Big pharma swarming to China

By Mike Nagle

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags People's republic of china China

GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) is the latest pharma heavyweight to set up a
drug research centre in China.

Jingwu Zang has been appointed to run the new R&D facility in Shanghai, effective as of June. The centre will focus on creating new drugs for neurodegenerative disorders, such as multiple sclerosis, Parkinson's disease and Alzheimer's disease. Several companies are looking to exploit the growth of China within the pharma industry. Over the next three years, China is predicted to become the joint fifth largest pharma market, alongside the UK with an estimated value of $24bn (€18bn), according to data from the Boston Consulting Group. This trend was further highlighted just last week, when reported​ that three Shanghai-based contract research organisations (CROs) have teamed up to form an R&D alliance. GSK hopes the new centre will eventually direct global research within its therapeutic area, with the company refocusing its "largely UK-based neurology drug discovery efforts on finding new therapies for pain, epilepsy and brain injury", according to GSK's head of R&D, Dr Moncef Slaoui. He said: "We are entering an exciting period of expansion for our R&D organisation as it builds on the strength of the superb science now being conducted in China. We intend to be part of a future in which the phrase 'discovered in China' is heard as often as 'made in China' is heard today."​ Dr Zang's appointment to run the facility comes after he was the founding director at the Institute of Health Sciences in Shanghai. The Institute is an affiliate of the Chinese Academy of Sciences and the Shanghai Jiao Tong University School of Medicine. Under Dr Zang's direction, the Institute grew to comprise a staff of 150 along with around 250 graduate students. "Dr Zang has demonstrated his capacity to assemble the talent required to make a success of a new R&D initiative,"​ explained Dr Slaoui. In March, Novo Nordisk announced plans to expand its presence in China beyond its R&D centre through a collaboration with the Chinese Academy of Science to establish a new diabetes research foundation. Novartis has also set up the so-called Institutes for BioMedical Research (NIBR) in Shanghai's Zhanjiang Park. Its first integrated R&D centre in China, Novartis described the NIBR as "a key part of our global R&D network"​. The company also collaborate with drug research arm of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, the Shanghai Institute for Materia Medica (SIMM). Paul Herrling, Novartis head of corporate research recently explained that the goal of the initiative was "drug discovery with purified natural compounds from plants and fungi used in traditional Chinese Medicine." ​GSK has also worked with the SIMM; starting17 clinical studies in China during 2006 and the pharma giants said it plans an additional 18 in 2007. The growth of the Chinese pharma market is part of a wider trend across South-East Asia. PricewaterhouseCoopers recently interviewed 185 senior pharmaceutical executives across nine different territories in the region; China, India, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand and Vietnam. The subsequent report entitled "Gearing up for a Global Gravity Shift"​, revealed that 58 per cent of the companies believe that "the centre of gravity of the global pharmaceutical market will be in Asia rather than North America and Europe in the near future."

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