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weichang zhou, CTO

Why Join WuXi Biologics? – A Testimonial by Weichang Zhou, Chief Technology Officer

“I am very proud of what my team has accomplished so far. We are one of the largest biologics development teams globally. We have been enabling our partners and clients, large and small, to efficiently develop biologics to benefit patients worldwide by taking advantages of our open access and technology platforms and capabilities.”

Weichang Zhou, CTO, WuXi Biologics


Why did you choose to go back to China after many years of success in the US?

It was actually quite unexpected. After I got my PhD, I did post doc work in Germany, Switzerland and the US. Then I started to work for Merck in the US. I was doing very well, with no limitations in my career development.  However, after working in the industry for so many years and experiencing so many new products being developed and marketed, but few of them available in China, I started to think about doing something to change it. So, after more than 20 years in the US, I began to think about going back to China to help bring new medicines to the people there.  I saw many of my former colleagues doing the same and after going back to visit, it became more and more obvious that I needed to do this.

Why choose WuXi?

Chris Chen, then the SVP of WuXi AppTec and now CEO of WuXi Biologics, through a causal conversation, knew I was considering coming back to China. He and Edward Hu, CFO of WuXi AppTec, invited me to visit.  They made me an offer to join the company shortly after that. I felt this was an opportunity I could not pass up.  Many of the people at WuXi had US corporate experience, and shared the same goals that I did. WuXi is different from all other companies based in China. It is more of an open access capability and technology based platform. It provides the basis for the future enabling of efficient and speedy drug development. Using this platform, I am able to work with many more companies; enable development of more products for both Chinese patients and global patients than if I worked with only one company.

How was your experience after joining WuXi? Did you experience any culture shock when you went back to China?

WuXi AppTec Group made its name for its advanced technology platform and many colleagues in the management team have strong global pharmaceutical industry experience. Therefore, I did not experience much difference when interacting with colleagues.

The biggest adjustment was to adapt to the fast turnaround time, and the lack of advanced planning. The pace here in Shanghai and China is generally much faster. The US pharma industry was very mature, but the China pharma industry, especially the biologics industry was behind. Now the Chinese Pharma industry is in a rapid growth state. Instead of going through all the procedures of a pharmaceutical company, we have to do many things from the beginning and make many decisions within a short time. My responsibility has shifted from managing a mature team to establishing and developing a much larger team within a relatively short time while working on many projects at the same time. It keeps me very busy and very engaged; we need to deal with many different challenges on many different frontiers.

I hesitated at the beginning when I came back to China in 2012, as I was not sure what I could contribute. Six years ago, WuXi Biologics was at its beginning stages; we were a business unit of WuXi AppTec with about 200 people and there were many challenges and uncertainties. Now, the picture is a little different. There are many opportunities, and much growth in China. Nevertheless, 6 years ago, we really did not know what we were facing and where we might go.  The good thing is Dr. Ge Li and WuXi AppTec Group provided a very strong foundation for us to grow our business.

What unique advantage does WuXi Biologics have that no other company can provide for your career goals?

Many people think WuXi Biologics is a “CRO” or  “CDMO”, however, the company is not a traditional “CRO” or “CDMO”. It is much more than that. It is more of an “enabling company”. We help with developing many pharmaceutical products for our clients that eventually can help patients. We enable good ideas to become products.

A traditional company’s business model is very clear: you develop products, launch to the market for profit. However, WuXi Biologics is very different from that. For WuXi Biologics, the more projects you work on, the more resources you may have, the faster you may grow and the more successful you may be. You are driving a lot forward with your team. Even at big pharmaceutical companies, you can only spend a certain amount of money on R&D due to the limited budget; it does not matter how good your idea is. At WuXi Biologics, we do not have these types of budgetary limits or constraints.

Are there any examples where WuXi Biologics made “the impossible” possible? Are there any projects you are very proud of while working for WuXi Biologics?

We are more “enablers” behind the scene. We have contributed to the development of many innovations and have enabled translating many new ideas to benefit patients worldwide. For example, a startup company called Callidus, had an idea to develop a second-generation enzyme replacement therapy for treating a rare disease, Pompe disease. Nevertheless, they only had 2.5 people, 2 full time scientists and 1 part time Finance person when they worked with us. They had some funding but not a lot. Therefore, they received investment from our sister company WuXi Healthcare Ventures. WuXi Healthcare Ventures is now part of 6 Dimensions Capital.  Our team helped them to translate the idea into a proof of concept within 18 months. Amicus bought the company for 135 M USD.  Moreover, Amicus continues working with us to further develop and manufacture this product and it is now in late stage clinical trials.

We have many examples like this. By the end of 2017, we helped file over 70 INDs in China, the US and Europe. In 2017 alone, we filed 29 INDs for our partners and clients. Typically, large US biotech companies, have less than 10 INDs for biologics per year.  It is quite obvious how much more we can accomplish.

Another example, is how we helped Ambrx, a biotech company based in San Diego, and its Chinese Partner, Zhejiang Medicine, develop one of their site-specific antibody drug products and file INDs in China, Australia and the US. Even though the technology and idea has been there for a long time, WuXi Biologics was the first to enable the development of a product candidate for clinical trials. We have enabled so many companies on their way to develop so many products that eventually help the patients. We are very proud of these achievements.

Do you have any suggestions for young people who want to return to China regarding career development?   Any suggestions regarding on the typical dilemma of “staying in the US vs going back to China”?

I have actually been talking with many recent graduates in both China and the US. If you are interested in contributing to the development of new enabling technologies, innovative ideas and biologics products from concept to commercialization, WuXi Biologics is the place to be. We are turning DNAs of product candidates to BLAs (Biologics Licensing Applications) for improving patients’ lives.

I remember one returnee we made offer to was very undecided. In one email the candidate accepted the offer, in another email then declined the offer. This went back forth for several rounds but at the end, the candidate did not come work for us. I understand it is a big decision for returnees who have a good job and stable life abroad. However, with risk comes opportunities. For example, many colleagues I recruited had only a scientist title when they worked in the US. After returning to China to work for WuXi Biologics, they all grew rapidly, from leading 1 or 2 people to leading a team of 50-60 people.

WuXi Biologics provides many opportunities. Team members help each other. You can make a big impact here. You will never have to worry about not having enough projects to work on. You will have the chance to work in a global environment.  If you are passionate about what you are doing, want to bring medicine to patients, and develop an advanced technology platform, please join us.

What does WuXi Biologics’ work environment looks like?

Teamwork:  We emphasize teamwork a lot here. Everything you do, you do in a team environment. You cannot only rely on what you do by yourself; you have to rely on your team members. You will work with people with very diverse backgrounds. You learn from each other.

Global vision: As a global company, we interact with clients from Europe, US, Japan…

Creative: Since we are working with new molecules, a lot of the time, you have to create new technologies to solve the problems.

Leadership: There are over 1500 people in my team. We are one of the largest biologics development team in the world if not the largest. You will lead a much larger team and have the opportunity to make a bigger impact.

Influence without authority:  The work environment is very transparent; we encourage people to speak out with their ideas and opinions.

What is your definition of Success?

It is a big question. I do not pre-determine success. Success is how you feel about what you do and what you can contribute. As Merck’s founder, George Merck said, “Medicine is for the people, not for the profits…” The products we help develop make impact to people’s lives – this is success.  For me, personally, success is twofold: first, make a big impact on helping patients to improve their life by helping the development of more innovative products. Second, help train young professionals on their career development who will have their success in developing more innovative products and contribute to improve patients’ lives.

Click here for more WuXi Biologics Perspectives on our business and the biologics industry