In Part II of our special interview series, Dr. Qin Shi of Edgetech Law discusses the emerging areas of significant unmet need in life science, and what investment opportunities may arise. Dr. Shi offers musings on the unique behavior of diagnostics, as well as how drug development has responded to social perceptions and needs, and what must be done in the short-term to maintain growth.
The discussion also looks at these sectors against the backdrop of the emerging global markets particularly exciting to investors and drug companies. Dr. Shi explains why China is uniquely positioned for drug development, and what strategies the government has taken to foster this. She indicates that it is increasingly important for growth companies to work out an emerging markets strategy in parallel to the strategy for the developed market.
Brett Johnson: What is your advice to a prospective investor in diagnostics?
Dr. Qin Shi: Look for the winners – compared to drugs, diagnostics has shorter run ways to revenue and can be great investment. Many factors can bear on whether you have a winner – new, disruptive technology, unique platform or business model, smart IP position, local market advantage, etc…are all relevant considerations.
BJ: What are some of the most promising emerging markets? What particular technologies do you have your eye on?
QS: I think there is consensus that among the BRIC countries, China, despite its issues, presents great opportunity. Excess liquidity there in recent years makes China a potential alternative source for capital – in addition to being a source for cost-effective R&D services and manufacturing, and a market to target. Of particular relevance, the central government’s 12th five-year plan has designated the pharmaceutical and biopharmaceutical industry as a “strategic” industry – which means this is an area “ear-marked” for growth in China. You can definitely expect, as we are seeing, significant resources and policy favors in this area. In terms of technologies, oncology is certainly on the top of our list for China.
We also focus on new diagnostics, devices, and platform technologies that can sustain a long product line. Clinical assets for some of the other chronic indications are also part of our focus. I should note that depending on specific matters, for deals or partnerships with China, in some cases we work on behalf of the US, European, or Japanese companies to out-license products or technology, while in other cases we work on behalf of China-based entities to in-license quality assets. Of course, besides licensing, those transactions may have multiple and different
dimensions, including partnership, JV, acquisitions, and equity participation among other things.
BJ: Can you tell us a bit more about EdgeTech Law; for example, what makes it unique?
QS: Our work revolves around technology frontiers across many sectors, including for example life sciences, TMT and electronics. We let technology drive our business and our practice in advising deals, resolving disputes over IP rights, or strategizing for life cycle management. We help companies expand globally through cross-border M&A or partnerships, for example.
BJ: What particular areas in life science do you follow?
QS: Currently in life sciences we focus mainly on three areas: oncology, neurodegenerative conditions [Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, etc.] and personalized medicine.
As a former scientist, I am hopeful that we in our lifetime will be able to see some major breakthrough in these three areas. There is tremendous need, still unmet, for cancer therapeutics, for example. Everyone has someone close to him or her who had been affected by cancer. In Palo Alto we used to see Steve Jobs in local Peet’s coffee shops; it was hard to witness how cancer visibly affects someone. Of course, we as a society suffer immeasurable loses when people like that pass away at the height of their productive years in life.
BJ: Which other areas of social need represent some promising developmental and
QS: Alzheimer’s is a condition that challenges millions of people—and more each year—as societies try to sustain their aging populations. And right now we don’t have a drug that can treat it. Aricept, a blockbuster by Eisai, treats only its symptoms. Nor do we have an effective diagnostics for early detection of the condition, or that can be easily administered at a reasonable cost.
Both of these fields, oncology and neurodegenerative conditions, are at an inflection point where our understanding of their mechanisms are rapidly evolving. Efforts are underway around the world in the private and public sectors to develop therapies and diagnostics accordingly that have the potential to make a real difference for patients.
BJ: Why is the diagnostics sector growing so rapidly?
QS: In my view, personalized medicine [also known as pharmacogenomics], represents the future for medicine. Companion diagnostics for cancer therapeutics, for one thing, is a field that is thriving. Most cancer programs in multinationals, for example, have a strategy now for co- development of companion diagnostics.
Unlike ten some years ago when I was still working in genomics and trying to prioritize drug targets based on gene profiling studies, today personalized medicine is no longer an aspiration but is becoming a reality.