The Consulate General of Switzerland in Shanghai - Commercial Section
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ISSUE N° 9 July, 2001



It was reported that on May 23, the genomics stocks, many of which hit new lows at the end of March or beginning of April, appeared to be gaining momentum and renewed investor confidence following the Internet crash. Noticeably, many people were separating genome stocks out from the negative association with the Internet stocks and started to differentiating genomics companies from biotech in general. How long will the pull-up last? Will the genome heat be another bubble like internet? Many people would ask while the answer seems vague yet. But to most scientists, whatever the performance of the genomics stocks on the stock market, the significance of the human genome research can hardly be doubted. 

Human beings are proud of their dazzling achievements in the 20th century: the atomic bomb represented the swift improvement in the field of physics; space exploration extended mankind' s relationship into the boundless universe; the Internet is turning the whole globe into a small village. Nevertheless, in the opinion of Professor Yang Huaming, the chief scientist of the Chinese Human Genome Project (HGP), "HGP, dubbed the top three projects in natural science together with the Manhattan Atomic Bomb Project and the Apollo Space Project, is the most urgent and far-reaching one."

A decade ago, HGP was still a question of intensive dispute. Now more and more people and governments have realised its profound potential influence. The human genome research will unravel the riddles in various fields such as medicine industry, agriculture and livestock breeding. It will lead human beings into a brand-new era of bio-science and bio- technology on the basis of DNA sequencing. 

China Human Genome Project 

The Human Genome Project (HGP) was first introduced by the U.S in 1985, but officially launched on October 1, 1990. HGP aims to map out the sequence of all three billion nucleotide pairs, which will help decode the structure and function of the 30,000 genes in the human body and thus reveal a mass of information on human genetics. Italy, the U.K France and a few other countries followed the program in 1987, 1989 and 1990 respectively. Currently international HGP has six participants: the United States, Japan, Britain, France, Germany and China.

China's dedication to the human genome research began in 1994 under the initiation of such scientists as Wu Ming, Qing Bo-qiang, Chen Zhu and Yang Huan-ming and sponsorship of the National Fund of Natural Science , the Chinese Hi-tech Program 863. Receiving further support from the National Ministry of Science and Technology (MoST), the Chinese National Human Genome Center was then founded with two locations, in Beijing and Shanghai. (Please refer to the following list of Chinese major official genetic research institutes)

Founded in Research Institute Director Contact Info
Shanghai Human Genome
Research Centre;
renamed as:
The National Human
Genome Centre 
in Southern China (Shanghai)
Chen Zhu  No.351Guoshoujing Rd.,
Zhangjiang Hi-tech Park, Shanghai(201203)
Tel.86 21 6474 0490 
August-1998 The Human Genome Centre
of the Chinese Academy of
(Huada Human Genome
Research Centre)
Yang Huanming Beijing Airport Industry ZoneB-6,
Post Code:101300
1999 The National Human
Genome Centre in 
Nothern China
Qiang Boqin 3# 707, Yong Chang North Rd.,
Bejing Economic & Tech Development Zone,
Beijing  100176

In September 1999, China was accepted as the sixth member country of the international HGP by taking on the sequencing of 1% of the human genome "working draft", which maps out across the 90% of the human genome. That assignment was completed in June last year. Then China HGP continued its participation by improving the gap and accuracy to achieve a complete DNA reference sequence. CAS Huada Centre first finished the mandatory 80% of China's task at the end of last year. In February 2001, the two offices of the Chinese National Human Genome Centre in Beijing and Shanghai also fulfilled their parts. Required by the international HGP, the Chinese institutes afterward finished an additional 0.13% of the complete draft by the end of April this year. The international HGP is scheduled to achieve the complete sequence by April 2003, and China has finished its part two years ahead of the schedule.

Through the participation in the HGP, China has trained its own research personnel of genome and laid a pretty good technological platform for its life science development. Now China ranks fourth in the world in terms of gene sequencing capacity. However, according to the People's Daily (September 7th 2000), China's genetic research project still is short of all sorts of talents, ranging from the fresh graduates to the seasoned researchers and those who are both proficient in computer and biology. The dilemma is simply caused by the low salary, in contrast with the first-class and advanced equipment in the labs. The CAS Huada Center HR Department Director Mr. Wang admitted to the media , " It's especially difficult to lure in the computer professionals. The sharp salary difference between our centre and any IT companies is the main reason. "

International Symposium on Environmental Genomics & Pharmacogenetics

The "International Symposium on Environmental Genomics & Pharmacogenetics" was held in Shanghai during May 14-17, 2001. It convened nearly three hundred scientists of research institutes and pharmaceutical companies from home and abroad. Environmental Genomics & Pharmacogenetics were the two major themes of the seminar, as its name implied. 

The deputy president of the Chinese Academy of Science (CAS), Prf. CHEN Zhu pointed out that due to the interaction between enviroment and inherent causes, people of diffrent kinds may contract various diseases, while the curative effects of medicine therapy can be widely divergent. Therefore, it is important to clarify the genetic distinction among different kinds of peoples and find out the functional genes in relation to the diseases. The Chinese Academy of Science has entered such studies as interaction between hereditary information and environment into the list of major research projects in the new century. Environmental Genomics & Pharmacogenetics thus are not only the research areas scientists are working on but also herald the new orientation of genetic reasearch. 

During the seminar, several messages were sent out, catching a glimpse of some of the latest interesting happenings in the human genetic research in China. 

