8 Mar 2010 07:26

China positions to become global pharma R & D hub

By Karl Zhong

Shanghai. March 8. INTERFAX-CHINA - China may become a key global pharmaceutical research and development (R & D) hub over the next few years according to industry insiders at the Asia Pharma R&D Leaders 2010 Summit in Shanghai on March 5.

"China's new drug R & D infrastructure is gearing towards international standards and it will not be long before Chinese-developed novel drugs enter the global arena," Shen Jingkang, head of Shanghai Pharmaceutical Group's central R & D Center, said at the forum.

He added that approximately 10 drugs developed by Chinese companies are presently undergoing clinical trials in the United States and Europe, including Jiangsu Hengrui Medicine Co. Ltd.'s diabetes drug Retagliptin, which is in phase I clinical trials in the U.S.

Zensun (Shanghai) Sci & Tech Co. Ltd. is also in the process of applying to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (U.S. FDA) for phase II clinical trial for its heart failure drug recombinant human neuregulin-1 following completion of phase I trial in Australia.

The Chinese government is increasingly attaching more importance to innovation in driving economic growth and has invested about RMB 5 billion ($732.06 million) to RMB 6 billion ($878.48 million) in pharmaceutical R & D in China at present.

"Government promotion, along with the trend of multinational companies increasing R & D investments in China, has created a favorable environment for the R & D efforts undertaken by Chinese companies," Shen said.

China's drug regulatory agencies have increased standards for approving innovative drugs which aim to eventually be in line with drug approval processes in developed countries, according to Shen.

When asked if the Chinese government will eventually include novel drugs in the national drug reimbursement list in the future, Liu Yuwen, general manager of Biobay, a biotechnology park funded by the Suzhou government, said at the forum that the government will do so provided the novel drugs can meet unmet medical needs.

"Research into affordable treatments and diagnostics and medical devices which can meet the needs of China's rural residents as well as medicines which are effective in treating diseases common among the Chinese population are highly encouraged in China," Liu added.

In addition to government support, a rich R & D talent pool and the increase of R & D investments by various domestic companies are facilitating China's development into a global R & D hub.

In recent years, a wave of overseas scholars and industry practitioners have returned to China, working as scientists in multinational companies or starting up their own biotechnology companies and contract research organizations (CRO) in the field of innovative drug R & D.

"We have come to China to explore drug discovery given that the U.S. FDA is approving fewer novel drugs in recent years," Tony Zhang, managing director of Eli Lilly Global R & D in China, said. "A fully-integrated network between pharmaceutical companies, CROs and other entities may help to improve the efficiency of innovative drug R & D in China," he added.

Not to mention, domestic companies are now setting up their own R & D centers and raising the amount of R & D investment as a proportion of their total sales revenues, according to Shen.

However, China's efforts towards becoming a global R & D hub are not without challenges.

"Many Chinese R & D talents still lack the R & D mindset and initiative so we need to train them first after recruiting them," Richard Wang, AstraZeneca's director of strategic alliance and collaboration in Asia, said at the forum.

In terms of academic institutions, a number of them are still focusing on preclinical research and not considering addressing issues in clinical trials, Wang said.