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City's biotech push gathers momentum
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13:19, November 07, 2007

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SHANGHAI: Biotech company chief William Lee is living a dream in this financial hub.

Not only is his start-up booming, the 42-year-old American has reunited with many old friends at this biotech industrial park aptly named "Medicine Valley".

"About 20 friends of mine from San Diego now have companies here," said Lee, CEO of Biolaxy, a company developing a new drug to replace insulin injections with oral formulation.

Lower costs and a research-friendly environment are attracting more overseas businessmen like Lee to set up shop here.

In his case, developing a new drug in the United States would cost about $1 billion -- a hundred times more than it would in this country.

All are part of the city government's push for technological innovation, built on a market-oriented system where companies play a leading role to work with universities and research institutes.

In 2003, the city set up a network to support scientific research and information sharing.

He Hailin, deputy director of the Shanghai Research and Development Pubic Service Platform, which has about 500 affiliates citywide, said: "Large-sized research facilities in college and research institutions are often kept idle or rarely used, which is a huge waste."

Getting small and medium- sized enterprises (SMEs) to tap into the area and bridge the gap will further reduce costs and improve efficiency, he said.

Chou Bo, a manager with a subsidiary of the network in the Pudong district, has helped many SMEs reduce costs through such strategies.

"If a company buys a large-sized facility for medical research, it will cost about 1.9 million yuan ($245,000). But now it takes only 60 yuan ($7.75) and six hours to have an identification report made out for their samples," he said.

Shanghai's innovation drive is being built on an economy growing for its 15th consecutive year.

From high-speed Internet networks to trains that run on magnetic levitation, the city's long-term science and technology development plan issued last year outlines innovation and application as key to scientific development up till 2020.

Analysts said such a focus is considered necessary with the city facing fierce competition from regions that offer lower manufacturing and labor costs.

Zhu Dajian, head of Tongji University's department of public management and policy advisor to Shanghai, said: "Shanghai used to be a land packed with industries that consumed large amounts of energy resulting in heavy pollution.

With so few resources and a population of about 18 million to support, it now has to play the independent-innovation card."

Guo Yu, senior economist with the Shanghai municipal development and reform commission, said: "Our economic development used to be based on land resources and foreign investment. Now we have to rely on science and technology development, and self-innovation."

Source: China Daily

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