Monday, March 14, 2016

C&EN talks to the founder of WuXi AppTec

Also from this week's issue, Jean-François Tremblay talks to Ge Li, the founder of WuXi Apptec. Some interesting observations, and some in his own words:
But, thanks to outsourcing, he does expect the number of new drug approvals to continue to rise. Many scientists who were hired by major firms in the 1980s, the heyday of the pharmaceutical industry, are nearing retirement age. “All those scientists—imagine, over 30 or 35 years, they accumulate a lot of knowledge,” Li says. He expects that, rather than retire, some of them will start their own drug research firms, relying on WuXi and other CROs to do much of the work. 
Li may not know who among these scientists will be successful, but he’s confident that some of them will be. “Regardless if it’s about large molecules or small molecules,” he says, “the entry barriers have decreased so much.”  
I wonder if those small companies will hire American CROs, rather than Chinese. I suspect the Chinese will be competing on price and capacity... And in Ge Li's own words, more of his thoughts, including about concerns about intellectual property in China:
On protecting intellectual property (IP) at WuXi: 
When people send their IP to us, they trust us. We now have 10,000 colleagues worldwide. Even if 0.01% are bad guys, something is going to happen to us. Right? So that’s why our three policies are very important. Prevention: We have 15 minutes a day every day to do a compliance meeting. Protection: We have a whole series of methods, such as cameras. We also have software that we developed to look at the behavior of individuals. And prosecution: You really want to go after the 0.01% of bad guys.
I suspect the problem here is that there's not enough trust in the prosecution, and the negative incentives. 


  1. the problem with experienced chemists starting their own companies is the lack of capital. You need to invest something to the tune of 20 millions USD to develop a clinical candidate, and put it through Phase 1. This cost lots of money, a very risky proposition - unless you are linked to university research group and have a reasonable patent portfolio and own intellectual property related to your already established research project.

    The inventor of Celebrex and Bextra tried to do just something along these lines, to have his own hybrid chemistry consulting + virtual biotech business (developing their proprietary Cox-2 related cancer treatment). He was at it for quite a long time, his company in its newest reincarnation still exists and last year they actually managed to raise a sufficient funding to go to clinic, but it has been tough for them, for more than 10 years.

    I think successful graybeard stories like this are very uncommon.

  2. We've been through this already, around 2006, during the time of the Unilever divestment. There was something of a wave of British chemistry startups, but as far as I can see, nothing has ever come out of it.