Regenerative Medicine in China

Regenerative Medicine in China

Within Health Sciences, Regenerative Medicine is an area that China excels in. Research mostly happens in universities across the country, but it is to be expected that the Chinese Academy of Sciences will take a bigger share in this research. Patent analyses suggest corporate innovation is still limited compared to other countries. Therefore, Dutch interests in Regenerative Medicine in China would be mainly in research cooperation, mostly because of relaxed rules concerning stem cell research, research funding, and large patient samples.

 

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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

 

 

Competition in the medtech sector in Suzhou, China

Suzhou

Suzhou is home to two large industrial parks. These two parks compete for business, and the competition leads measures that enhance the attractiveness for Suzhou as a whole. For knowledge-intensive organisations, Suzhou is quickly implementing measures to boost the city’s innovative capacity. This article is based on a presentation by dr. Jiang Feng, vice chairman of the China association of the medical device industry during a medtech-partnering event in Suzhou in September.
Suzhou is a historical provincial town, where the Chinese elite would retreat in scenic gardens to unwind from their responsibilities in the big and bustling cities. Until today, Suzhou carries the reputation as a garden city; some of these ancient gardens still exist, though well hidden between concrete structures that host the lives and businesses of its 11 million residents.

With a GDP per capita higher than Shanghai, Suzhou cannot be regarded as an underdog in regional economic competition. Key to this may be a strong impetus for innovation in this region, and the successful establishment of the Suzhou Industrial Park (SIP), as well as the Suzhou New District (SND), both home to a large number of domestic and national (micro) electronics enterprises, life-science companies and research institutes, such as Philips Healthcare and the Holland High Tech Center China, a platform for the Dutch semiconductor industry in China.

What is the root of Suzhou’s success? This city seems accustomed to competition, and its successes may be the consequence of rivalry between local peers. Take, for instance, the local medtech sector, one of the prime focuses of the Suzhou municipality. Both SIP and SND aim to harbor very similar new companies and recruit similar talents. Local competition between these districts may eventually lead to a fast development of attractive selling points of these districts, and a greater influx of jobs in Suzhou.

Medtech Sector

On September 10, 2015, in a partnering event organized by the SND and its medtech organizations, Dr. Jiang Feng, vice chairman of the China association of the medical device industry, discussed issues related to the development of the medtech sector in Suzhou, and China. Given the location, he focused on potential of the SND, which he praised as an R&D focused, competitive, open, and largely independent initiative.

Dr. Feng mainly discussed his views on domestic innovation and how to improve relevant policies. The case presented itself as follows: while the medtech sector in China is enormously productive, none of the more than 16.000 registered companies rank high in any global R&D list. Dr. Feng questioned the idea that Chinese domestic products should eventually replace imported products. Instead, global partnerships should be stimulated. Furthermore, he addressed that policies should focus on increasing the ability to innovate, instead of giving directions to innovation.

One reason for the lack of Chinese industrial innovation may be the ideal of complete self-reliance in China, which is deeply rooted in Chinese companies as well. In China, many companies cover a full chain between R&D to commercialization. The consequential lack of collaboration – or shared responsibilities- inhibits innovation. These days, many companies “outsource” their internal innovation agenda to the government. Requirements from industry often do not match governmental interests, as the government focuses on disruptive and advanced innovation and therefore mainly invests in academic programs. For most companies, the results (new technologies and academic insights) are simply too advanced to implement.

For the medtech sector in Suzhou, Dr. Feng would like to give more support to incremental innovation, that lead to better design and performance of existing technologies. The government’s active role in this sector would focus on the development of a few good players. Furthermore, production and a market for low-to-middle end products should be discouraged. Suzhou should differentiate itself in areas where it is already excelling: management, design, processing and manufacturing.

Dr. Feng acknowledges that the government has recognized loopholes in the innovation schemes. Changes are under way, and according to dr. Feng, Suzhou is taking the lead in providing a transparent environment with the right ingredients for successful innovation in the medtech sector.

Reflections like Dr. Feng’s would have been surprising some years earlier. Nowadays, these words vocalize the more globalized workforce of talented local breeds and returnees, who would like to aim for competition on a global scale instead of catching up on a domestic scale. Such ideas are not limited to the medtech sector: remarks similar to dr. Feng’s may be heard throughout many innovative industries in China’s first and second tier cities.

Medtech companies that seek a connection to the Chinese market should probably not ignore Suzhou. This city has a proven ability to adapt, and knows that business thrives through competition.

Sources, further reading

  1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/China%E2%80%93Singapore_Suzhou_Industrial_Park
  2. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Suzhou_New_District
  3. http://www.nanopolis.cn/nanotechEnglish/hlgkj.htm
  4. http://www.chinawhisper.com/top-100-richest-cities-in-china-by-gdp-per-capita/

 

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.

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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

 

Shanghai, a spring-time life-science hub

Spring brings a large number of Life-science events to Shanghai. Among which, the Sino-Euro Biopartnering event (SEBP) and the China Medical Equipment Fair (CMEF) in May.

SEBP focuses on innovative European SMEs and life-science organisations and capital from China. This year, projects spanned from a novel approach against antibiotic resistance to a technology-assisted epidural technique. Moreover, one could generally discriminate a focus on non-(or less) invasive technologies, precision diagnostics, and (bio)molecular disease treatment and prevention. With ca. 150 participants, SEBP was an effective networking event with easy access to Chinese counterparts, European companies active in China, and officials from e.g. the China Chamber of Commerce from Import/Export of Medicine. Most prominently present on SEBP were the science clusters from Belgium, Switzerland and France.

Photo life-science

CMEF is held twice yearly since 1979 and this year’s spring edition took place in Shanghai. This spectacle draws a lot of attention both nationally and internationally, attracting thousands of companies and tens of thousands of visitors. Being more focused on sales within the medical sector, this year’s exhibitors showcased their state-of-the-art equipment, hosted lectures, invited customers and created business. Like SEBP, at CMEF there was a clear trend this year towards imaging technology too, as well as imaging-guided non-invasive treatment techniques.

The combination of SEBP and CMEF is particularly strong for creative SME’s, who would like to showcase their innovative business at SEBP in a dedicated setting while aligning with the latest techniques presented at CMEF. With ca. 10 participating companies at CMEF and only one attending SEBP this year, we look forward to welcome many more innovative Dutch life science SME’s next year.

More information available here: RVO Actueel nieuws