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Bioeconomy becomes burgeoning force

发布时间:22-07-22 10:00 来源: China Daily 点击量:977

China Daily 报道

A technician of Beijing-based biotech company EdiGene processes cell samples at the company's lab in Beijing. CHINA DAILY

National plans help drive rapid advances in growing sector

China is betting big on the bioeconomy, with intensified efforts to invest in and expand its capabilities in the area.

The country sees rising potential in the burgeoning sector, which is predicted to be worth 22 trillion yuan ($3.28 trillion) in 2025, said Bai Jingyu, director of the innovation-driven development center of the National Development and Reform Commission.

Officials, experts and business executives said innovative development in life sciences and biotechnology is spurring rapid growth in medicine, health, agriculture, energy and other sectors of the Chinese economy.

This activity-collectively referred to as the bioeconomy-is expected to inject new impetus into the economy and foster green, low-carbon and high-quality development, creating new business opportunities for global stakeholders.

Given the huge shocks produced by the COVID-19 pandemic, governments and large biopharmaceutical companies across the world have increased their investment in biosecurity, vaccines and medical research and development, driving rapid development of the sector.

Given the growth potential, China has been accelerating the push to spur technological innovation and industrial development in the sector, aiming to gain a competitive edge globally.

China's top economic regulator unveiled a new plan in May to spur the bioeconomy during the 14th Five-Year Plan period (2021-25). It aims to meet rising domestic demand for healthcare and better lives, foster high-quality economic development, prevent and control biosecurity risks and modernize China's system and capacity for governance during the period.

The NDRC said in a statement that the new plan is in line with the requirements of the 14th Five-Year Plan, which pledges to promote innovation and the integration of biological and information technology as well as accelerate the development of biomedicine, biological breeding techniques, biomaterials, bioenergy and other industries to enhance the sector in scope and strength.

Under the plan, the bioeconomy-a model focusing on protecting and using biological resources and deeply integrating medicine, healthcare, agriculture, forestry, energy, environmental protection, materials and other sectors-will become a key driving force to boost high-quality development by 2025.

By then, the proportion of the bioeconomy's added value to GDP is expected to steadily increase. China is expected to witness a significant rise in the number of enterprises engaged in the bioeconomy, with annual revenue of at least 10 billion yuan each.

By 2035, China aims to be at the forefront globally in terms of the comprehensive strength of its bioeconomy.

Xu Tao, an academician at the Chinese Academy of Sciences, called the bioeconomy a new economic model fueled by the development and application of life sciences and biotechnologies. As it boosts the national economy, it will also help build the modern industrial system and safeguard people's health and well-being.

"The plan will inject new impetus to China's bioeconomy growth, including fields such as early tumor detection," said Oscar Zhang, a principal at Qiming Venture Partners.

The incidence of cancer is associated with aging, and early intervention following early detection will reduce mortality and financial costs for patients, he said. The plan has promoted the incorporation of advanced technologies such as genetic testing, for example, into disease prevention, he said. It also encourages early screening for major diseases to make treatment more effective.

The firm has invested in Berry Oncology, a domestic company specializing in genomic testing and early cancer screening, and it is very optimistic about the company's prospects.

Berry Oncology recently announced the launch of an innovative multi-cancer screening product based on its proprietary technology. "With one single test, the product can accurately detect six high-risk and high-incidence cancers in China," including lung, esophageal, gastric, liver, pancreatic and colorectal cancers, the company said in a recent statement.

Tian Shilin, chief scientist at global genomic services and products provider Novogene, said, "The development of some core bioeconomy technologies is progressing and gradually forming industrial-scale applications, such as crop molecular breeding." Crops made with molecular breeding use genetic engineering to evaluate gene function, but they are not classified as genetically modified since the first step in their development is pollination.

"The release of the plan will bring more attention to the bioeconomy, igniting further discussions and action at industrial levels," Tian said.

