AstraZeneca is planning to spend $100 million over the next three years on R&D in China. At the heart of its investment is the AstraZeneca Innovation Centre China, which will focus on genetic research and the identification of biomarkers for the development of drugs for the Chinese market. Researchers at the center, opening in 2009 at a yet-to-be-announced site, initially will work on cancer.
The British drug firm also plans to expand its clinical research capabilities in China and is looking this year to increase its scientific collaboration with local organizations. AstraZeneca recently signed a $14 million deal to collaborate with Wuxi PharmaTech on the Chinese firm's compound synthesis project.
Focusing on the Chinese population is a matter of "putting our toe in the water" on targeted therapies, according to an AstraZeneca spokesman. He notes that the firm's Iressa cancer treatment works better with "certain subpopulations, including Asians and women who have never smoked."
AstraZeneca's CEO David Brennan adds that China's population of 1.3 billion constitutes a booming drug market. "With China's rapid economic growth and increasing demand for better health care, it has become one of the most important markets for AstraZeneca," Brennan says.
The drug firm already has a sizable Chinese operation. AstraZeneca China, based in Shanghai, employs 2,200 people across the country and operates a manufacturing plant in Wuxi. AstraZeneca is currently running 11 clinical trials in China and has performed 37 trials in that country over the past 10 years.
Other major drug companies have announced plans to expand in China. Wyeth, for example, says it is establishing clinical development centers in China because of the country's high patient density and low operating costs.