Zone Injects Innovation Into Healthcare Industry

Updated:2018-04-09By Yuan Shenggao (China Daily)

Zhangjiang has sprung to the forefront of stem cell research as well as cutting-edge precision medicine development in the nation

The Zhangjiang National Innovation Demonstration Zone in Shanghai has become one of the largest medical industrial clusters in China, achieving a number of scientific breakthroughs.

Statistics from the zone show that the industrial output value and total sales revenue of its biopharmaceutical enterprises reached 71.7 billion yuan ($11.37 billion) and 77.8 billion yuan, respectively, in 2017.

Zhangjiang has played a prominent role in promoting the development of stem cell therapy technologies over the past few years in China.

Stem cell therapy refers to the use of stem cells to treat or prevent a disease or condition. Bone marrow transplants are the most widely-used form of stem cell therapy today.

Liu Zhongmin, president of Tongji University-affiliated East Hospital, who is an expert in the treatment of heart disease, believes that the application of stem cell therapy technologies will initiate a "disruptive revolution" in the medical industry in the next five-to-10 years.

He said traditional treatment methods have reached a bottleneck in treating some complex diseases, which has led to rapid development of stem cell technologies.

In 2014, the zone partnered with East Hospital, one of the top hospitals in Shanghai's Pudong New Area, to launch a stem cell therapy industrial facility aimed at turning research results into real practice.

In this partnership, the hospital is responsible for integrating resources from the world's medical practical and research sectors, while Zhangjiang is responsible to play a leading and exploratory role in providing all necessary support to the center.

The facility has become one of the most well-equipped stem cell research and development, commercialization and public service platforms in China. Currently, more than 200 globally leading experts in stem cell research work at or for the center.

"A new thing does not always mean new content - it can also be a new system or mechanism," Liu said.

He added that in the industrial center construction process, East Hospital serves as a platform that can rapidly attract premier resources along the industrial chain, which can speed up research results' commercialization processes.

Zhangjiang has also made breakthroughs in attracting top experts, according to the zone. It has provided a fund of nearly 80 million yuan, accounting for 80 percent of total government support, to attract experts.

Liu said the facility will pay more and closer attention to developing new standards in the stem cell industry, for instance, clinical application standards and production standards which are expected to be achieved in the coming years.

"We need to have some reliable stem cell therapy results and set up standards, so as to strengthen China's role in the stem cell sector in the world," Liu said.

The zone's contribution to the healthcare sector is far wider reaching than stem cells treatment. Apart from committing to promoting stem cells treatment technologies, the zone also supports sectors such as precision medicine and the development of big data systems for healthcare.

A platform that integrates cancer precision diagnostics, big data services and new drug development under one roof has been built up in the zone. It is hoped that the integrated model will bring about new ways of treating diseases such as cancer.

3DMed, a company specializing in the development of precision medicine in the zone, has become a pioneer in expanding such a platform, generating positive results.

Precision medicine has become a buzzword in the healthcare sector over the past few years. Compared with traditional ways in treating cancer, precision medicine focuses on providing tailor-made solutions to patients based on different situations and conditions in the body.

China has embraced precision medicine on a large scale with a number of medical organizations, academic institutions and enterprises involved in the field. Favorable policies have also been introduced to promote growth in related businesses.

In addition, the zone has constantly promoted the development and application of big data technology in the healthcare industry.

Supported by the zone, a medical big data public service platform was established by the Second Military Medical University and Biotecan Biomedical Technology Co in 2016. The total investment involved reached 200 million yuan.

The platform can provide functions such as data mining and precision medical decision making, gene data processing and mobile terminals. It has achieved outstanding results in collecting data and analyzing diseases such as prostate cancer.

Biotecan is one of enterprises focusing on precision medicine and medical big data in Zhangjiang. The company has launched a series of gene-related lab testing programs to serve the demands of different people. It has built more than 80 molecular medical diagnostic labs in China's top hospitals across the country.