Therapeutic areas

The China pharmaceutical industry has been very busy doing deals. As shown in Figure 1, analysis of the 458 major life science M&A, strategic alliance and partnership transactions in China between 2008 and 2011, indicates that more than half of these deals were in the pharmaceutical sector. While approved products have previously been the most attractive assets to partner in China, in the past few years, partnership activities in China have shifted toward earlier stage assets that are still in preclinical (45%) and clinical phase I or II (13%) development and may not have yet been approved anywhere in the world. Recent report by the China Ministry of Health indicated that 85 out of every 100 deaths are caused by chronic disease, making this a major healthcare concern in China. Not surprisingly, one of the most active areas for partnership in China is oncology, with approximately a quarter of the pharmaceutical partnerships focusing on the treatment of a variety of different cancers. Cardiovascular diseases and diabetes have also become a large and growing concern in China.

Innovative drugs in China

A study published recently on Nature Biotechnology provides an accurate snapshot of the overall innovative effort by indigenous enterprises in the emerging markets studied. Overall, chemistry-based pharmaceuticals represent the majority of all innovations identified followed by biotech based products. The greater focus on biotech innovations is due, in part, to the more permissive regulatory environment for leading edge technologies (such as genetic and stem cell therapies) in China as well as considerable support for novel drug discovery and development from governmental sources.

The composition of innovations in terms of the portion of innovations that rely on chemistry- and biotech-based applications is comparable across the emerging markets and FDA-approved cohort of firms (Fig. 3). However firms in China may have a greater focus on vaccine development than those in the industrialized world. Almost all vaccine leads in China target infectious diseases. Examples of innovations in this category include the following: marketed H1N1 influenza vaccines from China’s SinoVac; a novel hepatitis E vaccine awaiting Chinese regulatory approval by China’s Xiamen Innovax Biotech (Xiamen) and Beijing Wantai and a a therapeutic vaccine for ErbB2-overexpressing breast, ovarian, colon, lung and prostate cancers by Zensun. The vast majority (90%) of innovations by emerging market firms target global diseases that have markets in both developed and developing nations. Leading disease indications for the pipeline of products studied in China, India and Brazil are infectious disease (26.7%), oncology (25%) and neurology (13.3%). China accounts for 57% of all products for oncology. Although largely focused on global diseases, the Chinese and Indian firms studied exhibit a predilection for the subset of global diseases that are most relevant to their domestic populations.


China is pursuing the same model (laboratory space, capital, academic research) of some US reality such as Silicon Valley, but with a confidence and alacrity that could only come from a centralized economy. The general climate in China created by the resources and the policy slant toward entrepreneurism has been successful in the promotion of new product and business development and job creation. Researchers are encouraged to be innovative and there is 30B in national funds to support drug development. These policies are carried through on a provincial, regional and even local level with municipalities making both financial and infrastructural investments (ie, science parks).

The biopharmaceutical clusters of China can be divided into four areas.

  • Northeast Cluster – Beijing, Tianjin, Liaoning, Hebei, Shandong
  • ­Central East Cluster – Shanghai, Suzhou, Taizhou, Hangzhou, Nanjing
  • ­Central West Cluster – Chongqing, Chengdu, Xi’an, Wuhan
  • ­Southern Cluster – Guangzhou, Shenzhen, Hong Kong.

These clusters include 7,500 life science companies, 500 universities & institutes, 2500 top researchers, 200+ life science incubators, 100+ life science parks, 3200 novel drugs patented, 250,000+ industry staff, 150, 000+life science graduates this year.


Enter the Dragon: China’s Biopharmaceutical Cluster. Nat Rew 2013;12:B1-15

Innovative drugs and vaccines in China, India and Brazil. Nat Biotech 2012;30:923-26

China Partnering 2012: Driving Future Innovation. ChinaBio 2012