HiFiBiO Therapeutics cofounder, CEO and CSO Dr Liang Schweizer fits the profile of a Chinese biotech CEO to a T: advanced degrees in different scientific fields, including a master’s in microbial engineering and chemical engineering and a PhD in molecular biology and genetics, an academic career at top US institutions including Duke University and the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, and stints at Big Pharma companies with 11 years at BMS headquarters in Princeton, New Jersey in the US and nearly a year and a half as the head of Asian Cancer Research for Sanofi in China. Prior to establishing HiFiBiO, she also cofounded and was CSO at a high-profile Chinese biotech company, Harbour BioMed.
In Boston, HiFiBiO is seen as a US company. In Paris, we are seen as a French company. In Hangzhou, we are seen as a Chinese company
Dr Liang Schweizer, HiFiBiO Therapeutics
Dr Schweizer may be one of the most international ‘Chinese biotech’ CEOs around, however. Despite only being less than four years old, HiFiBiO already has operations across three continents: the US in North America, France in Europe, and China in Asia. As she shared in our recent interview with her, HiFiBiO is, rather strikingly, seen as a ‘local biotech’ in each of these three locations. “In Boston, HiFiBiO is seen as a US company. In Paris, we are seen as a French company. In Hangzhou, we are seen as a Chinese company.”
Dr Schweizer herself holds three citizenships: Chinese, US and Swiss (her PhD was done at the University of Zurich), and so perhaps understands the international healthcare landscape better than a number of other Chinese biotech CEOs. She counselled, “the most important thing is to understand that being international is not as simple as setting up an office in a foreign country and hiring some local talents there. You have to really invest, adapt and integrate your operations into the local ecosystem so that the existing local stakeholders see you as a part of the ecosystem.” In addition, she stressed, “it is critical to have international standards so you can fit in. When you work on high-quality science, you will earn the respect of your peers no matter where you are.”
The proof is in the pudding. In 2020, Dr Schweizer was awarded three prizes: the top female founder in France from BusinessFinancing.co.uk; the Extraordinary Women Advancing Healthcare Award by The Commonwealth Institute in Boston, and the Top Ten Female Founders from the Hangzhou government in China – all in recognition of her contributions to the local innovation and biopharma ecosystems.
Today, HiFiBiO Therapeutics is a company focusing on mobilizing the human immune system to combat cancer and autoimmune diseases through their proprietary drug discovery and development platform, CelliGO™, and their Drug Intelligence Science (DIS™) approach. The company has raised over USD 100 million thus far.
Having had an illustrious career across academia and industry, Dr Schweizer had two pieces of advice for aspiring women leaders and scientists: “the first piece of advice I would give is to believe in yourself. Although the word ‘forceful’ is sometimes seen a bit negatively, especially in relation to women, I do believe that women should be more confident and assertive. I have worked hard to speak up when needed and to express my opinions very clearly. The second piece of advice is to be persistent and persuasive. [W]omen also have to communicate and influence others to see their perspectives.”
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