Lat­est rank­ing of top re­search in­sti­tu­tions show Chi­na com­ing on strong — with sig­nif­i­cant im­pli­ca­tions for biotech

As Chi­na’s biotech in­dus­try en­joys ex­plod­ing growth, there’s fresh ev­i­dence that the coun­try’s sci­en­tif­ic elite is muscling up the lad­der of pres­ti­gious in­sti­tu­tions around the world.

Na­ture as­sem­bled its close­ly-watched an­nu­al in­dex of re­search cen­ters around the world, and Chi­na con­tin­ues to hold the top spot, along with an over­all sec­ond-place fin­ish on aca­d­e­m­ic in­sti­tu­tions — be­hind the US.

Here’s the list of the top 15 in­sti­tu­tions over­all — based on counts of high-qual­i­ty re­search out­puts in the pre­vi­ous cal­en­dar year — along with a link to the full 500 they tracked this year. 

The Chi­nese Acad­e­my of Sci­ences made the top spot again this year, while Chi­na’s Peking Uni­ver­si­ty and Ts­inghua Uni­ver­si­ty scored in the top 15 aca­d­e­m­ic re­search in­sti­tu­tions. And Xin­hua made care­ful note that Nan­jing Uni­ver­si­ty along with the Uni­ver­si­ty of Sci­ence and Tech­nol­o­gy of Chi­na have jumped ahead from last year in­to the top ranks. 

To be sure, US aca­d­e­m­ic in­sti­tu­tions have re­tained their grip on the top places in acad­e­mia. Har­vard, Stan­ford, MIT, and Berke­ley dom­i­nate the top 5, with the Uni­ver­si­ty of Tokyo fill­ing the last spot there. 

Chi­na, though, now has 16 of the top 100 glob­al aca­d­e­m­ic cen­ters on this list, com­pared to 11 in 2016.

So what’s the big deal?

The first wave of Chi­nese biotechs we’ve been see­ing are large­ly in-li­cens­ing ap­proved and late-stage drugs from US part­ners. The busi­ness mod­el seems sound. Raise mon­ey, hus­tle up de­vel­op­ment of a known com­mod­i­ty with clear ideas on tri­al out­lines. Big out­fits like Mer­ck and As­traZeneca have al­so been en­joy­ing a shake­up of the coun­try’s reg­u­la­to­ry group, mak­ing strides in open­ing new mar­kets. There’s been one ap­proval of a drug in­vent­ed in Chi­na that I know about as de­vel­op­ers every­where fo­cus on fill­ing the drug gap be­tween the US and Chi­na.

But as the sci­ence gets bet­ter and the pipeline sifts through the first wave of drugs, you’ll start to see more orig­i­nal drug de­vel­op­ment work, which has been miss­ing. Things are chang­ing fast in Chi­na bio­phar­ma, and not just be­cause of the fi­nanc­ing that’s avail­able.

More change is straight ahead.

Im­age: Chi­nese Acad­e­my of Sci­ences HQ Cre­ative Com­mons

BREAK­ING: Mer­ck makes a triple play on Covid-19: buy­ing out a vac­cine biotech, part­ner­ing on an­oth­er pro­gram and adding an an­tivi­ral to the mix

Merck is making a triple play in a sudden leap into the R&D campaign against Covid-19.

Tuesday morning the pharma giant simultaneously announced plans to buy an Austrian biotech that has been working on a preclinical vaccine candidate, added a collaboration on another vaccine with the nonprofit IAVI and inked a deal with Ridgeback Biotherapeutics on an early-stage antiviral.

The deal with IAVI covers recombinant vesicular stomatitis virus (rVSV) technology that is the basis for Merck’s successful Ebola Zaire virus vaccine. That’s going into the clinic later this year.

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The Advance Clinical leadership team: CEO Yvonne Lungershausen, Sandrien Louwaars - Director Business Development Operations, Gabriel Kremmidiotis - Chief Scientific Officer, Ben Edwards - Chief Strategy Officer

How Aus­tralia De­liv­ers Rapid Start-up and 43.5% Re­bate for Ear­ly Phase On­col­o­gy Tri­als

About Avance Clinical

Avance Clinical is an Australian owned Contract Research Organisation that has been providing high-quality clinical research services to the local and international drug development industry for 20 years. They specialise in working with biotech companies to execute Phase 1 and Phase 2 clinical trials to deliver high-quality outcomes fit for global regulatory standards.

As oncology sponsors look internationally to speed-up trials after unprecedented COVID-19 suspensions and delays, Australia, which has led the world in minimizing the pandemic’s impact, stands out as an attractive destination for early phase trials. This in combination with the streamlined regulatory system and the financial benefits including a very favourable exchange rate and the R & D cash rebate makes Australia the perfect location for accelerating biotech clinical programs.

