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31 October, 2019 - 22:32 By Kate Sweeney

China’s ageing population presents opportunity for Cambridge bio companies

The Cambridge China Forum successfully connected local and UK businesses with China-based trade and investment opportunities.

Bringing together Cambridge tech-sector entrepreneurs, experts on trade, international patenting laws and government representatives enabled both established companies and start-ups contemplating their next steps to connect with the right people.  

The Forum highlighted Cambridge and China developments in the sectors of biotechnology, 5G, Impact Investing and Artificial Intelligence. Emerging from the Pitch Event were additional expositions of cutting-edge Sensor, Audio, Manufacturing and Agricultural technologies.  

Pharma and Bio technologies were repeatedly singled out during the Cambridge China Forum and Pitch Event as being extra-appealing to the China-based investors and collaboration.  Two reason were cited. The first is that China’s young labour force is currently in decline while the elderly population is increasing. 

Recent Chinese statistics reveal that in 2017, for every person 65+ years old, there were six workers aged 20-64 to support them. By 2039, this ratio is expected to decline to only two workers in the 20-64 bracket for every person that is 65 and above (Deutche Welle, 09/09/19).

The second reason for the appeal of Pharma technology to Chinese investors is that it raises relatively few national security concerns compared to other emerging technologies such as AI or foundational technologies like semiconductors.

While attractive technologies such as 5G and Artificial Intelligence have come under international scrutiny for fears of how they can be applied by governments and military bodies, Pharma does not raise the same warning flags.

There was broad agreement at the Forum that Pharma and Bio technologies present great opportunities for mutually beneficial collaborations between the UK and China.

During a panel discussion on the Cambridge Bioscience Forefront, panellists David Coorey (Global Vice-President of Sales, Abcam), Dr Simon Haworth (Dynasty Biotechnology) and Professor Chris Lowe (Director of the Cambridge Academy of Therapeutic Sciences) delved into the differences and common ground between Cambridge and China-based Bio and Pharma industries.  

One key point that emerged through their open and insightful discussion was the notion of the ‘low-hanging fruit’ of the Pharma and Bio industry. The panellists reflected on rationales for investing in technologies that offer a quick return or to invest in solving problems that may take more than a decade.

It was clear through the discussion that UK companies such as Abcam have been successful in China through long-term investment and development. 
When the question was turned to Chinese investments into Cambridge Pharma and Bio technologies, there was a sense that the pattern was changing and that Chinese companies would be making more longer-term commitments into innovative UK Pharma and Biotechnology companies to address the challenges and potentials of the ageing Chinese population. 
Signs of future commitments were clear with the Cambridge China Forum and Business Pitch Event being co-organised by two organisations (Cambridge China Centre and TusPark UK) that have made long-term commitments to investing and facilitating Cambridge and China-based innovation.

• PHOTOGRAPH: The 2019 Cambridge China Forum biotechnology panel – Dr Simon Haworth (left), David Coorey (centre) and Professor Chris Lowe

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