Today, China is home to more than 400 biogeneric manufacturers, which mainly develop and manufacture generic biopharmaceuticals
for the domestic population. Chinese biogenerics primarily include recombinant products, such as interferon series, colony-stimulating
factor series, erythropoietin, insulin, growth hormone, interleukin-2, and various vaccines, blood products, antibodies, and
diagnostic products. Table 1 lists major Chinese biogeneric products and their manufacturers. Notably, Tianjin Hualida Biotech
Co., Ltd., one of the major Chinese biogeneric manufacturers, was acquired in early 2005 by Teva Pharmaceuticals, a generics
giant based in Israel.
Chinese biogeneric pharmaceutical exports have also shown an upswing in recent years. In 2005, China exported $478 million
of biopharmaceuticals to foreign countries, a 54% growth over the previous year. Tonghua Dongbao Group, the domestic recombinant
human insulin manufacturer in China, has been exporting insulin to Germany, Italy, Egypt, Mexico, Russia, and other countries,
and has generated $30 million in foreign income since 2001. Not a significant figure by Western standards, but it shows proof-of-concept
that Chinese biotherapeutics can be sold internationally.
GOVERNMENT ENCOURAGES INNOVATOR PRODUCTS
China's economy is growing at an annual rate of 8.8%. China's middle class is also expanding and is now about the size of
the population of the UK or France. Chinese consumers' ability to afford more expensive biopharmaceuticals, especially novel
biopharmaceuticals, is also increasing.
China recognizes that intellectual property (IP) rights protection is critical to the development of its domestic industry
and biopharmaceutical products. China entered the World Trade Organization in December 2001 as part of its focus on independent
innovation. IP rights protection has been strengthened as one of the fundamental national strategies of China.
The government also encourages private enterprises, rather than government-subsidized, pubic research institutions. Meanwhile,
the government is increasing investment in the biotechnology sector by building biotechnology parks and funding research projects.
China's "863 Program," a government program aimed at supporting early-stage technology projects, has been successful in funding
promising R&D projects. These efforts have provided a supportive environment for biopharmaceutical innovation.
Table 2. Novel biopharmaceuticals with Chinese-owned independent intellectual property rights
After 2003, a growing number of innovative biopharmaceuticals with Chinese-owned independent IP rights were launched on the
Chinese market through the efforts of biopharmaceutical companies and research institutes. Many research-based Chinese companies,
such as Shenzhen SiBiono GeneTech Co., Ltd., Shanghai Sunway Biotech, Ltd., and Beijing Biotech Pharmaceutical Co., Ltd.,
have gained international recognition for their products. The most productive year for innovative biopharmaceuticals in China
was 2005. Seven new Class I biologics were approved for production by the SFDA that year (Table 2).
China now has a promising biopharmaceutical pipeline of more than 150 products. This includes 35 innovative products at clinical
trial stages and another 30 to 40 novel products in R&D. China is the first country in the world to complete a Phase 1 clinical
trial for a vaccine for severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and to develop and conduct clinical trials for an avian flu
vaccine. In November 2004, the first vaccine for acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS) was approved for a Phase 1 clinical
trial, which was completed in 2006. Table 3 lists some of the innovative products currently in the pipeline.
Table 3. A sample of innovative products in the pipeline
Tianjin Fusogen Pharmaceuticals, Inc., founded by Dr. Genfa Zhou, a US-trained Chinese scientist, has three promising anti-HIV
products in the pipeline. Sifuvirtide, Tianjin's HIV fusion inhibitor, entered Phase 2 clinical trials in July 2006. The company's
R&D was subsidized by funds from the national 863 Program.
Shanghai Sunway Biotech Co., Ltd., a research-based biopharmaceutical company, launched its first novel product, Recombinant
Human Adenovirus Type 5 Injection (H101), in 2005. Now the company is developing H102 and H103.
Compared with developed countries, China has a short history of developing novel biopharmaceuticals with established intellectual
property rights. An integrated environment that favors enterprise innovation has not completely formed in terms of new drug
approval, drug price management, taxation policies, and biopharmaceutical contract manufacturing. Lack of financial support
still remains a big obstacle for many Chinese biopharmaceutical companies. Excess production capacity and a shortage of pipeline
products are driving them to seek foreign partnerships or contract manufacturing opportunities.
Future columns will explore how these obstacles balance against China's assets, such as its extremely talented pool of scientists,
low production costs, rapid growth rate, and immense domestic market potential.
Eric Langer is president of BioPlan Associates, Rockville, MD, 301.921.9074, email@example.com
Eliza Yibing Zhou is project director for research programs on China and India, firstname.lastname@example.org