During April the BIA partnered with intellectual property firm Rouse, holding events in London, Cambridge and Oxford to discuss the market for biotech in China. Representatives – from a diverse range of biotech organisations including Covergence Pharmaceuticals, Oxford Biotherapeutics, Biogen Idec and Cancer Research Technology, and service providers to the industry including Apposite Capital, Shepperd & Wedderburn and College Hill Life Sciences – attended the meetings to hear advice relevant to companies interested in taking their technologies overseas. After each session audience members took the opportunity to ask questions of the panel in a lively interactive discussion.

Biotech in China is growing fast as a strategic emerging industry

Faced with the challenges of a growing and ageing population, China has turned to translational healthcare and has focused on biotech as one of its seven strategic emerging industries. The sector has seen billions of dollars of investment from the Chinese government and is now in its twelfth consecutive five-year plan.

Flic Gabbay, Managing Partner of Transcrip Partners, has accompanied three trade delegations to China and emphasised just how much change she had seen there from year to year.  Many huge research and development science parks have been built in the last decade. A scientist’s salary is currently increasing at around 25% per annum, meaning that UK businesses can now compete on a more level playing field with Chinese employers.

Flic also noted that the US has begun investing considerably in the growing market for contract research organisations (CROs) and early stage development companies in China, and that Chinese businesses are increasingly looking to tap worldwide markets for their products. Overseas collaborations have also taken off, with high profile examples including a translational medicine partnership between Harvard University and Fudan, and a biologics collaboration between MedImmune and WuXi AppTec.

UKTI can help UK businesses to forge links with China

Representatives from United Kingdom Trade and Investment (UKTI) explained how they can advise UK companies looking to do business in China. They can help those who are looking to investigate markets, make links or establish supply chains or even help to deal with day-to-day practicalities during visits. As part of their trade missions, UKTI can tailor bespoke meetings and tours of relevant contacts and companies.

Key points to note

The speakers noted the great variability between different provinces. Shanghai and Beijing are often seen as the places to be (and may come with the price tags to match), while Hong Kong can provide a stepping stone into Chinese culture. But of course China is a huge and diverse country and business activity is not based primarily in just one or two cities. Business practices, regulations and incentives vary greatly from one province to another, so it’s important to consider where your partner is based.

The intellectual property  (IP) landscape is changing. In 2011, China had the second highest number of biotech patent applications worldwide, and the aim is to increase numbers further still. Rouse has been established in China since 1993. Jin Ling from Rouse (China), who advises clients on technology transfer, told attendees that the Chinese government plan to make China an innovation-based economy by 2020. This will include improvements to the IP protection system and legal environment. When doing business in China, IP should be considered early on and should be at the core of any business plan. Some tips include:

  • Patent term extension is not available and restrictive clauses in contracts may not be enforceable;
  • When applying for market authorisation, the applicant themselves is required to disclose any relevant (even third-party) patents in China;
  • If dealing with an overseas (non China-based) business, a technology import and export agent is needed;
  • Some technologies are restricted and require approval.

The speakers at China in Your Hand were enthusiastic that China’s commitment to innovation is real and is happening now, with widespread incentives. Taking questions from the floor, they affirmed that the real key to success is in building strong relationships; it takes time to establish a trust relationship in China and to build mutual understanding, so it’s important to get together as regularly as possible. If your interest has been sparked, UKTI holds regular events and trade missions, and the BIO Convention in China partnering event will take place on 11-13 November 2013 in Beijing.