China Is Hot Topic At SAPA-GP 2005 Annual Conference
With its huge population and booming economy, China has become an increasingly hot target for pharmaceutical companies to offshore their research and development (R&D) under the current trend of pharmaceutical globalization. On June 18, a conference organized by the Sino-American Pharmaceutical Professionals Association, Great Philadelphia Chapter (SAPA-GP) brought together scientific and business leaders from major multinational pharmaceutical companies, Chinese government officials, high-profile scientists and academicians, successful investors, and entrepreneurs to talk about the opportunities and challenges of developing pharmaceutical and biotech R&D capabilities in Asia, specifically China.
The full-day conference, titled “Globalization of Pharmaceutical/Biotech R&D,” featured twenty-two speeches addressing a broad array of topics related to pharmaceutical and biotech R&D. Covering different issues and perspectives, the twenty-two speeches, however, delivered a common message: Today’s China provides a world of opportunities for pharmaceutical multinational companies, investors, and professionals.
The conference attracted about five hundred attendees with various backgrounds. The audience, primarily US-trained Chinese scientists, showed great interest in this conference. The Science Center at Montgomery County Community College, where the conference was held, was full by 8 am, half an hour before the conference started. The attendees found the conference worth giving up a Saturday with perfect June weather. “I was impressed with the wealth of information and knowledge,” a researcher at the University of Pennsylvania said. “It was informative and educational,” commented a scientist working for a major pharmaceutical company in the area.
The twenty-two speeches were given in three sessions: a morning session themed “Current Trends In World Pharmaceutical/Biotech Industry,” and two afternoon sessions with the titles of “Global R&D Alliance and Outsourcing” and “Chinese Biotech/Pharma: Challenges and Opportunities.”
The morning session started with a presentation by Dr. Anthony Ford-Hutchinson, Executive Vice President of Worldwide Basic Research, Merck Research Laboratories, followed by a talk by Dr. Baruch S. Blumberg, a Nobel Prize Laureate in medicine. Leaders from other pharmaceutical giants also spoke later in the morning, including Dr. Jose V. Startarelli, the Company Group Chairman of Asia-Pacific/Japan/Latin America at J&J, Dr. Lance K. Gordon, the CEO of VaxGan and Dr. Robert R. Ruffolo, the President of R&D at Wyeth.
Their talks were as impressive as their titles. The speakers shared their understandings of current challenges and opportunities of global drug R&D and their responses to the steadily decreasing R&D productivity. The pharmaceutical leaders repeatedly mentioned the strategy of outsourcing R&D to Asia, especially China, as a more cost-effective model. The speeches also highlighted the importance of China for its huge market potential due to its vast population and rapidly increasing pharmaceutical consumption. China is expected to be the world’s fifth largest pharmaceutical market by 2010 - a market in which no major pharmaceutical company can afford not to have presence.
Chinese scientists and researchers, accounting for a substantial percentage of the R&D workforce in major pharmaceutical companies, play critical roles in each phase of the drug development. More and more companies and their executives are starting to realize the importance of recognizing and promoting diversity at work. When asked what made him come to give a talk at this SAPA-GP conference on a beautiful Saturday morning, Dr. Ruffolo, the President of R&D at Wyeth said, “my R&D workforce is in the audience and they are the people I care (about).”
In their speeches, the pharmaceutical top executives emphasized the great market potential and the cost-effectiveness of conducting R&D in China, and recognized China’s vast pool of talented scientists and skilled labor. They were enthusiastic about the prospects for conducting business and R&D in China. As the title of the Dr. Sartarelli’s speech suggests, China presents “a world of possibilities.”
The first session in the afternoon featured speeches by successful US-trained scientists who returned to China after studying and working in the US for years. The speakers were Drs. Ling Chen, Ken Fong, George Blumberg, Ling Su, Kewen Jin, Nathan Xin Zhang and Bill Guo. Their experience of how to achieve success in China was one of the most welcomed topics among the audience, many of whom are contemplating the idea of returning to China given the perceived opportunities and various concerns.
“Life can be good in the US, life can be very good in China”, Dr. Kewen Jin opened his speech by such an encouragement for those who “have been talking about returning to China for years.” Dr. Jin co-founded Shanghai BioExplorer, a Shanghai-based preclinical contract research organization, after working for Wyeth in the US and China for seven years. When asked to give a word of wisdom to those who want to repeat his success, Dr. Jin chose the word “flexible.” He went on explaining that those who want to return to China and “make it” should expect that in order to be successful, they shouldn’t necessarily do what they are trained to do, but rather follow the opportunities. Dr. Ling Su, Director of Medical and International Pharma Development at Shanghai Roche, another role model for successful returnee wannabes, echoed Dr. Jin’s point of setting realistic expectations when asked for his advice. Sounding less optimistic than Dr. Jin, Dr. Su cautioned people to expect that pursuing career in China could be tough from both professional and personal perspectives, especially if unprepared. According to Dr. Su, the possible difficulty comes from the existing differences between the US and China systems as well as the changing dynamics in China, which could make the knowledge and expertise gained in the US not directly applicable.
The second session in the afternoon focused on the regulatory environment, and the current status and prospects of the Chinese pharmaceutical industry. The speeches were given by Chinese officials from key government agencies and departments that have jurisdictions over the drug industry, such as China State Food Drug Administration (SFDA), the Ministry of Science and Technology of China, China Pharmaceutical Enterprise Management Association, Chinese Academy of Sciences, and others. The speakers included Mr. Dequan Ren, Dr. Hongguang Wong, Mr. Ming-De Yu, Mr. Huacheng Wei, Drs. Jingkang Shen, Ge Li, Jing Cheng, Xian-Ping Lu, and Ying Luo, and Mr. Yongzheng Hui. They shared valuable information about how government and the private sector are working to make China an even more promising market for pharmaceutical and biotech industry.
The conference concluded with Zhang Jiang Night, a dinner reception sponsored by the Zhangjiang National Biotech Pharmaceutical Base. After an intense full-day program, the 350 dinner attendees found the dinner reception a good opportunity for networking. When asked about their overall impression, attendees generally agreed it was a successful conference – it offered something for everyone.
Helen Yang (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a member of the Conference Publication Team. She works in the Global Public Policy Department at Wyeth, in Collegeville, Pennsylvania.