Eastern Biopharma Industry and Investment

The BioCentury China Healthcare Summit saw thought leaders from industry, academia and finance meet in Shanghai to learn about China’s burgeoning biopharma ecosystem. The nation has advances its biotech agenda, specifically targeting the sector in its industrial strategy, Made in China 2025. Like many countries, age-related diseases such as cancer are the main targets. Countries such as China and India with large populations and ever-improving healthcare access will soon face more and more cases of age-related illness. Traditional Asian leaders in biopharma, Japan and Singapore, are also making moves in developing their biopharma industries. The common denominators have been the acquisition or expansion into Western biopharma companies and the collection of genomic data.

The Human Genome Project concluded in 2003 with the successful sequencing of a human genome compiles from several donors’ DNA. Most of this reference genome, some 70%, has come from one person. Since 2003, huge advances in gene sequencing mean the human genome can be done in a tiny fraction of the time and cost. The major conclusion is that there is much more diversity in the human genome than revealed by the Human Genome Project. These genomic data provide valuable insights into human health, such as how we respond to diseases and treatments. Companies are now using cutting edge sequencing methods to capitalise on this valuable data gap.

The lack of diversity in DNA sequencing extends to cultures as well, with a notable scarcity in DNA of Asian, middle-Eastern, African and indigenous populations. Multinational company Global Gene Corp aims to use its genomics data platform to analyse more diverse DNA for better healthcare applications. The company, founded in 2017 with bases in India, Singapore, UK and USA, is one of many new biotechs emerging from Asia. The Hong Kong stock exchange has recently seen several biotech IPO launches, however Asia’s recent inroads into the field are being made through investment in US and European companies. China has been making acquisitions in its push for data and development of AI technology. Recently, Genomics Medicine Ireland announced a €400 m deal with WuXi NextCODE, a multinational part-based in China, which will see the Irish company expand over the next five years.

Similar developments have occurred in the UK. The UK has built a strong leadership position in Life Sciences, highlighted in the recent sector deal. This combined with the fall in £GBP value since Brexit, UK biotech and biopharma start-ups make attractive targets for foreign investors. Notably, UKI2S-funded Quethera (bought by Astellas for up to £85 m by Astellas) and Crescendo Biologics (in licensing partnership with Takeda) have struck deals with Japanese pharma giants. Takeda also got the go-ahead recently to buy out Shire, making Takeda one of the world’s top 10 pharma companies. Chinese investment in the UK is also increasing.  Chinese VC and private equity firms invested $3.5 bn globally in foreign healthcare this year, an increase of $0.5 bn on last year. Much of that was spent in US and Europe, and the trend is set to continue.

Asian influence in the UK biotech scene is not limited to the private sector. For many years UK universities have built strong relationships in Asia. The University of Nottingham has international campuses in Malaysia and China, and Oxford University is due to open its first overseas campus in China in early 2019. The campus will focus on science and engineering. The relationship forged over decades between East and West, in terms of knowledge exchange and business investment, had been somewhat one-sided until recently. Now that current has shifted and will flow both ways more equally in the future.