Nobel Prize for Medicine links to Traditional Chinese Medicine

It would be fair to say that the Nobel Prize in China is a very ambiguous phenomenon. Since the 1950s, 6 Chinese nationals have been awarded The Prize. Given China’s turbulent past and its aftermath, it is not surprising that most of these prizes are domestically blurred by controversy. There are many factors that trigger political sensitivity (historical and distant links to the nationalist Kuomintang would already suffice) and due to anonymous research during the early days of the People’s Republic, only the ruling party could pinpoint candidates. Due to these internal challenges, it may be that China missed out on a few occasions to actually receive the Nobel Prize for scientific achievements. Most notorious has been the chemical synthesis of crystalline bovine insulin, a remarkable achievement in producing active insulin that was published in the journal Science in 1966 and made global news headlines. The President of the Nobel Foundation, Arne Tiselius, visited China in 1966. One can only speculate what happened if the researchers that guided him around would not have remained anonymous. After a lot of internal debates, only in 1978 the Chinese put forward a candidate for the insulin discovery. The Nobel Prize, however, was never awarded. From a Chinese perspective, the bovine insulin project only remained “nominated” for the Nobel Prize.

National strategies for scientific success are highly reflected in the insulin story. Prizes do not fall from the sky: they should be centrally approved, fit a high number of political trajectories, and benefit national progress. Modern-day China has made huge investments, and has witnessed impressive advances, in domestic scientific achievements. A Nobel Prize obtained by a homegrown Chinese investigator, obtained from achievements in the modernized Chinese research ecosystem, would provide objective evidence for China’s success as a world-class science hub. However, such a scientific Nobel Prize has always passed China. Until this year, when it was awarded to Dr. Tu Youyou, who discovered and purified artemisinin, a drug that has lead to a relative successful treatment regime for severe malaria and saved millions of lives.

Tu Youyou and her team started in the late 60s and published the crucial discoveries for this therapy in the 1980s. By digging through ancient Chinese medical literature, Tu noticed that plant extracts from the Sweet Wormwood repeatedly showed up in traditional treatments. She found out that artemisinin was the key component. After optimizing the extraction method, inspired by literature from the year 340 AD, she was able to successfully treat malaria-infected rodents and monkeys. At present, a modified version of the extract is part of the standard prevention treatments against malaria, which has played a significant role in reducing the mortality around 50%. Malaria is mainly a disease of the poor: a large part of the success story is its contribution to poverty alleviation.

The global impact of Dr. Tu’s achievements is still tangible. Dr. Tu has linked Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) to a successful treatment method for a grand global health challenge and the Nobel Prize. Needless to say, apart from recognition and praise, in China the Prize remains its controversial allure. TCM advocates want to see more national strategies and priorities for TCM. Critics claim that dr. Tu was only part of a team and recognition should be shared. Chinese policymakers will be scratching their heads. In an era where China strongly bets on modernization of its science ecosystem, the first home-grown Nobel Prize sails in, originated from a secret military project of the early days of the People’s Republic; and rooted in literature from a period some 100+ years after the Han dynasty, a period which produced a wide range of scientific advances.

The first homegrown Nobel Prize in sciences for China is a fact. It derived from a pragmatic approach, ingenuity and a full exploitation of available resources. But it was not planned. In the end, this is about science. Failure is an option, and therefore success should be celebrated.

Further reading

  1. http://www.hlhl.org.cn/english/shownews.asp?newsid=379
  2. http://china-us.uoregon.edu/pdf/Minerva-2004.pdf
  3. https://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/medicine/laureates/2015/advanced-medicineprize2015.pdf
  4. http://www.scmp.com/news/china/society/article/1865048/nobel-prize-tu-youyou-gives-traditional-chinese-medicine-shot-arm
  5. https://www.preceden.com/timelines/4078-china-dynasties–and-governments-
  6. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Science_and_technology_of_the_Han_dynasty

 

 

(Dutch) Start Ups in China and 60 Billion RMB State Support Fund

Startups are booming and they will be for the coming years. Recently the state council has decided to increase the intensity of the focus on startups in the years to come. The National SME Development fund is called to life to help the small startups with their first steps. With 15 billion RMB from the government and 45 billion RMB from other partners, there is plenty to share1,2.

Already in 2014 approximately 3.7 million new companies were registered according to the Chinese government3. The goal of the fund is to heighten the chance of success for these starting companies and to further increase the amount of companies that dare to start.

The Chinese connectivity and therefore market also grows in a high pace. At the 15th of October the news was shared that 140 billion RMB is reserved for a further upgrade of the telecommunications network. The goal is to have 98% of the people connected to the internet by 20204. This increases the market for startups which are often internet based of heavily reliant on the internet.

