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May 1, 2015

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In search of a new remedy for cancer pain

LI Shuai founded a pharmaceutical company in Zhangjiang Hi-Tech Park in Pudong New Area over a year ago. The company has already tripled in size from a small laboratory of 100 square meters at the start.

Li and his team have developed about 200 pharmaceutical compounds. The 36-year-old scientist is getting closer to his dream of developing a new medicine.

“Now most of the pharmaceutical companies in China produce generic drugs that were originally invented in other countries. They change the formula a little and then mass produce them. It is an effective way to make money. But Chinese scientists are capable of great research into new original drugs so I want to make the first step,” Li, CEO of Shanghai SIMIR Biotechnology Co Ltd, tells Shanghai Daily.

New drug

Li and his team are now developing a new drug that can alleviate pain in cancer patients.

“For cancer patients, especially during the late period, they suffer huge pain that is hard to imagine. Some patients even die from the pain,” Li says.

Morphine is commonly given to lessen the pain, however, the effects begin to wear off after repeated use.

“The defect of morphine is that after using it for a period, the cancer patient will suffer greater pain when it wears off. Then doctors have to increase the dose and eventually it doesn’t work well,” Li explains.

Clinical trails are underway for SIMIR’s new medicine in both China and Australia. It will take at least four to five years before the drug will be available on the market.

Li and his team are also working on an anti–cancer drug. Researchers are making joint efforts to invent a medicine that can combat all cancer cells, not just cells specific to one part of the body.

Boosting confidence

“Sadly Chinese people don’t believe we can compete with Western countries in pharmaceutical and biotech technology,” Li says. “It is understandable since we don’t have an impressive record in this area. But with the new drug we are working on, I hope more scientists will become interested in this area and gradually people will have faith in our original medicines.”

Li knows the development of new drugs in China lags behind other countries and says he quit a stable job at the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences to pursue his dream of narrowing the gap.

Zhangjiang Hi-tech Park has helped him realize his ambition.

On Cailun Road, which is named after the Chinese inventor of paper, lies Li’s office among many other biopharmaceutical companies in a brown building, which is owned by Shanghai Pharma Engine Co Ltd.

Established in 2004, the company is supported by the national government. Pharma Engine provides consultants to help newcomers in the sector and rents out office space and advanced equipment to companies.

‘Pharma Valley’

More than 400 pharmaceutical and biotech companies, including some leading multinational enterprises, are located in what is known as “Pharma Valley.”

According to Jiefang Daily, a local newspaper, one of every three new medicines approved by the China Food and Drug Administration is produced in Pharma Valley.

Ten years ago, Dr Li Mingbo returned to Shanghai after living in the United States to start a business. He was puzzled. Merely finding a place for research and development was difficult.

Supported by the district government, he founded his company and started developing new drugs.

“When I rented the office here, all the advanced equipment we needed to develop new drugs was there for us to rent,” Li recalls.

The machine costs from a few dozen yuan to 1,000 yuan (US$160) each time to use depending upon what is required.

“It saves so much money,” Dr Li Mingbo says. “Some advanced machines that are essential to inventing new drugs cost over 6 million yuan and require expensive maintenance fees,” he says. “Here you start a business simply with a suitcase and ideas.”


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