Innovating in China’s pharma market: An interview with AstraZeneca’s head of R&D in Asia and emerging markets - (McKinsey Quarterly via NewsPoints Desk)

  • Steve Yang, the AstraZeneca's head of R&D for Asia and emerging markets, said heavy investments in China should give the company's innovation efforts a boost by providing closer access to China’s scientific talent pool and to potential external partners, reported the McKinsey Quarterly.
  • The executive isolated factors that distinguish China’s environment for innovation in pharmaceuticals from other markets. "First, the current macro environment of China is very favorable, in terms of the growth of the pharmaceutical market; the investment of the government in infrastructure and basic research; and the availability of talent," he said.
  • "The second advantage is timing. Our industry globally is facing a tough R&D productivity challenge. That means we have to do things differently out of necessity—and that particular mandate is very, very strong across all the companies," he said.
  • Yang said "the third advantage is, to some extent, a double-edged sword. There has been limited innovative pharmaceutical R&D work done in China, so we are starting with a clean slate, both in terms of the experience of local talent and the environment, but that could be an opportunity. It could remove many of the existing constraints of organizations, allowing us to experiment more and to try different things with the hope that, ultimately, new R&D models will emerge."
  • With regard to how successful AstraZeneca has been in achieving its aspirations for innovation in China, Yang remarked, "we have made great progress and built a solid foundation, but if you use as a measure the time needed to develop a new drug, we still have a long way to go....We are ready to expand our mission to become a drug discovery center, with a special focus on cancers prevalent in Asia, such as gastric and liver cancers, but the journey has just started."
  • Yang also commented on the quality of R&D talent in China's pharmaceutical industry, saying "there are a large number of scientists available, trained either overseas or locally. We have seen significant quality of talent both in the returnee population and in the locally educated population. There are also disciplines that are highly specialized and require decades of training. In those areas, the talent, particularly those with experience, is in short supply.

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