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August 01, 2018

The future of precision medicine in China

By Angela Chen, Business Leader, Cell Therapy Asia

China is quickly becoming a world leader in biopharma, with rapid build-out of gene and cell therapy production capacity and a robust pipeline of drugs in development. GE supports growth of the industry with innovative manufacturing technologies and services.

China bets big on biotherapeutics

Want a window on the future of biopharma? Look no further than cell and gene therapy. This is perhaps one of the most complex fields of biotherapeutics – but one with huge growth potential. Its promise to deliver precision medicines for challenging disease areas ranging from oncology to rare genetic disorders is what makes it so exciting.

Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of precision medicine is the ascent of China to a top table in this sophisticated area. China is establishing itself as a leader not only to spur growth and create jobs, but also as a signal of its position at the cutting edge of a globalized, knowledge-based sector.

How did we get here?

To understand how so much has been achieved so swiftly, let’s consider China’s motivation for making biopharma a priority industry in its current five-year plan. Becoming a biopharma leader tackles two of the biggest challenges facing the world’s most populous nation: healthy ageing and sustainable growth.

Demographic trends imply a 40% increase in the burden of chronic diseases by 2030. If the experience of Western countries is anything to go by, this will entail an enormous need for health services. Meeting this demand will require strong growth in innovative sectors.

Investing in one of the most innovative end of the biopharma spectrum will bring an additional benefit: the fruits of innovation will help to improve the management of chronic disease. A healthy population is a productive population. Chinese leaders know that if China’s rates of diabetes, cancer and cardiovascular disease mimic those of the US, it could be a major drag on growth.

The right tools and technologies

To make this plan a reality, China needs the right tools, technologies and people to maintain its momentum. China is reshaping its regulatory landscape, upgrading manufacturing capabilities, and attracting the talent needed to deliver targeted therapies to patients.

A mix of incentives such as accelerated clinical trials—will help. So, too, will the return of large numbers of highly-skilled Chinese scientists with overseas experience, ready to join the biopharma revolution.

This leaves China well-positioned to make a big impact in a biopharma sector still in its infancy. Take CAR T cell therapies, for example. Only a handful of these products have been approved to date, but the pipeline is looking healthy – and the pipeline is promising in China. According to the Financial Times in April 2018, there were 116 CAR T trials ongoing in China compared with 96 in the US and 15 in Europe. If this bet on these kinds of therapies pays off, China can win big – and have an arsenal of new anti-tumour drugs to fight diseases like cancer.

GE Healthcare announced the opening of a GE Cell and Gene Therapy Asia Technology Center in Shanghai on July 18th to support and train thousands of scientists steering the future of biopharma.

Bolstering cell therapy in China with GE Healthcare infrastructure and expertise

GE is offering technologies vital to the precision medicine era. From research tools and diagnostics to disease monitoring and drug manufacture, we have the people and facilities that innovative life sciences customers need to scale up. We’ve delivered three KUBio™ manufacturing facilities to biopharma companies in China, bringing to 11 the number of FlexFactory™ platforms established in China, and have expanded our FlexFactory offering to meet the flexible manufacturing needs of cell and gene therapies as well.

In my opinion, gene and cell therapy will play a pivotal role in China’s biopharma future – and that future has already begun. In January, 2018, Shanghai-based Cellular Biomedicine Group Inc. (CBMG) announced that it would configure part of its facility with GE Healthcare’s FlexFactory platform. The goal will be to speed up manufacturing timelines for CBMG’s cell therapy clinical trials and commercial launch. A key area of interest is CAR T cell therapy for cancers.

In June, we announced a collaboration with Xiangxue Pharmaceuticals Co., Ltd. (XPH), which include plans to establish a FlexFactory for cell therapy in their facility. This semi-automated end-to-end manufacturing platform will help scale up, digitize and accelerate manufacturing processes for XPH’s cell therapy clinical trials and future commercialization.

The GE Cell and Gene Therapy Asia Technology Center Grand Opening in our Fast Trak Center in Shanghai cements our ongoing commitment to support and train thousands of scientists steering the future of biopharma.

Learn more about Fast Trak here.

As one of the global-based technical centers, Fast Trak China has been delivering technical services for China and Asia markets from 2006, serving from BioProcess, and Genomics & Cellular Research, and now expanding into Cell & Gene Therapy.

We are confident that GE Healthcare will continue to support future chapters of China’s precision medicine story.