In our second edition of InFocus Five Biotechs to Watch in China, we profile five biotech companies that have all found their own differing routes to success.
While it is always tricky to define the starting point of a revolution, the Chinese biopharma boom – whether one considers the genesis to be the government’s public health reforms initiated in the early-2000s, the first waves of overseas-educated and trained Chinese researchers and industry executives returning to their motherland, or the more concerted Chinese regulatory reforms in 2016 – is clearly out of nascency.
Over the past couple of years, a spate of product approvals has been announced by the biotechs at the vanguard of the revolution, including the likes of Zai Lab, Innovent Biologics (featured in this edition) and Ascletis Pharma, and in November 2019, another emblematic Chinese biotech, BeiGene, saw US FDA approval for its cancer drug, BRUKINSA™, setting a new and remarkable milestone for the Chinese biopharma sector.
Over the past decade or so, thousands of biotech ventures have been established in China, with more popping up every day, and the country’s aggressively buoyant capital markets are welcoming these entrepreneurs with open arms. One of the biggest questions biotech ventures have to confront is portfolio assembly: to in-license or to develop in-house – or both. The conventional wisdom seems to indicate that in-licensing is an accelerated strategy to jumpstart the clinical and corporate development of a young company and to shorten both investor returns and commercial launch timelines, although with the intensifying competition for global innovative assets jacking up prices, this path is no longer as straightforward as it perhaps used to be.
At the same time, while in-house R&D requires a significant amount of resources and capabilities at the beginning, companies that went down this route possess great confidence in the differentiated advantages of their proprietary portfolio and technologies. As is often the case, surveying the industry, it would also appear that a happy balance can be found between the two, with many, if not most, companies ultimately opting for a mixed business development strategy.