Not for profit, but for the greater good

China Daily (USA) - - SHANGHAI | THE BUND - By SHI JING in Shang­hai shi­jing@chi­nadaily.com.cn

The de­ci­sion to study bio­phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal sci­ence at Jilin Univer­sity 35 years ago was not hers to make, but Du Ying can now look back and thank her father for his in­sis­tence in this mat­ter.

Since giv­ing up her as­pi­ra­tion of be­com­ing an ar­chi­tect to ful­fill her father’s wishes, Du has gone on to achieve great heights in the bio­phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal in­dus­try.

Af­ter grad­u­at­ing from Jilin Univer­sity in North­east China’s Jilin province, Du went on to ob­tain her doc­tor­ate de­gree in bio­chem­istry at the Univer­sity of Cincin­nati be­fore join­ing world-lead­ing phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal com­pany Pfizer in 1994. There, she was part of the team that de­vel­oped an an­tibi­otics drug which is still widely used by chil­dren in the United States to­day.

But Du was not con­tent with what she had achieved at Pfizer. In the early 2000s, she no­ticed that Shang­hai was ramp­ing up ef­forts to at­tract more multi­na­tional com­pa­nies and de­cided to re­turn to her home­land to cap­i­tal­ize on the op­por­tu­ni­ties.

In 2001, the Chi­nese Amer­i­can left Pfizer to set up Hutchi­son MediPharma and Hutchi­son China MediTech Lim­ited which went pub­lic on the Nas­daq in 2016.

Again, Du wanted more. In 2014, when she was al­ready 50, Du de­cided to set up an­other com­pany, Zai Lab (Shang­hai) Co Ltd, to fo­cus on the re­search and devel­op­ment of trans­for­ma­tive medicines for can­cer, au­toim­mune and in­fec­tious dis­eases which were un­com­mon in China.

In just four years, Zai Lab de­vel­oped six drugs that are now at the third stage of clin­i­cal test­ing un­der Chi­nese reg­u­la­tions. One of these drugs is al­ready be­ing sold in the US and Europe and is ex­pected to be ap­proved for sale in Hong Kong in Oc­to­ber.

In Septem­ber last year, Zai Lab went pub­lic on the Nas­daq, with a to­tal fi­nanc­ing of over $170 mil­lion.

Du ex­plained that trans­for­ma­tive medicine is very costly in terms of re­search and devel­op­ment. How­ever, her de­ter­mi­na­tion to pro­duce such drugs stems not from a de­sire for profit but know­ing how they could ben­e­fit pa­tients.

“Drugs used to treat liver and gas­tric can­cer are con­sid­ered to be ‘or­phan drugs’ in China be­cause such dis­eases have low in­ci­dence rates in other coun­tries and lead­ing phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal com­pa­nies would hence spend lit­tle to de­velop them,” she said.

“But China’s re­search and

“As an en­tre­pre­neur, in­tegrity is of the ut­most im­por­tance. He or she should al­ways set a good ex­am­ple to oth­ers.”

devel­op­ment sec­tor has evolved so quickly over the past few years that we now have the abil­ity to de­velop such drugs. I felt it was my re­spon­si­bil­ity to do so.”

But suc­cess has not come easy. Du still re­mem­bers how the early days of run­ning her own busi­ness was dif­fi­cult be­cause of a short­age of per­son­nel, ma­te­ri­als and fi­nanc­ing. There were times when she would break down into tears in the pri­vacy of her home. De­spite the set­backs, Du man­aged to de­rive mo­ti­va­tion when­ever her re­search pro­gressed to an­other level.

“Some­one once de­fined me as the pioneer of the trans­for­ma­tive medicines in­dus­try. But I’ve never liked this de­scrip­tion. I was never ob­sessed with the idea of hav­ing power or man­ag­ing a huge team. What in­ter­ests me the most and guides me is cre­at­ing new things, be it new prod­ucts or new busi­ness mod­els. I do not want to fol­low the road set by oth­ers,” she said.

This ap­proach, she said, prob­a­bly stems from her ex­ten­sive read­ing of world his­tory.

“There is a say­ing widely used by au­thors of Chi­nese his­tor­i­cal books that ‘the times pro­duce their own heroes’. But af­ter read­ing all these books, it dawned on me that there are hardly any peo­ple who can change the so­ci­ety they are liv­ing in. So this is a ques­tion left to many of the CEOs now: can we cre­ate a new in­dus­try even when there is lit­tle sup­port from so­ci­ety?” she said.

When Du left China to fur­ther her stud­ies in the US in the 1980s, her father gifted her two plates carved with tra­di­tional Chi­nese say­ings about per­se­ver­ance and in­tegrity. These plates, which can now be found at the high­est cor­ner of the book­shelf in her of­fice, have also played a role in mold­ing Du into the woman she is to­day.

“As an en­tre­pre­neur, in­tegrity is of the ut­most im­por­tance. He or she should al­ways set a good ex­am­ple to oth­ers. As we are in the med­i­cal sec­tor, we should like­wise al­ways try our best to cure and save pa­tients. This is where our in­tegrity lies,” she said.

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