The world’s biggest country, and biggest market

As they prepare to hand off their patients, Wendy Chen and Kathryn Hogan describe their cases to Viera.
As they prepare to hand off their patients, Wendy Chen and Kathryn Hogan describe their cases to Viera.

If you wanted to find one place with some of the thorniest issues confronting biotechnology, you’d need look no further than China. With more than a fifth of the world’s people living inside its borders, China has an enormous market for food and drugs, as well as an emerging biotech industry and venture capitalists. And it faces serious problems as it applies biotechnology to agriculture and pharmaceuticals.

The country’s pharmaceutical industry lacks original discoveries in its portfolio and, said Zhangliang Chen, Ph.D., director of China’s National Laboratory of Protein Engineering and Plant Genetic Engineering, “You have 20 companies producing the same drug.” In a talk in December sponsored by the Peking-Yale Joint Center for Plant Molecular Genetics and Agro-biotechnology, Chen said China is also producing genetically modified foods—which he believes to be the most efficient way to produce food in poor countries, despite controversy over their safety. “If we use organic agriculture in China,” he said, “many people are going to die because of starvation.”