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Biotech once looked to China for cheap labor. It may soon find mounting competition instead.

Thanks to bountiful investments and loosening regulations, China has become a nascent biotech powerhouse that investors and entrepreneurs say could one day rival the industry’s Western incumbents. Fueled by a sudden influx of foreign-trained talent, a new generation of Chinese startups is racing to treat the world with medicines invented at home.


China’s rapid rise came into relief earlier this month at the annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology, often called the Super Bowl for biotech stocks because companies race to put out data on experimental drugs and pharmaceutical giants stalk the floor looking for promising assets. The gala became a coming-out party for Nanjing Legend Biotech, a boldly named but little-known Chinese firm that managed to snag a coveted spot among the meeting’s late-breaking presentations and unveiled head-turning early results from a complicated new approach to cancer immunotherapy.

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