Home Healthcare Leon Wang, AstraZeneca’s Executive Vice-President for International and President of China, discusses China’s healthcare industry

Leon Wang, AstraZeneca’s Executive Vice-President for International and President of China, discusses China’s healthcare industry

by Tom Pattinson
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AstraZeneca Leon Wang

AstraZeneca has been in China now for 25 years, what have you learnt along the way?

We are always learning as China is rapidly evolving. As new challenges and opportunities continually drive AstraZeneca’s objective to reshape healthcare in China, one important aspect we have learned is to lead change in tandem with our partners.

While we continue to focus on understanding and tackling the critical unmet health needs in China, recent positive changes in the regulatory environment have likewise enabled accelerated review of new medicines that address these needs. One such example is Tagrisso (osimertinib), a new medicine for patients with lung cancer that is available today in 75 countries worldwide. It was the first new medicine to be approved through China’s new Priority Review Pathway and is a great example of how the Chinese Government is improving access to key treatments for patients in China.

Today we are the second-largest MNC in the Chinese pharmaceutical sector, with more than USD $750 million invested in extensive research and development (R&D), manufacturing and commercial operations networks. Our commitment to be in “in China for China” has continued since entering the country 25 years ago in 1993, and we’re still learning and evolving in how we deliver on that commitment for patients and in partnership with local Government.

An ageing population and rising income levels have seen China’s healthcare industry grown rapidly, how has this influenced your China strategy?

There are significant unmet health needs in China, within a large and ageing population with increasing affluence and demand for quality healthcare. AstraZeneca has paid close attention to aligning with and supporting key government strategies in China, and therefore the Healthy China 2030 policy (establishing health as a national priority with the need for innovative solutions to increase patient access to healthcare), and the Made in China 2025 policy (representing China’s efforts to develop a modern, innovative economy) have significantly influenced our strategy – innovation, expansion and partnership to address China’s unmet medical needs. AstraZeneca will continue to invest in developing its business as part of China’s pharmaceutical industry ecosystem.

You have a major R&D centre in Shanghai, what made you choose China as a location?

As part of AstraZeneca’s global business strategy, we have increased our proximity to bioscience clusters by co-locating skills, knowledge and capabilities around three strategic R&D centres in Sweden, the UK, and the USA, as well as laboratories in California, Boston, Osaka, and Shanghai. Our strategic choice of China as a location for a major R&D centre allows us to both contribute to the development of China’s local pharmaceutical innovation ecosystem and to deliver medicines that address unmet medical needs more effectively and efficiently. We are currently developing several innovative molecules locally that have the potential to be approved in China before any other market globally.

How important is the China region to your global growth strategy?

We continue to see strong sales growth in China and we expect this trend to continue with innovative medicines playing a key role in future growth. The economy is moving more to one based on innovation. The Government is working hard to facilitate and accelerate the approval of new medicines. And China is fast becoming integrated into the global network for regulatory approval and the development of new pharmaceutical products.

Added to this, our product portfolio and pipeline investments aim to help address the critical unmet health needs in China, plus a hugely talented local team and significant presence with capabilities across the value chain. We are also encouraged by the Government’s strong commitment to improving access to innovative medicines for patients in China, while the China FDA continues to improve processes and support bringing new medicines to the market. It is very encouraging across the board for AstraZeneca in China.

Which partners are you working within China and how have you found them?

Through our “in China for China” strategy we are committed to working with the Chinese government at municipal, provincial and national levels to realise our ambitious and shared agenda, to which end AstraZeneca has made every effort to build local partnerships. We are encouraged by recent policy developments including accelerating the innovative drug review and approval process to facilitate faster patient access to medicines, and implementing a pilot on reimbursement negotiation to increase the affordability of innovative medicines.

We also work closely with provincial and municipal government partners, which include Shanghai and Pudong, which support AstraZeneca’s headquarters and new drug discovery centre. In Jiangsu Province, we work with Nanjing, Wuxi, and Taizhou on innovative R&D centres, manufacturing sites, and new scientific partnerships. With support from the Wuxi Government, in 2017, we established an innovative joint venture with the State Development Investment Corporation, which will enable us to accelerate R&D in China and more effectively deliver medicines to local patients. A collaboration with FibroGen will hopefully allow us to deliver roxadustat, an innovative medicine for patients with anaemia in chronic kidney disease, first in China.

There are significant unmet health needs in China, within a large and ageing population with increasing affluence and demand for quality healthcare

With Tencent, we’re looking at security and addressing counterfeiting by tracking medicines at the patient level through a pilot that will run in the next 12-18 months. With Alibaba, we have started work in diabetes, delivering customised messages to patients. Ultimately to change how patients are treated for the better and ensure product supply is secure.

What are the key things to be aware of when working in China?

The significant opportunities for partnership and the integration of updated processes, in particular where driven by new technologies. We continue to learn how digital health technologies can help to create new future for patients in China, evidenced by our strategic digital partnership with the government to develop “Internet of Things” (IOT)-based healthcare solutions. This is one example of how AstraZeneca can help to advance ideas and processes sustainably, which is possible as we have built the right culture.

We also welcome the commitment made by government to support the protection of intellectual property, which is fundamental for the industry. It means China is a good place to do innovation and to invest in healthcare.

You are attending this month’s Oncology Congress. Can you tell us about your role at the Congress?

It presents an excellent opportunity for AstraZeneca to join with academic and industry experts from the UK and China to tackle the global challenge posed by cancer. Premier Li’s recent announcement of reduction of tariffs on imported anti-cancer drugs to zero, a follow-up to his original comments on this matter at the Two Sessions in March of this year, represents China’s commitment to increasing the supply of cancer drugs for patients. AstraZeneca is encouraged by these developments and believe events such as the China UK Oncology Congress represent important events to collaborate with all stakeholders to help China in its fight against cancer.

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