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Interview: Promoting prosperity in the life science sectors of China and the UK

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The United Kingdom’s Department for International Trade helps UK companies succeed in China, and Chinese companies set up and invest in the UK. It helps secure UK and global prosperity by promoting and financing international trade and investment, and championing free trade.

In this exclusive interview, Her Majesty’s Trade Commissioner for China at the Department for International Trade, John Edwards, discusses how China’s healthcare and life sciences markets are growing rapidly and are driven by increased demand and changes to regulations, plus much more.

1. What are the benefits experienced by companies that partner with UK life science companies?

I would say quite simply that UK businesses deliver profit, drive innovation and make a difference. As the UK moves forward into a new era, Chinese and UK businesses have even greater opportunity to drive game-changing innovations and make a difference to the individual, the family and the global economy. On life sciences, the UK is a globally unique ecosystem for life sciences and health innovation, with core strengths that include:

  • The UK’s leading scientific talent base: The UK is home to 4 of the top 10 universities in the world for clinical and health sciences. One in 4 of the prescription drugs on the market are discovered in the UK.
  • Our dynamic and international life sciences cluster: The UK is the third largest global hub for life sciences. All of the top 25 global pharma companies and top 30 global medtech companies have a presence in the UK.
  • The UK is home to the world’s largest integrated health service: The NHS provides a national research and evidence generation platform with unique data capabilities and clinical insights.
  • It’s a place where the government and industry work in partnership: In 2017, the UK launched the Life Science Industrial Strategy, which agreed to contribute billions of pounds of funding to keep the UK at the forefront of life sciences and healthcare.
  • The UK has a competitive business environment: For pre-revenue biotech companies, UK offers not only world class clinical resources system NHS-NIHR-MHRA, but also a market competitive tax rebate of up to 33% of capital spending on R&D and clinical trials.

2. How do you think partnering helps advance life sciences in the UK, China, and around the world?

  • Partnership is crucial in the global life sciences industry, such are the scale of global health challenges, from ageing population, growth of non-communicable diseases, and rising expectations of healthcare systems. No issue illustrates this more than the COVID-19 pandemic.The UK and China share common goals when it comes to the essential role of international trade and collaboration to beat the threat of the pandemic and to secure global economic recovery. It is heartening to see that in times of crisis UK and Chinese businesses can continue working together in support of global challenges, like COVID-19.
  • In the case of vaccine and treatment development, this will require the collective efforts of governments, academia, industry and healthcare organisations. We need countries to come together in a concerted effort to develop and manufacture vaccines to supply the global population. The UK government is collaborating with the international community to support the rapid development and manufacturing of safe, effective vaccines and ensure widespread equitable access to vaccines both in the UK and globally. In June, the UK organised the Global Vaccine Summit 2020, helping secure US$7.4 billion in funding to support global vaccine supply and immunisation.
  • The adeno virus vector base vaccine being developed at the Oxford Jenner institute is a great example of partnership between government, academia and business. Given the advanced life sciences ecosystem in the UK, teams have been able to move forward rapidly. This was one of the first vaccines to enter Phase III globally in July. And it’s been reported that the project may deliver emergency vaccines by October. AstraZeneca has said their total manufacturing capacity for the vaccine, if approved, stands at two billion doses. An Imperial College developed RNA vaccine also entered clinical trials in June. Both developments are being supported by c. £130m of UK government funding.

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3. The DIT helps UK companies succeed in China, and Chinese companies set up and invest in the UK. What are some of the ongoing UK-China cooperation projects you can tell us about?

  • The UK’s Department for International Trade welcomes and fully supports Chinese companies coming to the UK for collaboration and investment. Data from China’s Ministry of Commerce (MOFCOM) shows that the UK holds the largest stock of Chinese investment in Europe. And looking ahead, the UK will remain one of the most open economies, open to trade and investment from China and all countries.
  • The UK and China have ongoing collaboration in many areas of healthcare and life sciences, from the creation of innovation hubs supporting healthcare innovation to pharmaceutical licencing, and most importantly at the moment to vaccine production. Key global players, UK-headquartered AstraZeneca and GlaxoSmithKline are leading the charge.
  • On the 6th of August this year, AstraZeneca announced a momentous exclusive framework agreement with KangTai Bio for the license and manufacturing of the Oxford developed COVID-19 vaccine AZD1222. This agreement will ensure the manufacturing of 100 million doses of the vaccine by the end of this year. GSK is also working with Chinese companies Clover Biopharmaceuticals and Xiamen Innovax Biotech on COVID-19 vaccines.
  • Two significant cross-border licensing deals were also announced this year. EUSA pharma licensed two of their ready to market rare disease assets SYLVANT and QARZIBA to Beigene, which is a record breaker for upfront payment, while, Mereo Biopharma licensed bispecific antibody Navicixizumab to Oncologie for late stage platinum resistant ovarian cancer. Both companies were participants of the UK pavilion at ChinaBio® Partnering Forum last year.

4. What are some of the challenges faced by companies wishing to expand into China and how are they overcome?

  • UK companies are investing more in China. UK FDI stock in China increased from £10.6bn in 2017 to £16bn in 2018. Data from China’s MOFCOM shows that the UK was the largest Western investor into China in 2018, and the largest European investor into China across much of 2019.
  • Of course, while there are huge opportunities for UK life sciences firms in the Chinese market, its sheer size and complexity can be challenging. Indeed, because of the size of the market, companies often have to consider having more than one agent or distributor and companies have to factor in the costs involved in getting products into and around the market.
  • The team at DIT China and other specialist organisations are on hand to support and advise UK businesses who are considering entering the Chinese market.

5. What are the first steps for a company wishing to expand into China or wishing to partner in China? How does the UK DIT help companies with these steps?

  • The best first step a company interested in China can do is to make contact with our team of experts in market. Dr. Qionger He, qionger.he@fco.gov.uk, is the Head of Pharma for DIT China and can give initial feedback on your options, including what UK government support exists to help your company succeed in China.
  • I would certainly encourage UK healthcare and life sciences firms to consider the opportunities in China. China’s healthcare and life sciences markets are growing rapidly, driven by increased demand and changes to regulations. Areas of opportunity include new treatments for non-communicable diseases, innovative pharmaceuticals and biotech, genomics, rare diseases, digital health, integrated care, clinical services, medical devices, training and education.
  • China is rapidly reforming the regulation and reimbursement of pharmaceuticals and medical devices. It is now one of the fastest places in the world to register new drugs. Alignment with international standards and the demand for new treatments is stimulating interest in multi-centre clinical trials.
  • A great example of UK government support for UK-China business-to-business collaboration is the work at ChinaBio itself. The UK government has brought 25 companies, including world leading life science organisations and companies such as Cancer Research UK, Exscientia, Vaccitech, and Owlstone to ChinaBio 2020. The UK has also set up a digital pavilion to showcase the unique strength and offering of all UK companies joining China Bio® Partnering Forum.
  • From August, we will host a 6-month series of UK-China virtual investment conferences, roadshows, and pitching sessions with Chinese investors and companies, to stimulate the life sciences dialogue going between the UK and China and to explore cooperation opportunities in this domain.

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26 - 29 Oct 2020, European Standard Time
GLOBAL PARTNERSHIPS THAT DRIVE LIFE SCIENCE DEALMAKING
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