Returnees to China boost nation’s biomedical industry

Global Business

Returnees to China boost nation's biomedical industry

China has been trying to break into the advanced pharmaceutical industry for years, and that day is now approaching.

CCTV’s Chen Tong takes a closer look at how the industry is faring.

Returnees to China boost nation's biomedical industry

An increasing number of highly trained professionals are returning to China, and more people are willing to invest in the high-end pharmaceutical industry. CCTV’s Chen Tong reports.

Estimates are that 30 percent of the professionals in China’s biomedical research industry are returnees from overseas. And they are called “Hai Gui,” or sea turtles.

Li Chen is one of them. Chen earned a Ph.D. in U.S. more than twenty years ago, worked for a large medical research company there and then helped the company set up a branch in China.

In 2011 he struck out on his own and started a Shanghai company researching diabetes medications. He said the under-developed state of the biomedical industry in China back then was actually an attraction.

Chen recalls that over 95 percent of the drugs produced in China then were generics. Innovative drugs were only brought into China by multinational companies.

“The research on new drugs was so limited that only four or five companies were doing it,” Chen said. “Capital was scarce, and there were not many professionals in the industry. Because of the lack of all this, the needs were huge.”

But things have changed. Commercial investment in China’s life sciences sector totaled more than $30 billion in 2015- a 70 percent increase from the previous year. The speed of development of the industry in China has also attracted “Hai Gui” investors to return to China and capitalize medical companies like Chen’s.

Yan Tan returned to China earlier this year, and he said it’s just the right time to put money into China’s biomedical industry.

“Compared with the United States, China’s biomedical industry is under-developed. So there will be a lot of opportunities,” Tan said. “The value of a medical research company is a long-term thing. You won’t see a financial increase or a takeoff with these companies, but if things develop well they have a very high intrinsic value.”

Chinese youths made up almost a third of all foreign students in the U.S. in the 2014-2015 school year, and 8.8 percent of them chose majors related to life sciences.

Government financial aid to the industry is also one of the reasons why professionals are coming back. “In the past decade, the Chinese government’s investment in life sciences has been huge,” Chen said. “We are different from the United States in that the government invests directly in new drug research projects.”

China’s biomedical industry has seen steady growth from 2010 to 2015, with total revenue reaching some 200 billion yuan (around $29 million).

The government’s 13th five-year-plan calls for breakthroughs in 10 to 20 core biomedical technologies, and China’s “Hai Gui” are at the center of that effort.