Unfortunately it’s unclear whether only Chinese companies are to enjoy the fund, but this is highly likely. This does not stop several Dutch startups to take their chances. Some examples are ‘Datenna’, ‘Seedlinktech’, ‘Design2gather’, ‘AskLab’, ‘TradeChanger’ and ‘21brains’.

However, the question that remains is: how many of these start-ups will succeed into successful and durable companies that sustain economic growth and provide jobs. Only the future can tell, but off course this is a promising start.

Sources:

  1. http://www.datenna.com/2015/09/08/60-billion-rmb-dream-fund-to-support-early-stage-startups/
  2. www.gov.cn
  3. http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/china/2015-06/17/content_21034744.htm
  4. http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/china/2015-10/15/content_22188940.htm

Safety, connectivity and new materials in the automotive industry

Summary

The automotive industry is economically important but a growing public health concern. A seminar brought together a diverse group of contributors to development and production of new energy cars, which are cleaner and more safe. It aimed to improve connections in the industry, which may lead to a quicker implementation of new technologies.

***

The automotive sector is a dominant pillar of the global economy. For instance, in the EU, the industry accounts for 4 % of the GDP. However, the associated industry and combustion engines are responsible for a large part of air pollutants worldwide and pose serious health risks. A great challenge has arisen: maintain people’s mobility while forcing the automotive industry into a sustainable direction.

The EU has set very ambitious goals to tune down the emission of pollutants. This ambition strongly aligns with the current demands from the public domain. Also China has witnessed a sharp increase of public health issues related to pollution –largely due to traffic- in the past years. A recent documentary about air pollution from Ms. Chai Jing provided a turning point for both policy makers as well as public involvement in opening the public debate. Since then, various officials have openly supported the war on pollution in China.

It is striking that enabling technologies for clean and safe mobility are reaching mature stages. These involve improved materials, electric mobility, and rapid development of “connected cars” systems: solutions to optimize safety and advance self-driving capacities. Dutch research institutes and industries play leading roles globally. University teams from the Netherlands are front-runners in producing, designing and building award-winning solar-powered vehicles that can drive far and fast (Nuna from Delft University of Technology) or long distances with families (Stella and Stella Lux from Eindhoven University of Technology). The Stella Lux implements all available state-of-the-art new materials, technologies and connectivity solutions. In China, the governmental push towards electric mobility and the strong academic achievements in relevant advanced materials sciences will set off an exponential increase of applied new technologies in the automotive sector whenever the consumer is ready for it.

There is still a complex puzzle to solve in order to successfully integrate these technologies into the automotive industry, and to educate and/or meet expectations of consumers. The Netherlands Office for Science and Technology in Shanghai therefore initiated a discussion between different contributors in the new energy vehicle value chain. A seminar was organized for companies and universities who were related to safety, connectivity and new materials in the industry, ranging from new solar power technology to manufacturing robotics to technologies allowing cars to sense their surroundings (car-to-X communication). Here, participants could share their own expertise, anticipate future developments and shape ideas to what extend they should become involved.

A number of participants focused on new materials (either PV or carbon fiber reinforced composites) and may be able to optimize their products by sharing information and start partnerships. Material-focused organizations also saw potential in applying technologies –such as in-wheel transmission-less engines- in their designs, and vice versa. Most importantly, a small network was created of active contributors to the development of cleaner and safer ways of road transportation.

Sources, further reading

  1. http://ec.europa.eu/growth/sectors/automotive/index_en.htm
  2. http://www.eea.europa.eu/publications/transport-and-air-quality-term-2012
  3. http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/mar/02/china-environmental-policy-documentary-under-the-dome-chai-jing-video
  4. http://www.tudelft.nl/en/current/dossiers/archive/nuna/nuna-5/
  5. http://www.solarteameindhoven.nl/stella-lux/stella/
  6. http://www.chinabusinessreview.com/opportunities-and-challenges-in-chinas-electric-vehicle-market/

Medtech overview in China

Summary
This article gives a broad overview of the medical sector developments in China. Highlights areprojected against challenges, and opportunities for Dutch involvement are highlighted.

***
The medical sector is vastly expanding in China. China has become the second largest pharmaceutical market in the world; and with its size of 17 Billion USD, the medical technology market in China currently ranks fourth. The nearly 1.4 billion people are facing challenges with respect to ageing and chronic disease, and opportunities when it comes to public and private spending on healthcare and development of healthcare technologies.

