Bristol-Myers Squibb Co is focused on becoming a next-generation biopharmaceutical company in China.
In particular, it is specializing in immuno-oncology, an innovative approach that treats cancer by teaching the patient's own immune system to identify and kill cancer cells.
There were 3.37 million new cancer cases reported in China in 2011, an increase of 280,000 compared with 2010. The five-year survival rate of cancer patients in China was about 36.9 percent last year, far lower than that in the United States and other developed countries, data from the 2015 China Cancer Registration Annual Report showed.
Existing treatments, including surgery, radiotherapy, chemotherapy and even targeted therapy, are struggling because they have limited capability to improve the overall survival time and quality of life of patients. New treatments are desperately needed to fill these gaps.
Immuno-oncology, which has become clinically available in the past five years in the U.S., is one of the new treatments. For some patients, it has achieved great success in reducing or eliminating tumors, without many of the harsh side effects of other treatments.
Current research focuses on understanding why it is almost a miracle cure for some patients, but has no effect on others.
"BMS began its foray into immuno-oncology 10 years ago," said Karl Lintel, president of BMS China. "At the time, BMS noticed that the only way to succeed against the fierce competition between multinational pharmaceutical giants was to ensure the effectiveness of its product lines."
In the 13th Five-Year Plan (2016-20), healthcare has become a focus and "Healthy China" is being elevated to a national strategy.
The China Food and Drug Administration, the country's food and drug watchdog, issued a document in February that said "clinical trial for new drugs in and outside China can be conducted simultaneously after approval. It also encouraged domestic drug clinical trial institutions to participate in international clinical trials".
According to Lintel, BMS has conducted seven clinical trials for immuno-oncology treatments in China and two of them have been included in international multi-center clinical trial projects.
"China certainly has good growth momentum and the newly reformed policy environment is enabling us to join more global clinical trials in China than before," said Katrin Rupalla, BMS' research and development head in China. "BMS China will focus more on Chinese patients' needs in the cancer areas with the highest incidence rates, including lung, liver and gastric cancers," she said.
Li Haiyan, a professor at Peking University's Health Science Center, said that while foreign companies are proficient in getting their products into China's big cities, they must be aware that pricing is the key to winning in the county-level markets.
"They should also identify their key advantages to influence China's low-tier markets, including sales tactics, scale, manufacturing capability and quality," said Li.