Nature Biotechnology features the explosion of Chinese biotech

China is the “Innovation Nation” and “The next biotech superpower”, according to the November issue of Nature Biotechnology. Beijing is “set to challenge the pre-eminence of the US drug market. If it can address gaps in its R&D ecosystem and clinical infrastructure, it may even become a home for biotech innovators”, says the editorial

The feature by Brady Huggett explains that “While the current biotech modality breakthroughs—CAR-T cell, CRISPR, gene therapy—all came from outside China, those technologies are going to be repeatedly put to the test inside China, at volumes and speeds Western biotech cannot, or will not, match”. Think of human trials of novel experimental treatments, they have moved cautiously in the West, but leapt forward in China.

The same issue includes a correspondence from leaders in US academic and industrial biomedical research and drug development, worried that “recent actions by government agencies and universities with respect to Chinese scientists in the United States could threaten US leadership in biomedical science.” The undersigned are concerned that “an atmosphere of intimidation will encourage many outstanding scientists of Chinese origin to leave the United States or never to come.”

A few numbers show that US science needs Chinese scientists: “Since 1999, over 400,000 US patents have been issued to inventors of Chinese descent resident in the United States, and ~28% of US biomedical science publications in 2018 included an author of Chinese descent”. The first name coming to mind? CRISPR pioneer Feng Zhang.

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