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Small Biotech Companies and China: 5 Keys to Success

February 19, 2013
Big pharmaceutical countries aren't the only ones investing in China. Emerging and mid-sized biotech companies are also exploring ways to enter China’s lucrative market and maximize their investment in the country.

With limited resources, how can smaller companies operate efficiently and give Chinese patients access to their innovative products?

A panel of experts explored these questions at the 2013 BIO CEO & Investor Conference. Jimmy Zhang from Merck moderated a panel including:

  • Friedhelm Blobel, PhD, President, CEO, & Director, SciClone Pharmaceuticals

  • Alan Eisenberg, Executive Vice President, Business Development and Emerging Companies Section, BIO

  • Kewen Jin, Managing Director, Nimbus Innoworks

  • Laurence Reid, PhD, Senior Vice President & Chief Business Officer, Alnylam Pharmaceuticals

China has reached a stage where much of the infrastructure needed is in place. Long gone are the days when companies would need to go in to the country and start from scratch. Now, it’s an exciting time for true business partnerships between the United States and China.

With all that in mind, here 5 takeaways from the session:

1. While there’s risk, the opportunity far outweighs the risk.

“It takes some studying, but it is well-worth engaging. There are opportunities to both get products to market as well as to raise capital,” Eisenberg said. “If you are a small company or if you’re invested in some other portfolio companies, it’s well worth the risk.”

2. It’s worthwhile to spend the time doing it right.

“It’s really worthwhile to spend the time and engulf all the opportunities. But, you may have to give up some of the upside,” Blobel explained.

3. But, beware the amount of time you spend.

“The worst that can happen is that you’ll sink a lot of time. You have venture capitalists on the board that sees a private company running around and half them want a China strategy and half of them don’t want a China strategy,” Reid said. “A lot of people were very crisp with me about this before we went. You have to be clear about what you have to offer and why you’re doing it.”

4. The worst that can happen is that you’ll have an interesting trip.

“In China the industry is in an early stage of getting started. There’s a kind of general optimism. We’ll make it work one way or the other,” Jin said. “It is what the U.S. used to be… The ‘American Dream’ is alive in China.”

5. Just do it!

“Relationship building takes very, very long. Don’t talk about any transaction within the first 6 months,” Zhang said. “You have to dine and wine… and sometimes you have to do karaoke!”

To learn more about biotech in China, BIO has a session at the upcoming BIO International Convention called Spotlight on the BRICs: China and the BIO Convention in China this fall.