Dr. Youzhi Tong hopes that Suzhou Kintor is not merely a company that only addresses local pharmaceutical needs,but rather a company with a global product layout.
"In comparison with the current environment,it was not easy to develop innovative drugs at that time. What's more difficult is that no one understands your ideas,so it is difficult for innovative drug companies to get investment." Recalling the start-up period of Kintor Pharmaceuticals in 2009,Dr. Youzhi Tong sighed with emotion.
Before returning to China to start a business,Dr. Youzhi Tong successively studied at the Department of Chemistry at Peking University and Cornell University in the United States,and had obtained a doctorate in pharmacology. Since 1999,Dr. Youzhi Tong has had an independent laboratory in the United States and was employed as Senior Research Scientist,Laboratory Director of North Shore-LIJ Heath System,as well as Assistant Professor of Albert Einstein College of Medicine. In 2002,he participated in the founding of Angion Pharmaceutical in the United States and served as vice president,sailing with the wind all the way through.
By chance,Dr. Youzhi Tong contacted domestic pharmaceutical enterprises and found that domestic enterprises had caught up with the United States in hardware,but still lacked independent research and development projects.
"Our generation generally cherishes a sense of patriotism. By returning to start a business,we hope to do something for the country,which is not just driven by technology. To return to China and struggle means to give up the foundation already built in the United States. It takes a lot of courage to start from scratch," Dr. Youzhi Tong said.
In 2008,Dr. Youzhi Tong resigned and returned to China. In 2009,he founded Suzhou Kintor in Suzhou Industrial Park,aiming to produce innovative medicine affordable to ordinary Chinese people.
At that time,the world was shrouded by the financial crisis,coupled with the immature domestic venture capital investment environment for innovative drugs,Suzhou Kintor experienced a difficult time. Dr. Youzhi Tong and his partners funded to complete laboratory renovations,reagent purchases,and employee recruitment. Dr. Youzhi Tong said: "We will deliberately slow down the trial pace and make employees less busy,because faster business consumes more money,which may make it impossible to run the company by the next month."
Pharmaceuticals demand a long cycle and strong capital support,while according to the domestic traditional innovative drug investment model,one can only get a return after the drug is approved for marketing. In the long R & D cycle,there are incessant risks of investment failure,so few foundations have invested in biopharmaceutical field for a long time.
The "marriage" between Legend Star and Suzhou Kintor began with "reliable friend’s introduction". Since its inception,Legend Star has selected health care as one of its key investment areas. The investment strategies target at new technologies and new services. Its first invested medical project is Pegbio,a novel drug company. While learning in Legend Star startup CEO special training class,Pegbio CEO brought Suzhou Kintor into contact with Legend Star. The two thus successfully united.
Nowadays,domestic investment in innovative drugs has embarked on fast lane. With the aid of the policy environment and investment innovation models,more and more funds have flowed to the research and development of innovative drugs. The market experts even believe that innovative drugs will offer the biggest investment opportunity in the next 1-2 decades.
Having been established for nearly a decade, Suzhou Kintor boasts gorgeous team with national talents and has made dazzling achievements in the development of innovative drugs:
Proxalutamide,an independently developed new-generation AR antagonist,has entered phase III clinical trials for prostate cancer and breast cancer,which is one of the few domestic independently-developed novel drugs that receive concurrent clinical trials in China and the United States,and also one of the few products that are included in the special projects of "SignificantNovel Drugs Development" of both the 12th and 13th Five-Year Plans;
?Having obtained Pfizer-granted exclusive global license for the first new tumor antibody drug,the drug is expected to become the world's first fully human therapeutic monoclonal antibody against Activin receptor-like kinase-1(ALK-1);
?The Group has successfully landed on the National Equities Exchange and Quotations ......
The founder Dr. Youzhi Tong has also gradually transformed from a scientist to an entrepreneur in a decade.
As a student of Legend Star startup CEO special training class,Dr. Youzhi Tong refers to it as "The Huangpu Military Academy of Chinese Entrepreneurs." “For us who have been living overseas for a long time,the special training class enables me to take a very practical step. The one year of study has given me a systematic education in all knowledge aspects such as team building,company management,and business models."
In the process of leading Suzhou Kintor ,Dr. Youzhi Tong also cherishes greater goals. He hopes that Suzhou Kintor is not merely a company that only addresses local pharmaceutical needs,but rather a company with a global product layout.
The following is Legend Star (LS)’s dialogue with Dr. Youzhi Tong:
LS: You have lived in the United States for years and now you return to China to start novel drugs business. What differences do you feel?
Dr. Youzhi Tong: First of all,in terms of entrepreneurial motivation,American entrepreneurs are more technology-driven. For instance,some scientists finding that some technologies can change certain layout of the world and will more likely work with professional managers to do this. However,practitioners in the Chinese biopharmaceutical industry start business after accumulating a lot of knowledge and experiences,who are more often driven by the feelings of serving the country through industry. For us who studied abroad after the reform and opening up,there is a deep sense of patriotic. I return to start business mainly in the hope of doing something for my country.
