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Café is suitable for researchers to brainstorm in Shanghai
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Café is suitable for researchers to brainstorm in Shanghai

Amid the humming of milk foam makers, a Starbucks café in the Zhangjiang High-tech Park in Shanghai is bustling with white-collar professionals engaged in business talks and info sharing regarding biomedicine.

Located in the park that is home to more than 1,400 innovative drug suppliers, the café is a naturally suitable place for these medical researchers to brainstorm.

"After just spending three days at the café, you can easily get up to date on recent events in the biomedical industry," Tian Hongqi said kiddingly.

Tian, 56, founder of the Shanghai Kechow Pharma, Inc., is a frequent customer at the café. He has been leading his research team to independently develop small molecule drugs for 15 years.

"Developing new medicines is not easy as we must break the foreign patent bottleneck," said Tian. "But this industry is booming and will continue to be promising in the long run, because there will always be a rigid demand for curing diseases and prolonging people's life span."

Tian's efforts recently paid off. On March 15, China's National Medical Products Administration (NMPA) announced the approval of a new medicine developed by his company, a kind of kinase inhibitor that is helpful for combating melanoma.

The inhibitor marks the first domestic drug of its kind in China. Tian hoped that this new medicine will be applied to clinical use and be prescribed as early as this May.

With innovation-driven development, China's pharmaceutical companies have accelerated their transformation and upgrading from a producer of generic drugs to an international supplier of new drugs, observers said.

In 2022 alone, 21 new drugs were approved to enter market across the country, including three original ones. The same year, the National Development and Reform Commission issued a five-year plan on developing biological economy, highlighting biomedical industry.

Multiple industrial clusters have taken shape in places such as Beijing, Shanghai, Suzhou and Wuhan. The Zhangjiang High-tech Park in Shanghai's Pudong New Area harbors innovation centers established by nine out of the top 20 pharmaceutical companies in the world.

"We brainstorm in the café, the infrastructure is convenient here, and there is a full industrial chain," Tian said.

Progress is also seen in advanced medical equipment. Toumai, a four-arm laparoscopic surgical robot developed by a Shanghai-based medical robot maker, is the first home-grown robot capable of operating long-distance laparoscopic surgeries.

Since approved by the NMPA in 2022, the robot has assisted 100 long-distance surgeries through 5G, covering nearly 30 Chinese cities with a maximum transmission distance of 5,000 km.

"Biomedicine is a strategic industry despite its long R&D period and relatively high risks," said Ling Gang, chief engineer with the scientific, technological and economic commission of Pudong New Area.

He believes the ultimate goal of social development is to meet the demands of human development, essentially improving people's health and quality of life, which lays a strong basis for the industrial growth.

Official data showed that the scale of China's biomedical industry had reached 3.57 trillion yuan (about 503 billion U.S. dollars) in 2020. As one of the most vibrant and potential industries, the scale of the sector is estimated to hit 8 trillion yuan by 2030.

Chinese pharmaceutical companies are going international faster. In 2022, 59 innovative drugs were licensed to clinical test and sales overseas, with a total transaction value of 23.78 billion U.S. dollars.

While delivering new medicines, China also acts to ensure the drugs are affordable. Tian said his team is preparing for the application of the newly approved inhibitor to be included in the national medical insurance scheme.

"We plan to work on the R&D of drugs for indications of lung and intestinal cancers next year," he said. "Meeting clinical needs is always the center of our work."

XinhuaGu Yetao

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