Novartis has shifted the focus of its R&D site in Shanghai, with a renewed focus on drug development rather than initially setting its sights on early drug discovery research.
The Swiss pharma invested $1bn in 2016 to build the largest pharmaceutical R&D institute in China, and is collaborating with the federal and local governments to improve healthcare infrastructure and access.
Initially, Novartis set out to direct its efforts on drug research and targeted treatments – primarily for diseases specific to China and Asia. The team works on a number of programmes discovered in China and at other R&D sites in the US and Europe.
However, Novartis has now changed gears, reportedly planning to concentrate on drug development instead, including early clinical development and trials in the growing Chinese pharmaceutical market.
Jay Bradner, president of Novartis Institutes for BioMedical Research said that “Our need to better resource early drug development globally, combined with important changes to the drug development and commercialization landscape in China, have converged on the decision to pivot from drug discovery in Shanghai to early drug development.”
Around 150 employees at the Shanghai site will lose their research jobs – however, Novartis has said that it will bring on another 340 workers to its global drug development efforts and also its commercial division in China over the next four years.
Novartis is also planning to file 50 new drug applications in China, according to Bradner. He also said that the company may look at partnerships or acquisitions in China as a route to discovery research in the country.
Among other big Western pharma players focusing on China as a source of growth potential is AstraZeneca, which recently launched a $1bn investment fund for Chinese healthcare and biotech start-ups.
AstraZeneca also has two new R&D facilities in Shanghai, plus five regional headquarters around China to spearhead commercial operations.
Regulatory reforms in China have opened the door for pharma companies across the globe to capitalise on a fast-growing market, with less access issues and a large patient population.