Af­ter de­cou­pling from Re­gen­eron, Sanofi says it’s time to sell the $13B stake picked up in the mar­riage

With Regeneron shares going for a peak price — after doubling from last fall — Sanofi is putting a $13 billion stake in their longtime partner on the auction block. And Regeneron is taking $5 billion of that action for themselves.

Sanofi — which has been decoupling from Regeneron for more than a year now — bought in big in early 2013, back when Regeneron’s stock was going for around $165 a share. Small investors flocked to the deal, buzzing about an imminent takeover. The buyout chatter wound down long ago.

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Piv­otal myas­the­nia gravis da­ta from ar­genx au­gur well for FcRn in­hibitors in de­vel­op­ment

Leading the pack of biotechs vying for a piece of the generalized myasthenia gravis (gMG) market with an FcRn inhibitor, argenx on Tuesday unveiled keenly anticipated positive late-stage data on its lead asset, bringing it one step closer to regulatory approval.

Despite steroids, immunosuppressants, acetylcholinesterase inhibitors, and Alexion’s Soliris, patients with the rare, chronic neuromuscular disorder (more than 100,000 in the United States and Europe) don’t necessarily benefit from these existing options, leaving room for the crop of FcRn inhibitors in development.

Andrew Hopkins, Exscientia founder and CEO (Exscientia)

Af­ter years of part­ner­ships, AI biotech Ex­sci­en­tia lands first ma­jor fi­nanc­ing round at $60M

After years racking up partnerships with biotechs and Big Pharma, the AI drug developer Exscientia has landed its first large financing round.

The UK-based company raised $60 million in a Series C round led by Novo Holdings — more than double the $26 million it garnered in a Series B 18 months ago. The round will help further the company’s expansion into the US and further what it calls, borrowing a term from the software world, its “full-stack capabilities,” i.e. its ability to develop drugs from the earliest stage to the market.

Covid-19 roundup: Janet Wood­cock steps aside — for now — as FDA drug czar; WHO hits the brakes on hy­droxy study af­ter lat­est safe­ty alarm

The biopharma industry will soon get a look at what the FDA will look like once CDER’s powerful chief Janet Woodcock retires from her post.

Long considered one of the most influential regulators in the agency, if not its single most powerful official when it counts, Woodcock is being detached to devote herself full-time to the White House’s special project to fast-forward new drugs and vaccines for the pandemic. The move comes a week after some quick reshuffling as Woodcock and CBER chief Peter Marks joined Operation Warp Speed. Initially they opted to recuse themselves from any FDA decisions on pandemic treatments and vaccines, after consumer advocates criticized the move as a clear conflict of interest in how the agency exercises oversight on new approvals.

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Janet Woodcock, director of the Center for Drug Evaluation and Research (AP Images)

Covid-19 roundup: Hit with new con­flict ac­cu­sa­tions, Janet Wood­cock steps out of the agen­cy's Covid-19 chain of com­mand

Two weeks ago, FDA drug chieftain Janet Woodcock was assuring a top Wall Street analyst that any vaccine approved for combating Covid-19 would have to meet high agency standards on safety and efficacy before it’s approved. But over the weekend, after she and Peter Marks took top positions with the public-private operation meant to speed a new vaccine to lightning-fast approvals — they both recused themselves from the review process after an advocacy group argued their roles close to the White House could pose a conflict of interest.

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An­oth­er NASH de­lay for In­ter­cept frus­trates in­vestors, shares wilt

A previous FDA advisory committee delay for Intercept’s NASH drug may have dampened spirits, but investors perked up after French rival Genfit recently failed to best a placebo with its offering in a keenly anticipated pivotal study. In yet another twist on Friday, the New York drugmaker said the FDA is postponing its adcom again to accommodate the review of additional data it has asked the company to furnish.

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Eric Edwards, Phlow president and CEO (PR Newswire)

BAR­DA of­fers a tiny start­up up to $812M to cre­ate a US-based drug man­u­fac­tur­er — and the CEO comes with a price goug­ing con­tro­ver­sy on his ré­sumé

BARDA has tapped a largely unknown startup to ramp up production of a list of drugs that may be at risk of running short in the US. And the deal, which comes with up to $812 million in federal funds, was inked by a CEO who found himself in the middle of an ugly price gouging controversy a few years ago.

The feds’ new partner — called Phlow — won a 4-year “base” contract of $354 million, with another $458 million that’s on the table in potential options to sustain the outfit. That would make it one of the largest awards in BARDA’s history.

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