Every major pharmaceutical company has a "China" strategy. Novartis is among the most aggressive: it is currently the fourth biggest supplier of medications to hospitals in that country and aims to make China one of its top 10 markets by 2010.
Reporters from FDC Reports' PharmAsia News, a sister publication to IN VIVO Blog, sat down recently with two Novartis execs well versed in all things China: Paul Herrling, Head of Corporate Research and En Li, VP and head of research for Novartis Institutes for BioMedical Research Shanghai. The two were in Shanghai to discuss Novartis’ R&D plans in China and the Pacific Rim at the China 2008 Pharmaceutical R&D Summit.
Herrling (pictured right), who also serves as chairman of the Novartis Institute of Tropical Diseases in Singapore, was in town to give a keynote address to the summit. He also visited Novartis’ China R&D center, which broke ground on its permanent headquarters in Shanghai’s Zhangjiang Hi-Tech park April 2. Novartis, which has more than 2000 full-time employees in China, has said it plans to make an initial investment of $96 million to build the R&D center, focusing on treatments for diseases with a high prevalence in that country. (Our 2006 take on the NITD and its ilk can be found here.)
PharmAsia News: In your keynote talk, you mentioned Novartis' efforts in China to develop Western medications based on traditional Chinese medicine. Can you elaborate on your strategy?
And essentially it was a way to expand the diversity of our chemical libraries. Because what's turned out is that, during the combinatorial chemistry climb, people could all of sudden make a lot of compounds. But at the same time, the hit rates would trend to zero because the criteria on which these libraries were made were chemical, not biological. So the chemists would do what would be easy to stick on beads and to vary it easily and quickly, which was not necessarily the same that biology needed.
And Novartis was a company that actually never gave up their natural compounds, whereas most big pharma companies got rid of their natural compounds. We still have a group now of more than 50 people. And they were very much a proponent of trying to do exactly what I described in my talk, use traditional Chinese medicine as a guide to where to find active ingredients. …