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High-end talent seeks success in China's fast-growing pharmaceutical sector

Liu Zhihua
Updated: Aug 10,2021 20:50    China Daily

Chinese biotech companies are becoming increasingly attractive to high-end talent, thanks to the rapid growth of China's healthcare enterprises, according to industry insiders.

Joshua Liang, CEO of Clover Pharmaceuticals, said Chinese local pharmaceutical and biotech companies are attracting not only China-born talent, but also more foreign expertise and returning Chinese.

"The COVID-19 pandemic has made it hard for people overseas to come to China because of quarantine and the travel restrictions, but the trend will resume over the next year or two," Liang said.

"I think this really speaks to the growing innovation of Chinese pharmaceutical and biotech companies, and is a really exciting trend," he said.

Clover has been able to attract top talent from around the world to join its COVID-19 vaccine development program, and currently has employees in the United States, Europe, Southeast Asia and Latin America.

In 2016, Clover had no more than 15 people, who were all lab-based scientists. Now it has over 550 staff in over 15 countries, with a rich pipeline that includes a phase-3 COVID-19 vaccine candidate.

Hays plc, a leading global professional recruiting group, said in a recent report that the rapid development of China's healthcare companies has increased demand for professionals with international experience in the areas including marketing, research and development, digitalization and more.

Although the national healthcare industry has been impacted due to the pandemic, it has been given new development opportunities driven by preferential domestic policy trends and the driving force of the capital market, it said.

"China is the first major economy to recover from the pandemic. The Chinese market has also provided a broad development space for the healthcare industry, where the proportion of local companies is more than ever before. This means rich and diverse job opportunities for candidates," says Simon Lance, managing director of Hays Greater China.

"For Hays, especially in healthcare, domestic clients are a markedly increasing proportion of our overall business. We believe that the growth of local companies will create more opportunities for talent and further drive the healthy flow of expertise to stimulate the innovation potential of Chinese companies," Lance said.

With an attractive salary package and management authority, executives of multinational companies are more willing to join local enterprises to expand their career horizons, while candidates for midlevel positions prefer the mature training systems of multinational companies instead, Hays said.

Local enterprises are normally able to offer attractive remuneration and even equity incentives to talent, it said.

Hays also found that local innovative pharmaceutical companies are paying more attention to their business development divisions and treating them as one of their most crucial core competencies.

The main function of a BD division is "license in and license out" — that means helping the company introduce new patents to save time on R&D, and to sell their pipelines to earn revenue.

Hays said that the BD position requires a candidate to possess a multifaceted skill set. An appropriate candidate must have both pharmaceutical knowledge and good business awareness. Therefore, candidates with doctorate degrees in pharmacy-related majors and business backgrounds are prioritized by employers.

Wei Dong, CEO of EdiGene, a Beijing-based private biotech company developing genome editing technologies, said talent — both locally grown, returnees from overseas — has contributed to the growing pharmaceutical industry's innovation capabilities.

Translating scientific findings into innovative therapies requires a comprehensive understanding of drug development processes, including research, preclinical studies, drug product manufacturing, regulations and clinical trial designs, which take many years of experience, Wei said.

It is natural that scientists and business leaders with experience in multinational companies have become instrumental in founding and growing China's pharmaceutical and biotech startups. But such a trend will shift in the future as new scientific and business leaders emerge from the current boom in innovative biotech companies in China, he said.