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Industry leaders gather at Summer Davos to discuss China’s biotechnology revolution

July 1, 2019

At the Dalian International Conference Center, a discussion entitled “China’s Biotechnology Revolution” is underway. The discussion was moderated by Ms. Mariette DiChristina, Editor-in-Chief of Scientific American; and included guests Professor Cong Yali, Associate Dean of Peking University Medical Ethics; Mr. Xu Xun, CEO of BGI; Mr. Weiyan Zhu, founder and CEO of My-BioMed, and global council member of precision medicine at the World Economic Forum.

From left to right: Ms. Mariette DiChristina, editor-in-chief of “Scientific American”; Professor Liya Cong of Medical Ethics at Peking University; Mr. Weiyan Zhu, CEO of Mei Ao Biotech; Mr. Xu Xun, CEO of BGI

Ms. DiChristina raised the first interesting question of the panel: In 2018, in the United States alone, more than 30% of investment funds for biotechnology came from China, demonstrating the importance of biotechnology industry to China. But behind this enthusiasm, are there some hidden worries? In the view of leaders of China’s leading biotechnology companies, what are their concerns?

As the president of China’s biotechnology leader BGI Group, Mr. Xu said that China’s biotechnology has indeed developed very rapidly in recent years, and it has also caught up with the world’s pace in innovation, especially in the fields of genomics and stem cells. He believes that the intersection between biotechnology and information technology is getting closer. However, compared with the IT industry, biotechnology is not so popular among young people. From the perspective of the long-term development of the industry, he often considers how to encourage more young people to join the biotechnology research industry.

And Mr. Zhu, CEO of MBM, thought that there are problems caused by the uneven development of policy and technology during business development. While the rapid advancement of AI technology in biotech can cross the technical hurdles in clinical application, the lack of “benchmarking” at the policy level has made it difficult to fully implement AI technology solutions in the medical field.

Professor Cong is concerned with the rapid development of biotechnology, specifically whether scientific researchers keep a clear head, do self-reflection, grasp the ethical boundaries of their work, and avoid doing harm to the public through their technology development and application.

Afterwards, the guests had an in-depth exchange of views on the practical problems encountered in the development and application of biotechnology. Mr. Xu recognized the possible ethical challenges of biotechnology and the disputes caused by the unclear policy at this stage. He believed that direct communication between government and companies is not enough. Mr. Zhu also emphasized the need to proactively strengthen communication between government and enterprises, and take full advantage of non-governmental platforms and research institutions like the World Economic Forum, promote the gradual improvement of policies by adopting small-scale pilots, gaining successful experience, and gradually expand the scope of the policy changes. Professor Cong mentioned that due to historical reasons, China’s technology has been stagnant for a long time. Today, Chinese scientists have a great sense of urgency to recover for lost time. However, she reminded that technology advancement is a double-edged sword and that scientists should also remember their responsibilities and obligations to the public and society.

Mr. Xu and Mr. Zhu also talked freely about the demand for talents in the rapid development of biotechnology from the perspective of corporate management. The purpose of MBM, founded by Mr. Zhu Weiyan, is to become a commercial platform for the world’s advanced precision medicine innovations. He especially emphasized the importance of talents with cross-cultural management capabilities, whether it is to bring advanced overseas technology to the Chinese market or to bring Chinese original technology to the international market. Talents who fully understand the local market and possess cross-cultural management capabilities are scarce and valuable. Mr. Xu is more concerned about the training of high-level scientific researchers. Professor Cong pointed out that Chinese scientists and industry professionals should participate actively in the formulation of international industry norms and ethical norms.

After a lively and constructive discussion among dozens of participants and guests present, the three guests described their outlook for the future of China’s biotechnology revolution. Professor Cong looked forward to scientists assuming more social responsibility, while Mr. Xu hopes biotechnology industry can attract more talents going forward. Lastly, Mr. Zhu believes that in the next few years, China will become a global power house in the field of medical AI, and it is very likely to produce a Google-level smart healthcare company.

Summer Davos

The “Annual Meeting of the New Champions of the World Economic Forum” is an annual meeting proposed by the Chairman of the World Economic Forum Professor Klaus Schwab and Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao. Its purpose is to create a vision for “global growth companies” that can jointly plan the future industrial and commercial development. And it is an interactive cooperation platform for dialogues with the world’s top 1000 companies, countries and regional governments. It is also known as the “Summer Davos Forum” because it complements the “World Economic Forum” annual meeting held in Davos, Switzerland at the beginning of each year. The first annual meeting of the new champions of the World Economic Forum was held in Dalian, China for the first time in 2007. From July 1 to 3, 2019, Premier Li Keqiang attended the 13th Summer Davos Forum in Dalian.

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