In China, biotechnology long lagged behind the industry in the West. Now, it’s advancing at supersonic speed. The nation, which only began recognizing intellectual property in the 1980s, rapidly transitioned from relying on traditional medicines to adopting generic versions of Western blockbusters.
Now, thanks to hundreds of billions in state investment and some dramatic regulatory changes, the country is developing treatments that rival the best efforts of the drug industry’s incumbents. A generation of foreign-trained scientists returned to China, choosing to become entrepreneurs at home rather than middle managers abroad. At the same time, a bolus of private wealth seeded venture capital investors willing to bet on startups, and a wave of market liberalization made it possible for biotech companies to go public and generate returns. Some of those first-mover companies have produced the next wave of entrepreneurs, beginning the process all over again.