Hot on the heels of the BIO Japan 2009 conference I flew over to Shanghai and made the 150 km trip west to Suzhou – an ancient city mainly known in the past for silk production and UNESCO heritage sites, but now a powerhouse for high-tech manufacturing and biotechnology .
Suzhou has two major biotechnology sites: Bio-Bay (joint venture with Singapore) and Suzhou New District (SND). My visit was to the SND region.
First impressions – lots of people, huge manufacturing plants, glowing neon city centre and many European and Asian (Korean, Japanese) business people in place.
My itinerary included visits to two major facilities – China Suzhou Innovation Park (CSZIP – the “MaRS” of Suzhou) and the China Suzhou Bio-medicine Centre (CSZBC).
CSZIP is a large modern central facility (hub) with three new 25 story towers nearing completion. The new buildings will be dedicated to:
- Finance, including venture capital
- Bio-medicine incubator
- Returning Chinese scholars institute
One point of note, the NASDAQ-listed solar power company Canadian Solar was incubated in the CSZIP facility.
The CSZBC (bio-medicine incubator) is a smaller facility hosting 98 life sciences client companies. Each of the four floors has tenant companies located around the periphery with shared laboratories operated by SND in the centre. All tenant companies had access to the central lab and could advance their work expeditiously without incurring major equipment and staff costs.
More generally, it was readily apparent that Suzhou and Shanghai are undergoing enormous development right now. New developments equivalent in size to the Toronto financial core were a common sight. When flying out of Shanghai it was also remarkable to see the huge armada of container ships gathered just offshore.
With the US paying a fortune in interest on the $800 billion of federal debt held by China, the Chinese push towards developing a knowledge-based economy appears sustainable for the foreseeable future.
Canadian start-up companies with products that fit the Chinese market may wish to seriously consider setting up wholly-owned subsidiaries in Suzhou, especially if this will help the Canadian-based parent achieve valuation milestones more quickly and cheaply.
With FDA-certified clinical research organizations in place and an abundance of financial incentives, China is rapidly becoming an attractive development partner in the life sciences.