Mood Was Upbeat as China’s Biopharma Leaders Compared Notes Across Pacific at JPM

While many of China’s biopharmaceutical company executives flew across the Pacific for the J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference, they kicked off their week in San Francisco with the Bayhelix 13th Annual Conference, a confab of China’s best and brightest. The group’s founding members were ambitious China-born scientists and managers working in the U.S. looking for camaraderie. Today, they are leaders in the field, heading up their own well-financed biopharma, med-tech, service and investment companies.

As their careers have skyrocketed, so have China’s fortunes, resulting in what Steve Yang, a founding member called the “great migration” of Bayhelix members, moving away from the U.S. and back to China to take part in building their country’s biotech industry. Starting from 100 percent U.S.-based in 2001, by 2011 about half of the members of the invitation-only group were based in the U.S. This year, it will be 57 percent and that trend is expected to continue.

While many seemed to be on track to rise up the ladder in big pharma or in Western companies, they now find themselves spokespeople not just for their own companies but for the potential of China’s entire health care industry. It’s a complicated task against the backdrop of China’s ongoing stock market madness, not to mention the CFDA’s recent rejection of dozens of trial applications for false data.

Fresh from three days of meetings with U.S. executives, Samantha Du, CEO of Zai Labs Ltd., shared her impressions with the audience. “People see China as scary; there are concerns about quality of data, policy concerns. We not only have to speak for our companies, but speak for the Chinese economy. The top message in China is improving. I think China is very underestimated and the power of Chinese people to develop innovative drugs is underestimated,” she said.

She went on to add that while some are very hesitant about China, there are also a great many foreign partners and investors that are very interested in working with top Chinese companies, if they show they can deliver truthfully on the quality they promise. It is the small pool of Chinese companies going after best-in-class, and even first-in-class drugs that are now looking to be seen as the credible face of the industry.

Brian H. Gu, J.P. Morgan co-head for Asia Pacific M&A, TMT and Healthcare, recalled the first time he introduced a Chinese company to the J.P. Morgan event back in 2006. He was able to fill only a few tables of interested investors. This year, J.P. Morgan showcased 50 companies in its emerging markets track, 30 of them from China.

While some were smaller biotechs, there were also a surprising number of China’s larger pharma players participating, such as China Biologics Products Inc., Guangzhou Pharmaceutical Holdings and Sino Biopharmaceutical Ltd.

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