Vienna Life Sciences explore China

The trip to China took just five days in May 2012. Brigitte Jank, president of the Vienna Economic Chamber, and the 14 participating Austrian biotech companies used this opportunity for an intensive round of consultations with politicians, academics and companies.

“Surprisingly Ingenious” was the slogan when Vienna biotech companies visited China. From the 20th to the 26th of May, a delegation of Austrian enterprises – headed by the president of the Vienna Economic Chamber, Brigitte Jank – travelled to Beijing, Suzhou and Shanghai.

With 1.3 billion people, China represents significant opportunity for both multinational and domestic drug companies. As of 2011, China has become the second largest pharmaceutical market worldwide and is expected to continue its rapid growth to overtake the US as the largest market by 2020. This rapid growth can be attributed to the increasing demand within China, driven by factors such as the rapidly aging population and the increasing incidence of chronic diseases. The overall aging trend within the Chinese population creates an increasing demand for pharmaceuticals. This is also related to the increasing incidence of chronic diseases. Annually, 80% of all disease-related deaths in China are a result of chronic disease such as cardiovascular disease, stroke and cancer.

While historically China’s pharmaceutical industry has focused on the generics market, China’s current demand has shifted its focus towards novel drug development. As the pharmaceutical industry seeks to meet the healthcare needs of China’s population through increased pharmaceutical development, there are a growing number of clinical trials being performed within China. In 2009, over 1,000 clinical trial protocol applications were approved by the SFDA. A significant number of these had international applications as part of multinational trials, demonstrating China’s increasing ability to develop drugs for both the Chinese and global market.

A further demonstration of the increasing number of Chinese clinical trials can be seen in the growing number of trials in China sponsored by multinational companies. Prior to 2003, there were less than 20 trials sponsored by multinational companies initiated per year, and this number jumped to 129 trials in 2010. This increasing interest in developing pharmaceuticals for the Chinese market has led to the establishment of a number of certified clinical trial institutions. There are over 320 certified institutions, ranging from state-run hospitals to specialized clinics. They are spread all over the 31 different provinces but are mainly located in the life science hubs such as Beijing, Shanghai and Guangdong.Pharmaceutical developers benefit from the relatively low cost of clinical trials in China. This cost efficiency is in part due to the ease of patient recruitment in China. Delays in patient recruitment are a bottleneck for pharmaceutical development and can cost up to $ 35,000/day. By contrast, patient enrolment time in China can be reduced by as much as 30% compared to Western countries.

China’s diverse disease burden results in a large unmet medical need that drives its pharmaceutical industry to develop therapeutics specifically addressing the medical problems of the Chinese population. There is an emphasis on oncology and infectious disease such as viral hepatitis. This focus demonstrates that developers in China are primarily focused on developing drugs for China, while international applications for Chinese drugs are increasing. The many benefits of performing clinical trials in China only serve to increase the attractiveness of the Chinese market.

In addition to the growing industry expenditure on R&D, the Chinese government has made the development of the biotechnology sector a priority in their 12th five-year plan (2011–2015) by dedicating $ 3.1 billion to its continued development. The increased industry and government expenditure on R&D has already resulted in the development of novel therapeutics with a total of 3,200 novel molecule patents published since 2000. While not all will qualify for the special IND application for innovative drugs, this increasing focus on developing novel drugs for the Chinese market is evidence of growing drug development within China.

In contrast to novel drug development are the recent changes in China’s patent law in a fight for cheaper drugs. In May 2012, Chinese intellectual property laws were overhauled to allow the nation’s drug makers to make less expensive copies of medicines that will still be under patent protection. The move by China, considered a vital growth market for foreign pharmaceutical companies, comes within months of a similar move by India to effectively end the monopoly on an expensive cancer drug made by Bayer AG by issuing its first so-called “compulsory licence.”

The amended patent law allows Beijing to issue compulsory licences to eligible companies to produce generic versions of patented drugs during state emergencies, unusual circumstances, or in the interest of the public. For “reasons of public health,” eligible drug makers can also ask to export these medicines to other countries, including members of the World Trade Organisation. Topics were the fields of pharmaceutical research, medical devices and biotechnology, which are areas China invests in heavily. Austria is located in the heart of Europe and is regarded as a bridge between Eastern and South-eastern Europe. One main focus of the trip was the presentation of the life science cluster in Vienna.

In Shanghai, Vienna Economic Chamber entered a bilateral agreement for technological cooperation with the industry organisation Saitech. The delegates of the trade mission to China represented the entire range of the life science industry in Vienna: scientists from the Vienna General Hospital (AKH), pharmaceutical companies with new products for the Chinese market, a manufacturer of medical devices, production manufacturers of pharmaceuticals, and a service company for clinical trials were all looking for partners in China.

Johanna Uhlmann of Vienna-based company Marinomed says achievements were seen after the first days of the mission: “Our anti-viral nasal spray already entered the European market, China could follow now.” Mycosafe, a well-experienced Vienna company with many international contacts, appreciated the trip. Lukas Porak: “Being back home to Austria and working on the follow-up, we are aware of how really good the trip was.”

“The B2B meetings were perfectly organised, and Prof. Rosenberg and myself sat up late into the evening with the business partners.” Heinrich Klech of the Vienna School of Clinical Research appreciated the excellent information on the business partners; this delegation trip far exceeded his expectations. He was looking for information and knowledge management in the university sector: “I made very good contacts, it looks very promising for my institution and the future.”

Dagmar Siebold of Assign Group, a Vienna-based international working CRO: “This delegation trip brought us a lot of new and qualified contacts within Chinese CROs: initial feedback from China already sounds promising.”

At the ChinaBio Partnering Forum in Suzhou, the Austrian companies participated in China’s largest biotech partnering exhibition. With the Austrian booth, LISAvienna represented everything Vienna has to offer in the life science field. This is a combined and successful approach for partners and customers.

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