Roche is the first multinational pharmaceutical company to have set up a wholly-owned R&D centre in China, and this reflects the scale of the company's commitment to the country, according to Jonathan Knowles, the group's global head of R&D.
He told DrugResearcher.com that the new unit, which will focus initially on medicinal chemistry and employ 40 staff, taps into the growing pool of world-class researchers found in China, many of whom have gained significant international experience in the US and Europe.
The team will conduct parallel synthesis (Roche's own brand of combinatorial chemistry) experiments and in time could expand into other functions. For example, the company's assays for predicting drug likeness could eventually be run in China.
Medicinal chemistry is a good function to kick off with when setting up a new facility "as it is easier to define what success looks like compared to biology or medicine," he commented. And the strength of Roche's informatics platforms means there are no technological barriers affecting the location of R&D, he added.
"Looking to the long term, our aim is for the group in Shanghai to discover and optimise new molecules - active ingredients of potential new drugs - which address important unmet medical needs and can be marketed worldwide, including China," continued Knowles.
Roche has set up its centre at Zhangjiang Hi-Tech Park in Shanghai, known as the city's 'medicines valley'. It is scheduled to start operations at the end of this year.
Other multinationals are also active in China, but as far as research is concerned have focused on forging relationships with local concerns. However, there is additional evidence that big pharma is branching out in China beyond the sales/marketing and manufacturing functions. Last year for example, Pfizer announced plans to set up a clinical research facility in Shanghai.