A new direction for biopharma in China
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A new direction for biopharma in China

While many industries will be in recovery mode for some time to come, one sector that can expect strong growth in China is the biotech and biopharmaceutical industries.

Even before the Covid-19 crisis struck, this was a promising area of development due to China's ageing population and large talent pool. Moreover, the government is throwing its weight behind it with incentives and tax concessions for innovations.

One area of innovation is developing vaccines against the coronavirus, with China's major pharmaceutical companies racing to be among the first to develop them.

China has already approved early-stage human tests and Thailand's National Vaccine Institute is preparing to sign a memorandum of understanding with Chinese partners to test a Covid-19 vaccine in Thailand.

The Thai government plans to include a technology transfer aspect in the agreement so that Thailand also can be a producer of the vaccines.

The development of vaccines, however, is only one aspect of the potential that may arise from the current crisis. Last year McKinsey published a report noting that China's biopharma industry was at a crossroads as it required radical changes in focus and large-scale innovation.

Improvements in public health appeared to have stalled, there were major discrepancies between the health status of urban and rural populations, and China needed to face the challenge of taking care of a rising elderly population.

President Xi Jinping identified the high potential of the pharmaceutical industry in the Made in China 2025 industry plan and achieving this potential would require a focus on innovation and research and development.

Covid-19 provides an opportunity to do this, not only with the development of vaccines but through other treatments and therapies that build on China's strengths in areas such as big data analytics, artificial intelligence and new technology platforms.

Examples of this include identifying antibody pathways, developing effective drug treatments and introducing new types of hospital care with the use of robotics. China has also developed testing kits for the virus which are being exported around the world.

These examples signal the direction China would like to go -- being able to offer new treatments and technologies to the world at affordable prices.

The crisis has also led to change in the means of prescribing medicine as face-to-face doctor consultations are often not practical. During the long period of being trapped indoors, many Chinese people turned to internet-based options for diagnosis and treatment.

Ping An Good Doctor, a healthcare services platform, had a nearly 900% increase in new users from December 2019. The number of online users and visits has also surged at Ding Xiang Yuan, an online community for healthcare professionals, and Chunyu Doctor, a telemedicine platform.

As always, crisis also means opportunity and this certainly seems to be the case in China's biopharma and biotech industries.

Suwatchai Songwanich is an executive vice-president with Bangkok Bank. For more columns in this series please visit www.bangkokbank.com

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