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5 Conversations with the Women Leading Innovation in China

Sharon_Chan Dan_Wang Jennifer Yang
Sharon Chan Dan Wang Jennifer Yang
Hui Lei Liping Liu
Hui Lei Liping Liu


International Women’s Day shines a spotlight on the people, initiatives and opportunities that aim to make our world more inclusive and gender equal. However, celebrating the women who are transforming healthcare and leading groundbreaking scientific initiatives shouldn’t be reserved for just one day a year. In reflection on this year’s International Women’s Day celebration and Women’s History Month, we asked inspiring female leaders and innovators in our network to share their perspectives.

Our Johnson & Johnson Innovation leadership team in Asia Pacific consists of three dynamic and visionary women who lead JLABS @ Shanghai, the Asia Pacific Innovation Center and the China Lung Cancer Initiative. Through their global experiences in healthcare, business and life sciences, this cohort of female Johnson & Johnson leaders is driving the future of health in China and across the world.

From our JLABS @ Shanghai network, we also asked two innovators in life sciences about their personal development as female leaders and developments in their respective scientific areas.

We hope you enjoy this up-close conversation with the women in China who are leading within Johnson & Johnson Innovation and the start-ups whose discoveries will improve the lives of patients and consumers around the world.


Sharon Chan, Head, JLABS @ Shanghai

“Strong mentorship has shaped who I am today.”


What keeps you up at night?

Only recently has the response to this question changed for me. I have two young children with an 18-month age gap and they certainly kept me up! These days, global health issues, that I worked on along with the Gates Foundation, capture my attention. I’ve had the opportunity to see first-hand how devasting infectious diseases like Tuberculosis (TB) and HIV can impact families, communities, and the health system of entire countries.


How do you think your career differs from your male counterparts?

Before moving to Asia, I felt like somewhat of an outlier. While in university in the UK, where I studied Chemistry. Only 1 in 4 of my peers were female and in one of my first jobs in London, women made up only around 20% of the workforce. In those days, I did find it hard to network. Taking initiative to engage with others and start conversations at business conferences or speak up in meetings felt challenging.

With few role models around me, it was difficult to visualize a career where I could move up.

When I moved to Shanghai in 2007, I felt my career begin to catch up with my male counterparts. My company at the time really empowered women. I recall at one point our China Senior Leadership Team consisted of over 90% women!

Working in such a supportive environment unleashed my confidence in my own abilities and I found my professional voice. This experience demonstrated to me the value of women’s contributions and achievements.

Today, I’m fortunate that for the last decade, I’ve been in organizations that have celebrated and supported the social, economic and cultural achievements of women while also specifically engaging in a call to action for accelerating gender equality.


Dan Wang, Head, Johnson & Johnson Innovation Asia Pacific

“For me, leadership is more than a role – it’s a responsibility.”


Describe a situation where you felt powerful and strong?

Central to what we do at Johnson & Johnson Innovation is our ability to identify and attract new and exciting science that transforms patients’ lives and moves us closer to our vision of realizing a world without disease. I feel powerful and strong that we are working hard to tackle some of today’s most pressing public health challenges and profoundly change the trajectory of health for humanity through innovation and collaboration.


What personal traits do you feel have developed as you’ve grown in your career?

I think curiosity and an exploration in the spirit of scientific innovation are the key driving force of my career development. And that's quite in line with what I'm doing. Not only I, but also the entire team of our Asia Pacific Innovation Center have a similar mindset.

I also have a thirst for knowledge, the ability to learn quickly, and an open mind. These qualities make up the DNA and indispensable elements of innovators, regardless of their position and age.

Jennifer Yang

Jennifer Yang, Head of China Lung Cancer Initiative, Johnson and Johnson

“My motto is ‘tough on issue but soft on people”


How would you describe your leadership style?

I tend to lead with authenticity, and I value servant leadership. My motto is “tough on issues but soft on people”. On my leadership journey, I strive to become a better listener to understand the needs of employees and help people grow and develop so they can perform as highly as possible.

Over the years, I have served as mentor and coach for many colleagues across the organization. It is quite satisfying to witness the growth of many young talents.


What are you most excited about in your field right now?

The Lung Cancer Initiative is focusing on innovative solutions that prevent, intercept and cure lung cancer. On top of traditional treatment options (e.g. surgery, drug, etc.) I am very excited about the advancement in robotic technology, AI and big data. Medical AI innovation progressed so fast in recent years. It started to integrate into clinical practice to benefit patients. There are many medical AI companies working on imaging AI algorithms to predict lung cancer risk and the mutation status of lung cancer. I hope the technological breakthrough will enable us to bring more innovative solutions to patients.

Hui Lei

Hui Lei, VP, Head of Chemistry, ShouTi Pharma

“Be trustworthy. Trust may be one of the most important factors in successful organizations.”


What personal traits do you feel have developed as you’ve grown in your career?

Openness. Drug discovery relies heavily on evolving cutting-edge sciences and we need to be open to new technologies, new reactions, and do much more to improve the efficiency of drug discovery process. It is a team effort involving multiple disciplines and people coming from various backgrounds which is why it’s important to be open-minded so people are willing to share their thoughts and be creative in addressing issues.

Trustworthiness. Trust may be one of the most important factors in successful organizations. When we all keep to our words and follow through with our actions, trust is built within the team and work can be done more effectively.


What are you most excited about in your field right now?

It’s extremely exciting to witness the continued reforming of regulatory policy from NMPA on drug discovery and development. The reform has greatly accelerated the drug approval process and brought medicines to patients in need much faster than before the reform period. Traditionally, there would have been years of delay from a drug being approved in the overseas market to its approval in China. This gap has consistently narrowed and patients have had the benefit of access a greater selection of disease modifying drugs. During this year’s corona virus outbreak, a record number of clinical trials received accelerated approval to ensure the enhanced possibility of finding the drugs to help us fight the disease which also showcases the agency’s commitment to continued public health improvement.

Liping Liu

Liping Liu, Founder, Chairman & CEO, HighTide Therapeutics Inc.

“I’m proud of my personal and professional growth to have a strong vision, optimism, perseverance, and humility.”


Who inspires you and why?

Nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood. Now is the time to understand more, so that we may fear less. – Marie Curie

Marie Curie stands out as a source of inspiration for me to become a scientist. When I was nine years old, my mother bought me a book about Marie Curie. I was fascinated not just by her amazing achievements, but more by her perseverance when facing challenges. During her time, women were expected to stay home and be a housewife. However, she pursued a path to become a scientist. When she was rejected by a university simply because she was a woman, she never let this rejection stop her, and she went on to do experiments using her husband’s lab equipment that led to the groundbreaking discoveries about X-rays and radioactivity.

Have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. Everything else is secondary. – Steve Jobs

Steve Jobs inspires me to become an entrepreneur and to dream big. Back in 2005, I was enlightened by his famous Stanford commencement speech. His passion to change the world and put a dent in the universe planted the seed of entrepreneurship in my mind when I was turning 36 years old.


What are you most excited about in your field right now?

The fact that China is poised to become a major player on the world stage in terms of innovative drug discovery and development offers great opportunities for companies like HighTide which has been focusing on innovative drug development globally since inception. In addition, the significant unmet medical needs and development challenges of the therapeutic areas we are targeting, progressive non-viral chronic liver diseases, present a great opportunity for us to make a difference.

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