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MARKET INSIGHT


Funding the frontier of new drug discovery


How is one Chinese biotechnology group succeeding in supporting the earliest stage of new drug discovery when global pharmaceutical companies have given up? Dr Jun Mao, founder and chairwoman of Viva Ventures, explains how it leverages its in- house expertise to invest in hundreds of biotech startups in the $20 trillion global pharmaceutical and biotechnology market.


Viva Ventures has a long history in supporting drug discovery for disease cures in China and the United States, can you explain more about the market opportunity? It goes back 26 years when the founders of Viva Biotech, including my brother Dr Cheney Mao, were researchers and scientists in the US. Many like my brother were scattered around the top institutions and pharmaceutical research labs in the US; focused on precision medicine and drug discovery. They faced the same dilemma, were the existing funding resources allocated to the most promising new drug projects? Drug discovery at top pharmaceutical companies experienced high attrition rates with lower success rates from internal discoveries than in- license from small biotech firms. Many of them shut down their drug discovery departments. The real problem was how in-house scientists were incentivised and remunerated. All of them were on equal pay despite some of the scientists being very innovative and discovering new drugs, and other scientists only taking their salary and not innovating. Thus the “burn rates”—the cost to keep scientists working on these programmes—were so high that all the


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drug discovery programmes constantly required fundraising without promising outcomes. The solution we provide is clear: 1. we identify who are the innovative scientists, 2. the investors distributing our investment funds are experts in drug discovery, and 3. biotechnology and drug development has reached a mature period as human gene data is now widely available so researchers can now identify the basis of new drugs with a much higher success rate.


INVESTING IN BIOTECH AND NEW DRUG DISCOVERY COMPANIES IS A MOST REWARDING EXPERIENCE


You’ve seen an increase in families investing in the drug discovery sector, what are the advantages of investing in the asset class? Biotechnology and pharmaceuticals are very profitable sectors for investments, combined with the fact that our family has a competitive market edge in the sector built on our biotechnology platform with hundreds of scientists. For our family, deploying large capital into the sector is just a reasonable thing to do. Families are long-term investors, compared with other types of technology sectors, and investing in biotech and new drug discovery companies is a most rewarding experience. Not only can it produce handsome returns, it also improves human living conditions. It is the best impact investment with high returns.


How does your unique approach give you a competitive advantage? The business partners at Viva Biotech are 24 leadership scientists who have been in the precision drug discovery field since the 1990s. Between them they have five US Food and Drug Administration (FDA)-approved drugs including Sutent (cancer), Venetoclax (leukaemia) and Lifitegrast (dry eye), TIBSOVO (R/ R AML), Paladiao (veterinary drug) and 50 pipelines that have reached clinic trail stages in US and China.


ISSUE 74 | 2018


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