Conversation with Sharon Chan, the New Head of JLABS @ Shanghai

Q&A

Shanghai, the pearl city of China, ranks first as a leading tech innovation hub over the next four years, according to a recent report released by KPMG. With nearly $40 billion raised and $12 billion invested in life sciences in 2017, $100 billion in state, provincial and local government funding slated for life science and CFDA regulations revamped to speed development, China’s innovation ecosystem is improving rapidly.

Still, China needs to further reform its health care system with a number of critical steps to meet the growing health needs of the population, further enhance basic research capabilities and cultivate the innovation ecosystem. 

As part of our commitment to finding and nurturing the best science and technology in the world’s innovation hotspots, we are launching a new JLABS in Shanghai in Q2 2019. As a passionate and respected global health leader in the Asia Pacific region with over 15 years in business and product development across pharmaceuticals, medical devices, vaccines and technology platforms, Sharon Chan, the new Head of JLABS @ Shanghai is well-positioned to see the challenges faced by new businesses from all sides of the table and can help deliver upon JLABS’mission to support innovators by bringing them the tools, knowledge, and guidance to navigate the Asia Pacific ecosystem.

Read more about what led Sharon to JLABS, and her expectations and strategies in this unique ecosystem.

 

Q: What are your expectations for JLABS @ Shanghai?

Shanghai is a remarkable city. It’s not just one of the world’s largest cities but it’s a world financial and cultural center. Each day brings new energy, new ideas and new people together. The pace of the city is truly breathtaking. I strongly believe sectors such as biotech and pharma, along with consumer health and hi-tech platforms are at an inflection, where the quality of the science and soaring STEM talent will give any life sciences ecosystem a run for its money!   

I envision JLABS @ Shanghai to be the gateway to innovation for Asia. Our JLABS @ Shanghai will foster collaboration and creativity where great ideas can be transformed into radical new solutions, working, as our Credo puts it, “to meet the needs and well-being of the people we serve first.” And with that, I’m expecting to be blown away by disruptive technologies, breakthrough science and game changers that ambitiously push the boundaries of a health care system that serves a country of 1.4 billion people. 

We’re kicking off that commitment to radical solutions in a big way with the Shanghai Lung Cancer Innovation QuickFire Challenge. Lung Cancer has been the leading cause of death [3] in China since 2010, according to Medical Daily. Innovators from across the world are invited to submit solutions focused on all stages of lung health resulting in the prevention, interception, and cure of lung cancer for up to $750,000 (¥4,775,850 )in grants, one year of residency at JLABS @ Shanghai, and access to mentoring & coaching from experts from Johnson & Johnson Innovation and/or its affiliates. Applications are being accepted through September 14, 2018 at https://jlabs.jnjinnovation.com/quickfire-challenges/shanghai-lung-cancer-innovation-quickfire-challenge

If New York is the city that never sleeps, then Shanghai is the city that never sits! I can’t wait to embark on the journey, beginning first in the city known as the Pearl of the Orient, to find those amazing hidden precious gems.   

 

Q: Can you share us a bit on your background? 

I grew up in an environment that encouraged questioning, debating and discussion. Over the course of my career, such values have shaped my personality and my development. My parents were born in China but like many at that time, in the 1970s, they migrated to the United Kingdom. My mother went on to become a nurse for the National Health System (NHS) and my father became a civil engineer.  Neither of them nor both sets of my grandparents had attended university. While I may have made up for their lack of degrees (editorial: Sharon has 3 Master degrees and a PhD in biochemistry and in business from Oxford, IE and Hopkins), in 15 years, I’ve been fortunate to experience working for a start-up, a multinational and a not-for-profit foundation in Asia.   

I have worked across drugs, medical devices, vaccines, biologics and platforms, in areas from oncology, neuropathic pain, renal to tuberculosis and have actively engaged with many patients, doctors, scientists, investors, politicians and even Heads of State and First Ladies. The majority of my roles have involved business development, strategy and alliance management. Anything that requires learning about new science, networking with companies, big or small, and then chasing and closing deals, that’s how I like to put my passions to work. 

 

Q: This may be a very frequently asked question, still we are eager to have your insights on why Shanghai was selected as the first JLABS outside of North America?

China has moved at lightning speed and is emerging as a leader in the economical, technological and social sectors. 900 million people have been lifted out of poverty, one in four people will be over 65 by 2050 and today’s chronic diseases (heart disease, stroke, cancer, chronic respiratory diseases and diabetes) represent 86.6% of all deaths in China[1]. A snapshot of lung cancer reveals approximately 1,900 people are diagnosed with lung cancer each day on the mainland while one in 13 people are living with chronic hepatitis B (HBV) and chronic hepatitis C (HCV) infection. These are the figures that justify why we need a JLABS in Shanghai.  Beyond providing a state-of-the-art environment for entrepreneurs to thrive in, the JPALS mentoring program and Investor Hub are high-demand initiatives that local start-up companies could benefit from enormously. 

It is also hard to deny the strong government commitment and the ever-increasing pressure on the Chinese health care system to become more efficient, cost-effective and accessible. Thus JLABS @ Shanghai is the perfect breeding ground for new ideas. The opportunities in China are plentiful.  

 

Q: If a US start-up walked up,asking for your advice on how to gain access to the China or Asia Pac market, and you only had a few minutes to give your best tip, what would it be?

Jump on a plane, (download WeChat beforehand) and experience life first hand. Go see, eat, hear, smell and touch. A strategy that has worked well in the past in the US is not necessarily going to work well in China. China is a different animal. Choosing the right partner(s) is key. Collaborating with a partner that will help navigate through the political, economic, social, legal and even technological aspects of China will help you to build strategies that are going to be successful and sustainable. But, be prepared, that your Chinese partners and customers might not define values the same way as you do. Chinese business culture is ingrained in every element of society, so doing a little bit of homework on this topic will ensure mutual respect and trust are quickly achieved. 

 

Q: What policies is China enacting to encourage innovation and startups? 

The list is endless and probably by the time this interview is published, more reforms may have happened. In 2014, Premier Li Keqiang at the World Economic Forum launched China’s mass entrepreneurship and innovation campaign. Since then, from province, city, county to even townships, incubators, innovation parks and venture capital funds have ballooned. Last year alone, China's total spending on research and development (R&D) was approximately US$279 billion which represented a year-on-year increase of 14% and an increase of 70.9% from 2012.[2] On the pharma and innovation side, the China Food and Drug Administration (CFDA) has begun to start a number of significant regulatory reforms that will have far-reaching influence on China’s biotech and pharma sectors. These include new classifications of new drugs, use of foreign data, a change to clinical trial requirements, faster clinical trial approvals, proposed data exclusivity, patent term extension, patent linkage and the launch of marketing authorization holder programs.  

My favorite policies are however the ones that relate to human capital. Having the right talent plays a pivotal role in building a vibrant, innovative research environment. The number of universities have doubled in the last decade and China now boasts some eight million graduates each year with Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) degrees. This increase occurred simultaneously with efforts to cultivate a world class education system by recruiting top faculty talent from around the world, known as the Thousand Talents Program. I’m a strong proponent that in the ecosystems we create, mentoring is the key to success for our new leaders. 

 

 

 

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[1] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5643768/

[2] http://cn.thenews.com.pk/latest/286079-china-spends-279-bln-on-rd-in-2017-science-minister

[3] https://chinaeconomicreview.com/china-spends-279-billion-of-rd-in-2017