum sustainable operation and expansion. Dr. Lv, before founding Gen Fleet in 2017, worked at Wyeth and Novartis in America, then led R&D programs and provided strategic prospective in WuXi App Tec, Yangtze River, Gloria, and CStone Pharmaceuticals. Most recently, Innovent and Gen Fleet announced one of the largest deals between Chinese biotechs, the exclusive global License Agreement for GFH925, a novel KRAS-G12C Inhibitor, with a total package of up to $240 million. Dr. Wang from TechnoDerma chose his path to develop new drugs in dermatology after his years with OSI, Pfizer, AstraZeneca in the U.S., and then Viva Biotech in China. Currently, the company’s first compound for seborrheic alopecia (SA) is undergoing a Phase I clinical trial in America this year. The company also licensed-out this home-made privilege to a local biotech.
Academia and institutional researchers are noticed to pioneer in true fundamental innovations as well. Thus since 2020, top pure scientists, researchers or professors started to co-found start-up biotechs with professional executives, and sometimes, with investors together. This mode may look familiar to what US dollar funds does in Boston or Silicon Valley. Dr. Jia, Director of gene therapy and virus vector laboratory and Tenured associate professor of neurosurgery at University of British Columbia (UBC), explores new therapeutics on Transcription and Translation Dual Regulated (TTDR) oncolytic virus platform with his co-founded company Virogin Biotech. The target, oncolytic virus, has been a hit in the last two years as a cure for cancer (especially cold tumors), and the technique has been proven cutting-edge in global and effective in clinical trials. The hybrid of leading scientists and entrepreneurs puts Virogin under the spotlight of oncolytic virus drug development worldwide.
These three waves are now leading the fast and gigantic tide of innovation. With the strong belief that the top talents from overseas can prosper in China as well as prosper China, the remaining question is, do Chinese biotech companies have an edge over Western counterparts in the future? If so, when?