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Conference Report: 2nd Annual US-China Pharma Conference

The Cira Center in Philadelphia once again hosted the 2nd annual US-China Pharma Conference in May 9-10, 2012. This year, the main themes are “Outsourcing Drug Discovery in China” and “Beyond R&D: Partnership and Licensing Tactics”. The conference, offered by Cypin Production, attracted over a hundred senior level delegates from pharmaceutical companies, CROs, venture capital firms and law firms. With more than 20 presentations, speed networking event and cocktail reception, it provided an exceptional platform for participants to learn the latest trend of pharmaceutical R&D in China as well as developing new business connections.

Facing increasing cost of drug development and strong needs to replenish drug pipelines, pharmaceutical companies are under great pressure to invigorate their R&D ability. China, with a rapidly growing market and advancement in pharmaceutical R&D capability, has been given high expectation to become a powerful engine for the next wave of growth in pharmaceutical industry. In addition, Chinese government has exhibited continuing and increasing efforts to encourage innovation in healthcare industry in its 12th 5-year plan. For the past decade, many different collaboration models have been established by pharmaceutical companies between US and China, ranging from building internal research facilities, collaborating with CROs, partnering with Chinese companies and other hybrid approaches. At the same time, however, significant hurdles still exist for collaborative efforts between companies in US and China, and China’s healthcare system is also undergoing a rapid structural shift. To better cope with such challenges, this conference gathered experts from different fields to exchange thoughts and brainstorm strategies to maximize return on R&D investments in China.

The first day of the conference was kicked off by Charles Hsu, senior advisor and venture partner of Mustang Ventures, who gave a historical review of pharmaceutical sector and raised questions regarding how a growing Chinese market could help address current challenges faced by the pharmaceutical industry. The talk is followed by a panel discussion, in which Jeffrey Ulmer, global head of external research of Novartis Vaccines & Diagnostics, reviewed the growth of Novartis Vaccines in China through company acquisition in Hangzhou and establishment of a new research center in Shanghai and its partnership with Beijing You’An hospital to develop HIV vaccine. Ruo Xu from Merck shared his experience as liaison with Chinese CROs and discussed company’s efforts to assist Chinese CROs to build R&D capacity. Bill Farley, director of Wuxi Apptec Inc., the largest Chinese CRO, gave an overview about pharmaceutical R&D landscape in China from the CRO side, and also pointed out that Chinese CROs are expanding R&D focus from discovery-focused research into early development as they acquire more sophisticated research capacity. After a short break, the discussion about CRO and partnership continued as Joanne Jiang from Fountain Medical Development, a Chinese clinical CRO firm, offered an informative and interesting presentation about works in clinical CRO field in China. With a large population base and an increasing number of world-class clinical centers, China is becoming an important participant in large size global clinical trials. As clinical CRO is a young business in China, she also addressed development issues such as employment training and coordination in order to meet the high standard of clinical trials. Lunch break was followed by an hour-long speed networking event, during which the moderator asked participants to pair up and talk for 5 minutes, and then switch to the next one. This fast-paced event allowed conference attendees to quickly meet new people and build up connections. In the afternoon session, Shengfang Jin, head of strategic outsourcing of Agios Pharmaceuticals, described how the company achieved significant cost saving and advanced research capacity in collaborations with global CROs through properly orchestrating and constantly fine-tuning tasks across multiple CROs. Ying Wang from Abbott Laboratories shared with the audience her professional experience of expanding company compound collection through CRO chemical libraries with a step by step guideline from selection, collaboration to evaluation. Xuefeng Zhang, representative of GENEWIZ, a CRO specialized in genomic services, discussed the current trend of outsourcing and CRO value proposition. Finally, for partnership with academic research institutes, Dora Mitchell from University of Pennsylvania Center for Technology Transfer introduced UPenn UPSTART program, which provides research investigators with resources, expertise and outside talents for technology transfer and commercialization. Melvin Reichman from LCGC introduced a new model for academia-industry collaboration for drug screening and a comparison between research institutes in US and China. The day ends with a fine cocktail reception and additional networking opportunities.

Day two was started by David Chen, managing director of BFC Group, who showcased the complexity of current pharmaceutical market in China and some of the dilemmas for partnership. He also highlighted some unique aspects of Chinese healthcare industry, such as regulations and growth models, and discussed their impacts on R&D strategies. Karen LaRochelle, BMS executive director of business development, described company’s strategy for partnership with Chinese companies, which is dubbed “Oyster to Pearl”. In this model BMS provides guidance and technical expertise to seed companies (oyster) in China in expectation of novel drug candidates (pearl) in the future. Rajeev Dadoo, partner at SR One, outlined company’s considerations for making investment in innovative healthcare companies from the perspective of a venture fund. Vincent Liu, chief representative of Shanghai Fosun Pharmaceutical Group, reviewed how the local Chinese biotech company founded in 1994 thrived to become a leading, multi-billion company that covers diverse healthcare segments. The next panel session was dedicated to licensing and patent protection. Austin Zhang, senior corporate counsel of Pfizer, outlined Chinese legal system regarding intellectual properties (IP), especially the ownership of innovation under different outsourcing models. Richard Racine, partner of Finnegan, offered many practical advices regarding patent application, ownership and responsibilities during collaborations in China. James Haynes, senior partner of Tee & Howe, showed a detailed quantitative analysis of all patent cases at China’s Supreme Court in recent years. During lunch break, Wenseng Pan and Stanton Lovenworth from O’Melveny & Myers compared the legal systems between US and China in terms of business deals, negotiation process, government regulation and IP system. In the afternoon, David Jiang, managing director of BIOCOM Consulting and Danchen Gao from Abbott Laboratories led a discussion about the future of innovative drug development in China and key factors for Chinese healthcare industry to transit from current sales-driven business model to an innovation-driven model. Finally, Daofeng Chen, director at NIH, and Joe Powers from office of the vice provost for research at UPenn showcased some of the ethical dilemmas faced by foreign and local healthcare companies in China, which sparked an intense discussion that continued long after the closing of conference.

To conclude, this two-day conference provided an informative overview about the past and prospects of pharmaceutical collaboration opportunities between US and China. Some key problems that frequently arise during the collaboration, such as communication, government regulation and cultural differences, received extensive discussion. It was clear that despite all the complexities and challenges, China stands out as one of the most promising places to fuel further growth of pharmaceutical industry in the near future. This conference successfully provides the attendees with past lessons and new ideas to unleash such innovation power with in-depth understanding and adaptive strategies.

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Cypin Production is one of the leaders at developing innovative all-in-one conferences that bring together leaders in Chinese and U.S. biopharma organization and related industries to address 21st-century issues. For more information, see its website at www.cypinproduction.com or email info@cypinproduction.com .