  1. Roche announced that it has achieved some progress in the research projects in co-operation with the Chinese National Genome Center. The Roche China Newsletter of June, 2001 quoted Dr. Jonathan Knowles, R&D Director at Roche Basel, that "Roche has a very productive and smooth co-operation with Chinese scientific research institutes. In the research on apoplexy, the No.1 killing disease in China, we have found certain genetic factors that may predispose the illness". 

    Since 1999, Roche has co-operated with the Chinese National Human Genome Centres in Beijing and Shanghai and injected USD 1 million into the joint project to identify disease-related genes by conducting genetic epidemiology studies, such as central nervous system related diseases schizophrenia, Alzheimer's disease and aploplexy (stroke) and metabolic diseases such as diabetes and Obesity in the Chinese population.

  2. The Sino-German Centre at Beijing Fu Wai Hospital declared that the researchers have identified 4 genes related to the heart development and atherosclerosis as well as 15 genetic mutations related to plump cardiac muscle (myocardium).

  3. United Gene Holdings Ltd., partnering researchers from Fudan University of Shanghai and from Liverpool University of the U.K, has cloned and separated the gene in relation to ITP metabolism, a discovery reported for the first time in the world. This gene has great influence on the prevention of human genetic mutation. It was identified among the 8000 cDNA (Complementary DNA or copy DNA) in the company's Gene Database.

It is worth noting that the company is private-owned, founded by Professors Mao Yuming and Xie Yi from Fudan University in 1998 with a start-up capital of CNY 5 million (USD 605'000). Professor Mao, 49-year-old, is concurrently the president of the Life Science College of the university. Now the company assets exceeds CNY 1 billion (USD 121 million). With mainly nine subsidiaries, the company has built up a full chain in biology industry: gene cloning and sequencing, gene database, microarray (DNA chip), bioinformatics, gene function research, gene-based patent service, online biology service and drug discovery. 

The achievements of United Gene Holdings Ltd. have not only won the reputation of "UG Management Model" in the industry, but also attracted many talents with all kinds of background. Mr. Zhu Chunrong, a friend of the writer of this report, is such an example. 

"I couldn't help getting excited when I learned about the United Gene development. I believe the genetic revolutionary research is leading a vital biological industrialisation. So I quit my former post as a senior manager and joined UG as the assistant to CEO. My salary level dropped by half from my previous job." said Mr. Zhu, "Yet I don't mean I have made a sacrifice. On the contrary, like all my colleagues, I am generously offered: above all is the greatest career. Secondly the strong value-corporate culture that unites the whole team and respects individual value. Among the 500 employees, 70% have received university education with various majors---life science, IT, business and management; and 30% have master or doctoral degrees. Twenty professors and overseas-studied elite have taken the key research and managerial positions. Finally the rewarding system, though currently the salary level is not high compared to other industries. But all employees are committed to have stock options on performance basis. Such commitment is not lip service or future rights, it is being realised. The shareholders restructuring project has transferred the due shares to the names of every employee. The total amount of the shares held by scientific researchers is around 75% of the company shares."

In December 1999, the company's "Gene Database and Analysis Management System" passed the appraisal by the Shanghai Science and Technology Committee, which signaled the first localised human gene database in China. The gene bank contains all international public gene information and the company's proprietary information. On August 28, 2000, the company financed CNY 250 million (USD 30 million) with its genetic chip (microarray) technology and with a Guangdong bio-tech company jointly set up the new Shanghai BioStar Genechip Inc. This also was the first project in China to mass produce the DNA chips. 

All this is not the end of the company's ambition. The highlights of the company's development strategy include:

  • It will team up with the local government of Shanghai's Yangpu District where it is located to build a 3.3-hectare bio-medicine complex they hope will become Asia's Gene Valley. The company envisions a series of factories developing and producing gene-based medicines, lab-hatched alternatives to Chinese herbal remedies and the genetic chips.

  • It will invest CNY 160 million (USD 19.3 million) in its R& D department, amounting to 55% of last year's sales revenue.

  • It has acquired 26% of the shares of a Hongkong listed medicine enterprise. With this step, the company intends to enter the international capital market. The key goal is to develop 10 proprietary gene-based medicines in ten years.

Interested party may contact Unite Gene Holding Ltd. at the following address:
5F, Bldg. 3, 1111 Zhongsha Bei Er Rd., Shanghai 200092
Tel. 86 21 6501 5366, Fax86 21 6503 0363 

Events Coming up

As far as the undersigned knows, two major conferences regarding the human genome research will take place in China in the near future.

  • From August 30 to 31, 2001, Hangzhou, capital city of Zhejiang province, will host the International Conference of Human Genome Project.

    High profiles to attend the international HGP co-ordination meeting include 
    Francis Collins, general co-ordinator of international HGP and director of the National Human Genome Research Institute of the United States, and other principals of 16 research institutes from the six member countries.

  • The 7th International Human Genome Organisation (HUGO) Conference will take place in April 2002 in Shanghai. Dr. Lap-Chee Tsui, president of this very reputed academic organisation international council, told the media that it will be the first time to hold such a meeting in a developing country and that it shows the confidence of HUGO in developing countries in the field of genetic research.


China's involvement in HGP and its other genetic research programs began almost ten years later or even longer than western countries. Realising the profound influence of such research on various fields and boasting rich human genetic resources, China has been granting more and more support to the genetic research programs. Through the participation, China has laid a solid research platform, cultivated the sequencing ability and made impressive progress. China's official research institutes have become an increasingly active part of the international human genome program. Meanwhile, private business, for example the United Gene Holdings Ltd., is also trying to have a hand in both the research and commercialisation of genetic information, as its counterpart in the United States Celera Genomics Corporation does.

Freda Wang 
Commercial Officer
Shanghai, July 31st, 2001



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