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China aims to strengthen R&D cooperation in pharmaceuticals

BritCham / CBBC
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The theme of stronger R&D cooperation was echoed at the recent 2014 International Pharmaceutical Innovation Collaboration Forum – ‘Challenges and Opportunities for BRICS Countries’. The event was hosted by the National Health & Family Planning Commission (NHFPC) and organised by the China Pharmaceutical Industry Research and Development Association (Sino-PhIRDA) on 27-28 October 2014. 
Starting in 2011 when BRICS ministers of health first met in Beijing, the BRICS countries have committed to collaborating on the implementation of affordable and quality solutions to ensure access to health services for their people. China’s role in this initiative has a clear focus: the research and development of medicine.
The general director of NHFPC pointed out, in his keynote speech, the significance of the forum in the context of today’s global fight against ebola. By working with the World Health Organisation and other international organisations, China is trying hard to catch up in the R&D arena to find new and effective medicines for major diseases that threaten lives around the world. Both the Chinese Government and the industry have determined to invest all necessary resources into this effort.
However, China is currently lagging far behind its Western counterparts in the research and development of medicine. Despite efforts going back six decades, China today can still only be called a “giant” of medicine rather than a real “power”, and China’s pharmaceutical makers are not yet in the same league as the multinationals. According to the NHFPC, 97 per cent of the medicines made by Chinese companies are generic, although China has a handful of original products, such as the anti-malaria drug Artemether, taken from Artemisinin.   
In 2008, China set up a ‘Pharmaceutical Major Special Project Scheme’ that aims to stimulate innovative research and development into drugs, targeting 10 major diseases: malignant tumours, cardiovascular disease, neurodegenerative diseases, diabetes, mental disorders, autoimmune diseases, the drug resistance of pathogen infection, tuberculosis, hepatitis B and HIV/Aids, and human infection with avian influenza. China aims to independently produce 30 innovative drugs for these diseases, with minimal side effects, before the end of 2020. 
So far some impressive progress has been achieved under this scheme. Not only the Government, but also some large local pharmaceutical companies – both state-owned enterprises and private companies such as Tasly Pharmaceutical Group - have special funds for R&D into innovative drugs. They would especially welcome Western countries’ R&D results, whatever stage they are at, to incorporate into their own work towards overall targets. Working with China would therefore be a promising route in terms of business development for UK R&D-oriented pharmaceutical or research organisations. 
Further information about the forum (in Chinese): 
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