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Accelerating Innovation in China for a World Without Disease

When travelling around the country to meet with start-ups and entrepreneurs located in different parts of China, I am amazed by not only the quality and dynamism of the Chinese healthcare innovation scene but also the passion and effort it takes to bring potential disruptive solutions to the patients and consumers.

The race to develop the blockbuster innovation of the future is on, and accordingly, China’s efforts are full-steam ahead. This is a golden era of healthcare in China for several key reasons.

First, China’s government has significantly increased investment in healthcare and undertaken major initiatives to revamp the regulatory landscape in the healthcare sector[i] and to build infrastructure capacity that boosts innovation and investment. In 2018, the Chinese Government spent significantly to fund healthcare and focused on improving policies; resulting in a boom in both nascent innovation and approvals[ii] for potential solutions in China’s biotech and pharmaceutical sectors.

Second, the biotech ecosystem in China is booming and expanding. The Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area and the G60 Science and Innovation corridor, which connects Shanghai and eight other cities in the neighboring provinces, have both been incorporated into a national plan and given high strategic priority[iii]. These are strategic cooperation areas that are set to become leading technology and innovation hubs in the world and centers for science. In June 2019, China announced the launch of a new science and technology innovation board on the Shanghai Stock Exchange, known as the Sci-Tech innovAtion boaRd (“STAR Market”), which will start trading on July 22 with 25 listed companies that have already received an approval to trade[iv]. This board is a new platform that will help Chinese biotech and technology companies raise capital and list at home rather than abroad.

Third, significant funding and talent have been flowing into China, China is now roughly on par with the US when it comes to expenditure on science and engineering[v]. This looks set to increase, given that the 13th Five Year Bioindustry Development Plan calls for China to begin to lead instead of follow in biomedical technology. As a result, in the last six years, there have been over 2 million returnees, of which 250,000 are in the life science sector[vi].

Finally, we are seeing new and disruptive science and technology emerging in China across areas such as gene therapy, microbiome, regenerative medicine, big data and artificial intelligence. On the therapy side, new modalities such as gene editing and CAR-T are maturing or even taking leading positions globally[vii].

At the same time, new business models can also provide a springboard for growth. Take mobile devices as an example. Mobile phones are the most personal technology that consumers own, and they have the potential to enable and empower health and wellness to be delivered through mass personalization. New business models will probably continue to evolve, but I see these fitting into three main categories in China: operational/clinical business model; consumer products and services model; and infrastructure business models.

As we all know, disease prevention is the holy grail. Technologies that enable early disease detection and interception will be, in my opinion, truly game-changing, as we have seen significant improvement in patient outcomes when diseases are detected early. When we look at large sets of patient data with the latest technologies, we’re searching not just for markers of disease, but also for markers of health. These insights can be extremely valuable in the context of drug development. I feel that Johnson & Johnson is in an ideal position to harness this trend through the scale of its R&D efforts and its efforts across pharmaceuticals, medical devices and consumer health.   

We believe that everyone – no matter where they live – deserves access to life-saving innovation. At Johnson & Johnson Innovation’s Asia Pacific Innovation Center, we continue to work closely with cross-sector teams at Johnson & Johnson and local partners on many initiatives with the aim to accelerate innovation in China and across the region. We aim to build a world without disease and are focused on earlier and better prevention; disease interception when patients have very early symptoms; and cures when the disease is further along. Through these three approaches, we hope we can tackle some of today’s most pressing public health challenges and profoundly change the trajectory of health for humanity. This is our goal, and we’re working hard every day to achieve it.


This article was originally posted on WeChat here


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[vi] China Bio 2018 Report