New Economy blog: Nurturing Hong Kong’s biotech ecosystem

Nurturing Hong Kong’s biotech ecosystem

KPMG China in dialogue with world-renowned industry leaders Dr. Robert Langer and Amy Schulman


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Irene Chu interviewing Robert Langer and Amy Schulman

KPMG China’s Irene Chu, Head of New Economy and Life Sciences for Hong Kong , recently spoke with two world-renowned leaders of the biotech industry – MIT Institute Professor Dr. Robert Langer and Polaris Partners managing partner Amy Schulman – about Hong Kong as a capital markets hub. This is the first in a two-part series featuring their insights.

Chu: How would you describe Asia’s development in the life sciences and biotech?

Robert Langer:  There's an enormous amount of excellent academic research going on in Asia – Hong Kong, China, South Korea and Japan. There are also a lot of companies that have been very successful in some of those countries too. Usually they're larger companies. One of the differences is that in the United States you see a lot of small companies springing up all the time. I think that happens in Asia, but it doesn't happen nearly to the same extent. I think Boston and central California in the US are two examples where there’s enormous amounts of activity.

Robert Langer

In the US, the ecosystem includes big and small players. What are the dynamics?

Amy Schulman: It is largely a very healthy ecosystem in part because there is so much interrelationship. Many people who started at a big pharmaceutical company may end up doing something different and running a biotech, then that biotech may get acquired and for a while they will re-join a big pharmaceutical.

The fundamental skills at the outset are quite different, and everybody is looking for the same thing: terrific breakthrough, innovative science, people who work with high integrity and commitment. But the approaches to drug discovery are different, the resources are different, and probably the skillset of who thrives in a big pharmaceutical company is different than who thrives in an entrepreneurial environment.

Amy Schulman

How does collaboration work, specifically between academics and companies?

RL: As a scientist and also as an entrepreneur, all I want to see is new treatments that change people’s lives. To me, working with the best people, with the best ideas, having funding, it’s everything. I think most people in the US, certainly scientists, would say what I just said. It’s not a question of politics. It's a question of ‘how do you do the best, the most good for humanity?

What role do you see Hong Kong’s capital market playing in the life sciences industry?

AS: A lot of what we look for are analysts who understand and follow the stock. It's not just the listing price. It’s the after-market. It’s the coverage. It's the ability to sustain a stock over time because there’s enough demand for it and there’s enough capital that doesn’t overreact. Drug discovery is hard. And so you need markets that, in some sense, aren’t overly skittish. Markets are always going to be reactive but not overly reactive. Nothing makes for success like success. So, one of the things we need are a few of what I would call later-stage kind of crossovers – and what you might still call early – to come here and be successful. There’s nothing that will make us more successful than examples.

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