China’s unbridled growth has spurred a vast number of overseas Chinese to return home to seek new opportunities in their transformed homeland. Affectionately known as ‘sea turtles’ because the Chinese characters for ‘returning from overseas’ are homonyms for the Chinese characters for ‘sea turtles’, this influx has ignited the country’s biopharmaceutical development. With the US pharma market representing 45 percent of the global market, it is little wonder that many of these returnees hail the US as their adopted home and some even boast American citizenship after multiple decades of residence.


For me personally, the impact I can make on the industry as general manager of Roche China is huge

Hong Chow, Roche China

Roche Pharmaceuticals China General Manager Hong Chow bucks this trend. A native of Wenzhou city in Zhejiang province overseeing the scenic East China Sea, her family emigrated to Germany when she was 12, where she grew up, studied and worked, in addition to brief stints in the UK and Singapore. She joined Swiss giant Roche in 2015 to head their Pharmaceuticals division in China. She shares her commitment to Roche China: “independently of which path we choose to take, many of us share the same ‘Healthy China dream’. For me personally, the impact I can make on the industry as general manager of Roche China is huge. The 2017 national reimbursement example is a testament to that.” In 2017, four pivotal and innovative oncology drugs from Roche were listed on the National Reimbursement Drug List (NRDL) – out of a total of 36, an impressive figure. Chow stresses, “Roche provides me with a fantastic platform to accelerate the introduction of high-quality, affordable and innovative medicines to China.”


With China stepping down the long path towards innovation, the country needs more than just scientific expertise and research credentials, especially as the industry increasingly looks to translate science into innovations that reach – and have genuine impact on – patients. Fundamental to this is business management and operational experience, which Chow certainly brings. She highlights, “In 2017, I had the great honour to receive the country’s first “green card” after the government introduced a new policy to attract foreign talents to the free trade zones. It gives me the same privileges as a Chinese citizen,” reflecting, “The Chinese government is not only incredibly open to scientific and research talents but also business management expertise and skills. This is also critical to fostering an innovation ecosystem.”


To foster the right ecosystem within Roche Pharma China itself, she also started what has been termed the ‘PACE’ journey, which stands for ‘Patient First’, ‘Agility’, ‘Cooperation’ and ‘Execution’. To symbolize this, Chow has built a lighthouse on Roche’s Shanghai campus.


In addition to running the Chinese affiliate for Roche – a top three innovative pharma company globally – she also sits on the Supervisory Board of Beiersdorf, the German personal care giant. All these roles do not stop her from seizing more opportunities to contribute her expertise. As vice-chairman of the innovative pharma MNC association, RDPAC, as well as the sponsor of RDPAC’s R&D Working Group since 2015, she is personally active in driving China’s innovation ecosystem. She reveals, “one of our key achievements was the white paper on “Driving towards a Sustainable Pharmaceutical Ecosystem in China” published in 2016, developed in collaboration with domestic Industry Associations and with the support of McKinsey. It was a holistic analysis of the entire Chinese biopharma innovation ecosystem including top-down design, capabilities and mind-set shift. The paper has received broad recognition and many of the proposals were later adopted by the relevant regulators,” adding, “since then, our working group continued to deep dive into different aspects of the ecosystem.”


When she arrived, Chow boldly expressed ‘Three Dreams’ for China’s pharmaceutical industry. The first was to have simultaneous approval and launch for innovative new medicines; the second was to innovate in China to benefit global patient needs; and the third, to internationalize local Chinese talents. Much progress has been made, and Roche Pharma has certainly been a committed and supportive partner. Chow concludes, “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 a lot of expertise and experience we could share.”


Read the full interview with Roche’s Hong Chow here