As biotechnological developments continue to gain pace amid geopolitical tensions between the US and China, it’s critical for the two countries to maintain dialogue to address important bioethical questions, including the application of gene-editing, said Dr. Scott Moore, Director of China Programs and Strategic Initiatives at the University of Pennsylvania.
Open collaboration and data-sharing is critical in the biotech industry and Chinese pharmaceutical companies can build brand image and consumer confidence by adopting higher standards of transparency, Dr. Moore said at Nomura Investment Forum Asia 2022.
While the US was the dominant force in the biotech industry over the past many decades, the massive investments by China and its expansion of capabilities in this area in the last few years caught US policymakers, politicians and the public at large by surprise. Though in reality it is a story about the narrowing gap between the US with China and other countries, the perception in the US that it is falling behind has been reflected in some policy actions that pose significant challenges to US-China collaboration and cross-border investments, he said.
Communication is key
Gene-editing, for example, forms one of the latest developments in the biotech space that requires international communications and consensus given the bioethical, biosafety and biosecurity questions around it, he said.
The political tensions have created some opportunities and responsibilities for private companies, academic institutions and industry associations to “pick up some of the slack” in maintaining dialogue and channels of communications on these sensitive, but important issues, Dr. Moore said.
As regulations have not been able to keep up with the technological progress in the biotech space, “it creates added responsibilities for researchers and companies that are funding frontier research, along with academic institutions, to engage in voluntary discussions on what types of regulation should be in place, and to use that to inform what further regulation might be needed by governments and at the government level,” he added.
To overcome US concerns around clinical trial data from China, it’s imperative that Chinese biotech companies “adopt radical transparency to ensure that trials are conducted to the highest international standards and in jurisdictions that US regulators view as direct peers, such as Canada and the European Union, and to publicize the results of those trials as extensively as possible,” he said.
While Chinese drugs can provide a cheaper alternative to expensive local-made drugs in the US market, it will likely be an uphill climb for Chinese companies and will require investments of time and resources, he added.
For Chinese biotech companies, diversification is going to be a sound strategy in times of volatility, said Dr. Moore. “Continuing to focus on fundamentals and building core brand identity is helpful. Finding ways to both be nimble as existing firms but also being on the lookout for promising start-ups that can be acquired and contribute to innovation is also important for maintaining medium- and long-term growth,” he said.
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