AstraZeneca has announced it will locate its fifth global strategic center in Shanghai, joining centers in Cambridge, UK, Boston and Gaithersburg in the US, and Gothenburg, Sweden.

Richard Daverman

March 1, 2024

3 Min Read

The Shanghai center will differ from the other centers because it will include China/Asia commercial and production operations along with R&D. The new center will play a part in AZ’s global strategy, according to the company. Earlier this year, AZ made a dramatic statement of its interest in China's biopharma innovation by spending $1.2 billion to acquire Gracell Bio, a CAR-T development company headquartered in Suzhou.

The company's Asia-Pacific headquarters, China headquarters, and global R&D China center are already located in Shanghai.

AstraZeneca derives 13% of its global sales from China. Its $44 billion of total sales means that the company is the largest foreign pharmaceutical company in China by revenue.

AstraZeneca also unveiled a plan to assist 30 Shanghai enterprises to go global in 2024. The plan will involve emerging markets that are part of the Belt and Road Initiative as well as the US, Japan and some developed countries in Europe. Through two-way visits, the company plans to promote cross-border cooperation and improve pharmaceutical innovation.

“The purpose of leading the global senior management team to Shanghai is to deepen their understanding of China and Shanghai, continue to increase investment in innovation, and carry out more in-depth cooperation with local innovative pharmaceutical companies in China, so as to make greater contributions to promoting high-quality development of Shanghai's pharmaceutical industry and better benefit patients around the world,” said Pascal Soriot, CEO of AstraZeneca, according to Chinese media.

As a dealmaker in China, AstraZeneca has been very active. Besides the Gracell deal, a partial list of its commitments includes the following:

In 2023:

In 2021:

  • AZ Announces plans to build Shanghai International Life Science Innovation Campus (or iCampus) and Medical Healthcare AI Innovation Center;

In 2019:

  • AZ Plans $1 billion fund for China Biopharma Startups;

  • AZ Signs MOU to Become Founding Partner of Life Science Park in Wuxi, China.

Sharon Barr, executive vice-president of biopharmaceuticals R&D at AstraZeneca, said that the proportion of China R&D in the company's global R&D has been growing consistently. “Over the past decade, we have had 167 studies in China. In addition to that, our China team leads studies that are global. So, from China, we are initiating and leading studies that span the entire planet,” she said. Barr also pointed out that, in the clinical development space, partners in China have an edge in being creative and innovative.

“They test new concepts, and they do this at scale with large patient populations. Also, they use innovative approaches, like leveraging investigator-initiated trials to test our molecules in real populations and understand how they're best working. That's a unique and collaborative approach that's not seen everywhere.”

Last summer, a story surfaced that AZ planned to spin off its Chinese operations and list in Hong Kong or Shanghai, but the company has shrugged this off as a “rumor.” The rumor may have been started after company officials developed “doomsday” plans should extremely difficult relationships between China and the west require the company to have separate operations.

A version of this article was first published in ChinaBio Today on Feb 29, 2024

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