Secondly,one starting business in China need start from scratch in the field of intellectual property rights. Otherwise,there will be infringement of intellectual property rights. It needs determination to start from scratch when building biopharmaceutical enterprise.
Finally,in terms of support for entrepreneurs,the United States has a relatively complete system. Entrepreneurs can gain support via relatively fixed channels,such as national-level SME funds. However,starting biopharmaceutical business in China has gone through the process from winter to now spring or summer. When I just returned to China,few people invested in biomedicine,but Legend Star invested in us in 2012. It was not until 2014 and 2015 that funds dedicated to biomedicine were differentiated from integrated funds.
LS: During this period,the movie "Dying to Survive" aroused everyone's attention to R&D and approval of novel drugs. Suzhou Kintor began development of Proxalutamide from 2009,but foreign similar drug Enzalutamide has now entered the Chinese market. How do you see the competition pattern in the future?
Dr. Youzhi Tong: Suzhou Kintor has been committed to develop real innovative drugs affordable for the Chinese. This carries both medical and economic significances.
In terms of medical significance,when we started research in proxalutamide in 2009,we used enzalutamide as a benchmark innovative drug. At that time,enzalutamide was very likely to become a patent medicine,but had defects in safety,and we thoughtthat we could make better drugs. Later,we made a number of changes based on the chemical structure of enzalutamide to improve its molecular solubility and kinetic properties,thereby reducing side effects of the drug. At the same time,we discovered its unique pharmacological mechanism of reducing the expression of targeted androgen receptor genes. Proxalutamide is expected to become the best clinical drug against prostate cancer.
In terms of economic significance,although enzalutamide is effective for patients with advanced prostate cancer,the high medical expenses of hundreds of thousands a year are unaffordable for most Chinese patients.
To make medicines in China,the first requirement is public welfare consideration. We must find ways to provide medicines of the same quality,or even better quality,and be economically affordable at the same time. Hence,speaking from the perspective of competitive pattern,I think that in China,proxalutamide has certain advantages regardless of efficacy,safety or economic aspect.
We have been conducting phase I clinical trials in the United States since 2016 and are now starting phase II clinical trials. Suzhou Kintor not only has proxalutamide,but has three innovative drugs that are prepared to be developed in China and overseas at the same time,which are currently in different stages of clinical trials. Innovative drugs not only face Chinese patients,but also serve global patients. We hope that Suzhou Kintor is not merely a company that only addresses local pharmaceutical needs,but rather a company with a global product layout. At the same time,it is our hope to create a complete novel drugs industry chain so that we can find our own way out in all aspects of early research and development,development,production and future sales.
LS: Establishing cooperation with large companies can effectively open up a new prospect. Pfizer licenses ALK-1 antibody drug that has entered clinical trials stage to Pioneer. Which characteristics of Suzhou Kintor attract it?
Dr. Youzhi Tong: Pfizer's First-in-Class has been developed for a long time,consuming huge investment. In 2015,the number of new liver cancer patients in China was 466,000,accounting for half of all new liver cancer cases worldwide. Pfizer hopes to find suitable enterprise in China and make some arrangements based on cancer pattern of Chinese patients. This is the basis for possibility of our cooperation.
Pfizer works with us because,on the one hand,it values that Suzhou Kintor is a returnee team that has professional capabilities,and has accumulated a lot of experiences in novel drugs development. More importantly,our team is actually engaged in the research and development of innovative drugs,rather than using projects for the purpose of financing or money encirclement. Innovation of clinical trials is an important part of drug innovation. We also want to display Chinese clinical development through this project. Also,we have confidence and adventurous spirit to promote the development of this drug,bringing clinically innovative and effective treatment options to the majority of liver cancer patients in China.
LS: What's your biggest change after entrepreneurship in the past decade?
Dr. Youzhi Tong: Each company has different development opportunities. We are fortunate to encounter an era of drastic changes in China's biopharmaceutical industry. From lack of attention to great attention at the government level,from the indifference of the investment industry to the active response in VC and social funds,changes in the broad environment will push you to go faster and better.
Definitely,I have changed a lot in the past decade. I will constantly adjust my mindset. As an entrepreneur,one must first seize some development opportunities. There are many times when one feels heavy responsibilities,because the entire company depends on your decision,and everything you do cannot be proved to be a progress or retreat,be right or wrong at that time. An entrepreneur is first and foremost a decision maker who needs very comprehensive consideration. At the same time,for a business manager,time is very important. One cannot take actions and make decisions sluggishly. Once a decision is made,one has to definitely move forward if it is confirmed and bear the responsibility if the decision is wrong.