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How China Is Transforming the Biotech Industry: Brainstorm Health

October 8, 2019, 12:47 AM UTC

Hello and happy Monday, readers.

Fortune sat down with Brad Loncar, a biotech investor who specializes in cancer immunotherapy, at our offices last week. Loncar runs both a U.S.-based index fund for cancer drug companies and, more recently, launched another one focused on China.

It was a fascinating conversation that covered everything from the U.S. oncology field to the shifting global dynamics of cancer drug development.

It would be difficult to capture the entire conversation in a single missive. But I want to highlight one particularly interesting part—the evolving nature of China’s biotech industry, especially when it comes to the “biologic” drugs which have become a hotbed of cancer therapy innovation.

“The Chinese FDA is trying to replicate the U.S. FDA,” Loncar tells Fortune, noting that about half of the biggest, global biopharma IPOs last year occurred in China.

This presents a major shift for China. Brand name biologic drugs (the kind that are derived from biological, rather than chemical, material and are therefore much more difficult to produce) make up nearly 80% of the top-sellers in the U.S.; China, traditionally, has been much more focused on the generic market.

That’s changing. “They want to go from becoming just a manufacturer to a true innovator,” says Loncar.

The Chinese government is trying to make that happen through a series of policy shifts, including more stringent drug development standards in line with other nations (including the U.S.), new trade policies, and revamped stock market rules meant to fuel funds to early-stage drug companies.

Just how effective could these efforts prove? WuXi Biologics, a Chinese company whose technology platforms help produce a staggering 12% of the world’s biologic drugs, is aggressively expanding into American and European markets.

And here’s the kicker: Chinese companies could very well undercut American firms on pricing if their products pass muster and reach the U.S. market. If that’s really the wave of the future, U.S. drug makers are on notice.

Read on for the day’s news.

Sy Mukherjee, @the_sy_guy, sayak.mukherjee@fortune.com

DIGITAL HEALTH

A Nobel Prize in the science of oxygen. The 2019 Nobel Prize in Medicine has been awarded to a trio of scientists—William Kaelin Jr., Sir Peter Ratcliffe, and Gregg Semenza—for their work on human cells' relationship with oxygen itself. The Nobel committee said the researchers' work has led to major advances in how we fight disorders ranging from anemia to cancer. Some more details here. (CNN)

THE BIG PICTURE

Kroger, Walgreens to stop selling e-cigs amid nationwide crackdown. Congressional lawmakers, federal regulators, public health officials (in the U.S. and abroad), state authorities, and consumer groups have all taken a hammer to the e-cigarette industry in recent months over health and marketing concerns. Now, retail chains Kroger and Walgreens are abandoning the products amid an "uncertain" regulatory environment. The companies will no longer sell e-cigarettes in stores across the country. (Fortune)

REQUIRED READING

'Be Courteous to China': How a Tweet About Hong Kong Put the NBA on the Hot Seatby Bloomberg

SoftBank’s Risk-Loving Masayoshi Son Now Tells Founders to ‘Know Your Limit’ by Polina Marinova

The Explosion of Deepfakes Has Become a Real Problemby Adrian Croft

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