Technological highlights

The medical technology sector is typically a knowledge intensive sector, which strongly relies on academic talent and entrepreneurial support. Whereas momentarily the many key technologies in China follow international trends (top universities and R&D companies are good competitors of their overseas peers, but fields of expertise that stand out in China are rare), there is a strong rise of (data)platforms and services which may outrun the international competition. Notably, the Alibaba group is very active in the medical field, and with its Alicloud becoming a prominent connector of information-based medical technology.

Key-players en networks

Driving the knowledge base for medical technology is first and foremost the government. Until today, the government is the main provider of funds for both academic research as well as R&D. The step towards commercialization, however, seems to be spearheaded by companies (mostly non-governmental) and universities. Innovation patent data shows an overrepresentation of companies and universities in the regions around Beijing, Shanghai and Shenzhen. Whether the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) and its traditional research institutes such as the Shanghai Institute for Biological Sciences are clearly driven towards knowledge valorization remains unclear; however, the vast majority of new research institutes (also under CAS) include patent offices, provide business support and aim for technology spin offs.

Life Science Parks, in which spin offs gather and capital is collected and distributed may become other key players in this sector. An important note here is that some of these parks may more or less serve as local prestige hubs, creating an attitude that could conflict with an open innovation–based business culture. The numbers are staggering: there are more than 100 life science parks in China at present, and 22 national biomedical centers.

Role of the government

The central as well as local governments play an important role in driving advances in medical technology. Some of the direct roles are supporting R&D, easing registration and legalization of new methodologies, creating innovative business environments. The role of the government in attracting talent should also not be ignored. Talent scouting has become a core activity of the central government, with a number of programs that offer impressive professional and personal benefits for individuals. Such treatment is available for local talents, and to a larger extent for foreign talents (who, in a research setting, often receive higher salaries than their peers) and mostly for so-called returnees, or people of Chinese origin who studied, worked and lived overseas.

Relevant developments

The establishment of Free Trade Zones (FTZ) has sparked the interest for foreign producers of medical technology. Notably, the Shanghai Waigaoqiao FTZ is attracting attention after liberalization in the hospital sector, after which the fist wholly foreign owned hospital from a Hong Kong–German consortium was established. This step exemplifies the willingness to test new healthcare business models in China (to which the medical technology industry can cater more easily because of eased regulations and tax relieves), and on the other hand the clear need to quickly implement new healthcare centers in an overpopulated and ageing country that is medically underequipped.

Needs for knowledge and expertise

In a High tech Systems and Materials context, the medical technology strongly connects to the field of sensing and information technology. The capacity to develop standalone technology in China is maturing fast; the implementation (connectivity between the end users, data management, security, system integration) is very much in a developing phase. When zooming in on the medical technology field, in Europe we distinguish a dominant role for SMEs that make up 95% of all med-tech related companies. In China, foreign SMEs are not well represented, as most foreign technology is introduced via MNCs. Apparently there is a clear mismatch between the EU ecosystem/working mode, and the Chinese awareness and readiness to accept SME-derived technology. Here, a suggestion would be to stimulate closer collaboration between Dutch Scienceparks and a number of Chinese Life Science parks, carefully selected based on competitiveness, innovation capacity, open attitude and independence. Another key question in the health sector in China also remains valid for medical technology: who is going to pay for it? At this moment, only basic needs are publically covered, more recent or advanced treatment and medical technology, are paid out-of-pocket. There may be opportunities for organizations that are familiar with implementing health insurance schemes.

Opportunities for Dutch companies and Knowledge institutes

Current population characteristics in China highlight a clear need for improved health solutions, many of which will come from medical devices. With respect to an aging population in combination with a rising middle class, the quality demands will likely become higher and the focus will expand from communicable disease towards non-communicable, chronic, and elderly related disease. On top of that, in absence of a clear anti smoking strategy and elevated levels of air pollutants, respiratory disease, notably COPD, is projected top become more prevalent.

Dutch medical technology providers could take advantage of the strong public acceptance of imported products. However, as medical technology registration is a lengthy, expensive and uncertain challenge in China, it is advisable that SMEs join organizations such as the EU SME centre, which offers recommendations and support to the Chinese authorities in dealing with such formal processes.

Sources, further reading

  1. http://www.rvo.nl/actueel/nieuws/inzicht-chinese-patentaanvragen
  2. http://www.cmef.com.cn/g1275/s3632/t2864.aspx
  3. http://www.ausbiotech.org/userfiles/File/_data/reports/Final_AusBiotech%20Guide%20for%20China_April%202015.pdf
  4. http://www.eusmecentre.org.cn/report/medical-devices-market-china