The newspaper described that deal as the first major acquisition of a Chinese biotech firm by a foreign rival. The weekly next quoted Wu Jun, executive vice-president of Shanghai Genomics Co Ltd, saying several leading US biotech companies had been seeking Chinese partners for new business, "from outsourcing research to forming joint ventures."
And well they might. China wants to be a noise in biotech, not least in agriculture. "China's disposition to biotech might be characterized as aggressively engaged," observed University of Minnesota agricultural economist Ford Runge, the author of a recently published report on Chinese biotech activities. According to Runge, half the land under cultivation in China could be devoted to genetically modified crops within 10 years. The commercial possibilities go well beyond food. According to Runge's study, China has been increasing GM cotton production to the point where it accounts for 68% of the annual crop. The report says China now ranks second, after the United States, in global biotech research funding and accounts for perhaps a third of all spending in plant biotechnology – working on different GM versions of corn, soybeans, rice, potatoes and tomatoes. Word has it Beijing could release its first variety of GM rice early this year.
But Fudan University Finance Professor Zhang Luyang, quoted by China Business Weekly, suggested it would be some time before mainland biotech will see a flood of US-led mergers and acquisitions, arguing China's investment environment would have to improve first. Intellectual property protection also needs improving, say some industry watchers.
The weekly, quoting a report from Shanghai market research firm General Biologic, reported that "60 biological drugs – including 19 antibodies and 11 vaccines – were being developed independently by Chinese biotech firms."
The central government, it said, had raised biotech project funding to US$1.2bn, four times what it was in 2001, to fund projects running from rice gene sequencing to human liver proteomic initiatives.