Incubating a biotech future for tomorrow

Updated: 2011-08-19 16:19

(China Daily)

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Investment-friendly policies help pharma entrepreneurship blossom in Nantong

Located close to the pharmaceutical hub of China lies the coastal city of Nantong in Jiangsu province that is fast emerging as a destination of choice for top-notch pharma professionals and companies.

Backed by a slew of industry-friendly policies geared to attract investment, Nantong also has other advantages like its close proximity to the China Medicine Valley in Taizhou in Jiangsu and the Zhangjiang High-tech biotechnology zones in Shanghai, apart from convenient land and sea linkages.

Incubating a biotech future for tomorrow
Duan Peng plans to set up a biotech venture with his team in Nantong, Jiangsu province.[Photo/China Daily]
More than the geographical advantages, what has really underlined the city's advantage has been its ability to attract and retain overseas talent, especially expatriate Chinese pharma and biotech professionals.

Duan Peng, a 35-year-old Chinese expatriate in the US, along with his four friends, are setting up a biotech venture in Nantong, Jiangsu province.

Duan's startup is in the process of getting an initial funding from the local government at different levels, ranging from 100,000 yuan (10,878 euros) to 10 million yuan.

What makes Duan and his team different from others is that they are all successful pharma professionals working in Fortune 500 companies or teaching in US universities who between them have over 10 years of expertise in modern biotechnology and drug development.

Currently working as a research assistant professor in Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey, Duan has published several research papers in renowned journals and participated in several professional conferences apart from being a review committee member in several renowned trade journals like the European Journal of Pharmacology and European Journal of Pharmaceutical Science.

"Although we are comfortable in America, we often felt that something was missing," says Ye Xin, Duan's partner in the venture.

"The missing piece is a sense of achievement. Though we were well paid at the American companies, we wanted to be more than just employees. We are in our mid-30s and wanted to return home and make things happen."

"Despite the rapid development of China's economy, it is still far behind developed countries in terms of biotechnology and drug development," Duan says. "We all have a dream. That is to devote what we have learned and our talent to the advancement of China's biotechnology and drug development. We hope to build a state-of-the-art biotech platform and products with our own property patent in Nantong, our hometown.

"There are many advantages in setting up a biotech startup in Nantong," says Duan adding that the rapid pace at which the city developed has amazed him. "When I came back, I could hardly recognize that this is my hometown."

Most of Nantong's gross domestic product (GDP) used to come from energy-intensive industries like textiles, construction and petrochemicals. But in recent years the city has embarked on a green trail and spurred promotion of high value-added and low-carbon industries like software and biotech.

Li Zhaoyu, an executive with the Human Resources Department of the Nantong local government, says young professionals like Duan have been pioneering many of the new biotech ventures in the city.

"Generous policies and tax returns for startup entrepreneurs, especially for the high-tech and high added value ones, are an attraction that many professionals find hard to resist," Duan says.

But the real challenge for many professionals like Duan is to identify the sector they need to specialize in. Duan and his team decided to focus on detection kits that can diagnose colon cancer, brain tumor and other blood diseases in the early stages.

Duan hopes his kits will end the monopoly of foreign testing kits in China and gain international acceptance as they will have their own patent. "With our diversity of expertise in biotech and pharmaceutical industry, we can cover all the stages of drug development. We are confident of the success of our products and the ability to realize our dreams," Duan says.