In May 2021 Swiss giant Roche launched the ‘Roche Accelerator’ in Shanghai, a USD 31.1 million investment aiming to foster and capitalise on China’s burgeoning life sciences start-up ecosystem.
The 5000 square metre project, Roche’s first such in-house accelerator globally, builds on the company’s sizeable existing R&D presence in Shanghai and follows in the footsteps of similar initiatives from other Big Pharma players.
Start-ups from the pharma, diagnostics, personalised healthcare, and digital and AI-driven healthcare spaces joining the Roche Accelerator will have access to tailor-made support, leveraging Roche’s considerable resources and know-how. Services offered will range from guidance on strategy in early research and development all the way through to commercialisation, and research funding support and subsidies will also be made available.
Roche saw mixed commercial performance in China in 2020. The country was a key contributor to a sales growth of seven percent for its pharmaceuticals arm after strong uptake of new oncology treatments Perjeta and Alecensa, although this was partially offset by the impact of updates to the National Reimbursement Drug List (NRDL) and the COVID-19 pandemic. However, Roche Diagnostics China saw sales drop by 11 percent due to the decrease in routine testing following severe COVID-19 pandemic restrictions.
Roche strives to make Shanghai its third-largest strategic centre, after Basel and San Francisco, and the launch of the accelerator will accelerate this process
Severin Schwan, CEO, Roche
Speaking at the Accelerator’s launch via video call, CEO Severin Schwan foregrounded the significance of China to Roche. “The Chinese market is an important part of Roche’s global strategy. Roche strives to make Shanghai its third-largest strategic centre, after Basel and San Francisco, and the launch of the accelerator will accelerate this process,” he stated.
“We will continue to deliver on our long-term commitment to the Chinese market, increase investment in innovation and R&D and contribute to the development of China’s healthcare industry.”
Other Roche leaders were equally effusive about the project’s potential impact. Shen Hong, head of Roche Innovation Center Shanghai, noted that “My hope is that … the accelerator will empower more start-ups, bridge the gap between concept and proof of concept, upgrade ‘made in China’ to ‘created in China’ and allow R&D in China to benefit the world.”
Roche Pharma China General Manager Hong Chow was similarly keen to emphasise the project’s potential to spread Chinese innovation even more widely. “Roche was the first multinational pharma company to settle in Zhangjiang, and over the years we’ve been leading and benefiting from a continuous stream of innovation and breakthroughs locally,” stated Chow.
The launch of the Roche Accelerator marks an important transition for Roche, from introducing world-leading innovation into China to incubating innovation within China
Hong Chow, general manager, Roche Pharma China
“Diseases have no nationality, and innovation knows no borders. The launch of the Roche Accelerator marks an important transition for Roche, from introducing world-leading innovation into China to incubating innovation within China. Roche strives to make China a global innovation hub. We are committed to doing now what patients need next, and we will continue to work with our partners to build a healthcare ecosystem, promote R&D in China on the global stage and step up efforts to benefit patients in China and across the world.”
Back in 2019 when Chow spoke to PharmaBoardroom she noted that “To drive innovation, there are many elements that need to be in place. Whether you are an MNC or a local company, the agenda is about innovation. I think there is lot of expertise and experience we could share.” Whether the new Roche Accelerator represents the culmination of this journey remains to be seen, but the Swiss firm’s commitment to China appears clear.