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Swiss Chinese Life Sciences Forum 2018 at Novartis


Chinese Pharma Goes Global

It was a journey from Basel to Shanghai and back, appreciative of the ten year old partnership between the two cities: The Swiss Chinese Life Sciences Forum 2018 that took place on 13 September gathered experts from two continents at the Novartis Campus in Basel. Key players provided insights into the Chinese Pharma landscape in their talks. The subsequent panel discussion focused on opportunities for greater collaboration between Swiss and Chinese Pharma. The event was organized by, the University of Applied Sciences and Arts Northwestern Switzerland and the Swiss Chinese Chamber of Commerce (SCCC) and hosted by Novartis.

The key messages of the Swiss Chinese Life Sciences Forum 2018 in a nutshell:

  • The Chinese Pharma industry is in transformation from a supplier of basic molecules and generics to becoming a major force in the development of innovative treatments and gene-based therapies.
  • So far, three quarters of the Chinese drug market are generic or basic drugs. The potential for innovative drugs is huge.
  • The quality of innovative drug development in China is improved and accelerated massively. To that purpose, the Center for Drug Evaluation at the China Food and Drug Administration (CFDA) enlarged its staff from 200 to 800 experts in evaluation.
  • Development of new drugs in China is still largely driven by the need for affordable drugs. However, this paradigm is now slowly shifting towards innovation: For a new drug to be approved it needs to prove originality and novelty. Instead of being first in China, new drugs need to be first in the world now.

The CDFA accepts applications for foreign drugs under the condition that the clinical data meets the Chinese standard. Further, Chinese medical centers and Chinese populations must be included in trials.
China is the second largest pharmaceutical market in the world. Yet the knowledge about China is still underdeveloped.

Novartis in the East

Matthias Leuenberger, Country President Switzerland, Novartis, welcomed the audience and took the opportunity to deliver an important message to the guests from abroad: “As barriers are increasing it is our duty to stand up against it. We depend on the free movement of people and goods.” Thomas Christ, Acting President of the SCCC highlighted important developments such as the “One Belt, One Road” initiative and the import boost that encourages exporters to bring goods to the growing economy.

Amber Cai, Head of NIBR Shanghai Operations, Scientific and Business Operations at Novartis in China introduced the Novartis Institutes for Biomedical Research in Shanghai via livestream. She presented how the former swamps had been transformed into high-end R&D facilities – built by world-class architects such as the Basel based Diener & Diener – within the last ten years. NIBR, along with Basel and Cambridge, will be one of Novartis’ top three research centers, Cai stated.

Chinese companies go west

Guillaume Vignon, Senior Vice President Business Development at BeiGene spoke about the new dynamic in the Chinese pharma market, seeing how more innovative programs enter the clinic. He did also convey the challenges of the market. “Knowledge about China is poor. We spend a lot of time explaining our capabilities,” Vignon said.

Bruno Delie, General Manager Luye Supply AG agreed with this notion. He further explained how Luye is proceeding to internationalize the business by setting up international development as well as business operations. Both, Luye Pharma and BeiGene have a headquarter in Basel to manage their European activities.

Accelerated development

Dr. Ruyi He, Chief Scientist at the Center for Drug Evaluation at the China Food and Drug Administration (CFDA), illustrated how the paradigm for drug development in China is shifting: Not only did the CFDA expand its staff in drug evaluation from 200 to 800 within two years, but the Republic also changed its way of dealing with drug innovation altogether.

While in the former years, originality and novelty were mandatory only for China, they are now a worldwide requirement. In combination with the accelerated review and approval process – Investigational New Drug Applications are answered within 60 working days – China paves the way for innovative drugs.

Nigel Sheal, Global Head Merger & Acquisitions and Business Development & Licensing at Novartis appreciated this development and titled China as the frontier for innovation. He emphasized China’s enormous market size and population as well as its speed in development. He also stated how huge the influence of the Chinese long-term policies is on drug development.

However, the difficulties are not to be dismissed easily: According to the World Bank, China only ranks 78th of 190 countries to do business with. And however useful the reforms, their enforcement still troubles innovators. Further, scandals like the production of ineffective vaccines punctuate the lack of trust in the producers. “To build innovation in China is not for the faint-hearted. It does require commitment,” Nigel Sheal concluded.


Event partner KMPG’s speaker Martin Rohrbach showed examples of the Swiss-Chinese deal landscape. While Chinese companies particularly go for strong Swiss brands, investment in China is mostly greenfield.

How to build trust

The following panel discussion, led by Patrick Frei, CEO of Venture Valuation, focused on opportunities and challenges in licensing and Mergers & Acquisitions. Bruno Delie stated that the acquired Western companies and the Chinese mother company have different perspectives in terms of speed of integration. He also experiences that, as a Chinese company, you need to show more capabilities and confidence to convince potential partners than being a European company.

To build trust, Guillaume Vignon further advises to bring the involved parties and people together. “We are the caregivers of someone’s kid. Certainly you need to take time to convince them of your trustworthiness.”


Life Sciences
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