China Pharmaceutical Industry Surging
Posted at2018-07-02

China Pharmaceutical Industry Surging

Pittsburgh entrepreneur John Oyler founded a biotechnology company in Beijing eight years ago, but he did not receive any funding and was even taunted that China is the wrong place for drug development. You can't do anything creative there.

But Oyler stuck it out and put in $10 million of his own money to get his BeiGene Ltd. off the ground. Then President Xi Jinping's government began a massive overhaul of regulations in the country's $122 billion drug market. Money rushed in, and these days investors point to China's health care sector as the possible birthplace of its next juggernauts – maybe even the next Alibaba.

BeiGene is now worth about $9 billion on the Nasdaq, a multiple of about seven times its 2016 IPO, and its experimental cancer drugs are being closely watched globally. Its sudden ascent is emblematic of the dramatic shift in the fortunes of China's pharmaceutical industry, which for decades made only cheap copycat medicines.

In laboratories across China – from BeiGene's shiny research centers to the sprawling biotech parks that dot the country – an army of scientists are racing to catch up with and then overtake their Western counterparts. They're working overtime on things from cutting-edge cancer therapies to genetic engineering, and they're getting a boost from the Communist Party, which wants to build homegrown champions in the drug industry.

Investors are piling in with the hope that the mighty Chinese economic machine will remake the fortunes of this fledgling sector. Venture capital investment in China health care surged from $1 billion in 2013 to $11.7 billion last year, according to McKinsey & Co.

Recently, two biotech companies were the focus of more than $4 billion in investment. China Biologic Products Holdings received a $3.5 billion offer from shareholder CITIC Capital Holdings, while Wuxi Biologics Cayman said its controlling shareholder is offering to sell a stake in the company for about $505 million.

“There's a belief here that we can compare with anyone anywhere in the world,” said Oyler, who's now BeiGene's chief executive officer. “When the government turns and says let's make sure this industry grows properly in China, you wind up with global leaders.”

As China battles surging rates of cancer, heart disease and diabetes, sales of medicines are expected to hit as much as $175 billion by 2022, according to researcher Iqvia Holdings. China is the world's second-largest pharmaceutical market after the U.S.

Chinese companies like BeiGene are hoping to grab a bigger slice of that pie from global drugmakers, who have for years dominated local sales of innovative therapies. If that works, the Chinese firms are hoping to take their drugs around the world.

Their plans are getting a boost from the government's move in 2015 to overhaul regulations that had for decades slowed drug approvals and stifled innovation. These days innovative new drugs can reach the Chinese market in a fraction of the time the process once took.

Beijing's “Made in China 2025” initiative, intended to upgrade the country's manufacturing industries, highlights plans to develop new targeted therapies, antibodies and vaccines while working toward breakthroughs in areas like stem cells.

All that's helping Chinese companies move quickly on cutting-edge technologies like CAR-T, which uses human immune cells to fight cancers. While CAR-T was invented in the United States and already sells there, there are about as many clinical trials in China as in the U.S. for such drugs.

Meanwhile, in sensitive fields like gene editing, Chinese labs also face fewer ethical and policy restraints on applying the new technologies to human beings.

“They're putting the pieces together and they're doing it at – by Western standards – an unbelievable pace and scale,” said Marshall Gordon, a New York-based biotech investor with Clearbridge Investments, who recently returned from a trip touring China's biotech industry.

Yet the risks remain plentiful. Most Chinese companies are still awaiting approvals for their medicines, and the country still doesn't have major novel drugs of its own. Also, a lot of biotech innovation in China still doesn't include groundbreaking new mechanisms of treatment, or so-called first-in-class therapies.

Speranza Chemical Co.,Ltd.
July 2nd, 2018

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