One of the largest domestic pharma companies in China (ranking number one from 2014 to 2019), Yangtze River Pharmaceutical Group (YRPG) is so-named for its location in Taizhou, Jiangsu Province, part of the Yangtze River Delta, where the Yangtze River feeds into the East China Sea. Founded initially in 1971, YRPG started in the unglamorous business of selling vitamin supplements and pain medication to pharmacies and hospitals, but in the subsequent five decades, founder XU Jingren – who is still chairman and primary shareholder of the company today – and his team grew the company into one of the largest pharma players in Asia, with stated revenues of USD 1.78 billion and over 10,000 employees across 20 subsidiary companies.


Chairman XU Jingren has made it clear previously that an IPO was not on the cards for YRPG, driven in large by his aversion to debt


Given the spate of Chinese IPOs in biotech and other sectors in the past few years, one might be forgiven for wondering if the IPO craze might spill over to the domestic companies. But Chairman XU has made it clear previously that an IPO was not on the cards for YRPG, driven in large by his aversion to debt. According to a previous interview to Chinese media, YRPG had been debt-free since 2009 and he intended to maintain this achievement. However, his son, who has founded his own medical care company, Aiyuan Med, seems to disagree with this philosophy, as he took Aiyuan Med public on the NEEQ market in Beijing in 2015. NEEQ is the third national equity trading venue in China after the Shanghai and Shenzhen Stock Exchanges.


Similarly, during most of its history, YRPG has maintained a fairly low international profile. While its products are touted as being sold in 58 markets, the company does not have any direct presence in major markets in the US or Europe, and its international activity seemed to fall below the radar.


This all changed in November 2020, however, when YRPG signed a partnership with Icelandic biosimilars leader Alvotech and its Chinese joint venture partner, CCHT Biopharmaceuticals, to commercialize eight biosimilars in China. The therapies target autoimmune and inflammatory diseases, as well as the areas of ophthalmology and oncology. While YRPG already has over two million square meters of manufacturing facilities in the country, these biosimilars will be manufactured in a new state-of-the-art facility currently being built in Changchun, with the first phase expected to be completed sometime this year.


Perhaps this Alvotech partnership is the first step for one of the largest pharma companies in China to build more international links and strengthen its footprint outside of China.