High Tech Hot Spots
China's central and regional governments have invested quickly and heavily in hundreds of biotech/life-sciences startups clustered
in a few dozen R&D parks in Beijing, Shanghai, Suzhou, Tianjin, Taizhou, and elsewhere. Says Charles Wessner, director for
innovation and technology at the US National Academy of Sciences: "The Chinese government has succeeded in creating an environment
that provides the incentives, infrastructure, and personnel to conduct world class research. The level of investment in first
class facilities is especially impressive." Meantime, high-ranking government officials representing top-notch life-sciences
parks have gone on "road shows" to pitch to talent pools at US biotech hotbeds such as San Diego, San Francisco, and Boston.
(See "Right on the Rim")
Right on the Rim
How bountiful the harvest will ultimately be depends not only on the quality of these new companies but the sustainability
of the government support.
The undisputed champion among Chinese life-sciences hubs is the Shanghai Zhangjiang Hi-Tech Park in Shanghai's Pudong district—a
bustling research nerve center built in the early 1990s on former rice paddies. The gross fixed asset investment in the park
through 2006 was 81.9 billion yuan (about $11.7 billion), according to official sources. Since its inception in 1992, seven
Big Pharmas—Lilly, Roche, Novartis, Pfizer, AstraZeneca, Abbott, and GlaxoSmithKline—have established R&D centers or forged
alliances with local CROs to do drug discovery, translational medicine, and clinical trials.
The Shanghai Zhangjiang cluster, with its focus on attracting top level talent, maintaining a desirable work environment,
and offering the benefits of the Shanghai lifestyle, represents a new level of commitment to developing Chinese biotech. "The
scale and focus of this park on global talent is most encouraging," says Wessner.
The investment in China has already paid off for at least one Big Pharma. "We are very pleased with the progress we have made
developing our concept for doing R&D in China," says Lee Babiss, global head of pharma research at Roche, the first multinational
to establish an R&D center inside the Zhangjiang Hi-Tech Park, in 1994. "The scientists have contributed to a large number
of programs in the Roche pipeline, and have created important intellectual property for our company. We are now evolving our
model in China to create a new innovation hub, where the scientists will work with our colleagues in pharma development to
bring first-in-class therapeutics to the clinic, with the intent of local and global product launches." Roche also was responsible
for recruiting other large-caps, biotechs, and CROs to Shanghai. "We wanted to have a strong community of drug discovery efforts
and know-how in close proximity," he says.
The park now boasts more than 290 life-sciences companies. Having created an environment fostering innovation, Shanghai Zhangjiang
Biotech & Pharmaceutical Base Development (BPB)—the company that oversees the life-sciences cluster at the park—is currently
planning for its next phase of growth, focused on building an incubator for the seeding of innovation. "Our vision is to build
a life-sciences cluster with a stellar worldwide reputation," says Lanzhong Wang, BPB general manager.