The bioeconomy has led to the formation of industries of considerable size in all four major fields mentioned in the plan-medical and health, food security, biosafety and green and low-carbon-and each industry has also formed a variety of mature core products and services to meet market demand. Those industries include basic science research services, vaccine development, new drug research and development, tumor detection and molecular breeding.

In the field of agriculture, the emergence of many molecular breeding products, cash crop genome sequencing and the discovery of a large number of molecular genetic markers have provided a wide range of resources for precision molecular breeding, thanks to the advancements in gene sequencing technologies.

"As enterprises develop and apply bioeconomy technologies to meet market demand, the plan will help shape and regulate the fast development of related industries to ensure their healthy growth," Tian said.

Wei Dong, CEO of EdiGene, a Beijing-based biotech company that develops genome-editing technologies, said the company is excited about the release of the plan, calling it a visionary design to propel the growth of the biotechnology and industrial ecosystem.

"As a biotech focusing on translating gene-editing technologies into transformative therapies, we are particularly thrilled by the plan's emphasis on cutting-edge biotechnological innovation and strengthening biotech companies' role as the driving force behind such innovations," Wei said.

The plan encourages innovation in gene, stem cell and immune cell therapies through stronger collaboration among academic institutes, clinical centers and industry players to speed up translational and clinical research, forging new models of regenerative and precision medicines.

In addition, it calls for innovation alliances with networks of entities led by industry leaders to accelerate development and translation of key technology breakthroughs. It also highlights the need for global development, encouraging the industry to collaborate with global partners and set up R&D centers, manufacturing sites and commercial networks abroad.

"Such an emphasis points out the strategic road to success for the development of the bioeconomy in China. No doubt technological innovation is always the key driving force, just as we have seen," Wei said.

Gene-editing translation clusters are taking shape globally, creating thriving biotech innovation ecosystems with efficient academic-industry cooperation. This has attracted billions of dollars in investment and greatly accelerated the translation of breakthrough gene-editing technologies into transformative medicines with curative potential while contributing significantly to economic development, he said.

In China, such prototype clusters are emerging in the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei region, Yangtze River Delta region, Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area and other areas, he said.

After years of development, China has become the largest exporter of active pharmaceutical ingredients, which are made from organic molecules, the second-largest market for pharmaceuticals and medical devices, and a key exporter of pharmaceutical research and development. The country has witnessed a growing number of bioindustrial centers covering fields such as biomedicine, biomedical engineering, bioagriculture and biomanufacturing, which play a key role in driving regional economic growth, said Xu from the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

Citing the experience of advanced countries like the United States, Germany, the United Kingdom, France and Japan, Xu said China needs to ramp up efforts to support and develop national scientific research institutions and high-level research universities, establish and improve first-class scientific and technological facilities and innovation platforms, implement major innovative projects, cultivate leading enterprises, complete industrial chains, and build high-level bioindustrial clusters.

Looking at the 14th Five-Year Plan period, Xu said the country needs to ramp up efforts to make breakthroughs in key fields. These include brain science and brain-inspired technology, which aim to employ neuroscience principles to develop human-like artificial intelligence.

They also include genetics, drugs and vaccines, advanced diagnosis and treatment technology, precision medicine, medical devices and breeding technology. Xu said other areas include advancing the innovative and integrated development of biotechnology, information and materials technology and advanced manufacturing.

More efforts should also be made to promote the construction of national labs in the field, advance the training of talent and deepen institutional reforms in fields like the clinical evaluation of drugs, Xu added.

Wang Xuegong, vice-president of the China Pharmaceutical Enterprises Association, said China needs to increase investment in basic research in key fields such as next-generation biotechnology and promote the convergence of development in biotechnology and information technology. Other needs include improving mechanisms for applying scientific and technological achievements, increasing financial support for innovative enterprises, and encouraging foreign companies to set up R&D centers and production centers for innovative drugs, Wang said.