As the CEO of one of the leading global AI-powered biotechnology companies, I regularly see some of the world’s most innovative biotechnology parks and hubs popping up around the world. Over the past two years, I have traveled to several such centers in the United States, Canada, China, Singapore and the Middle East. We have even set up one of our R&D centers at Hong Kong Science and Technology Park. All of these centers have their own advantages and disadvantages which are often in line with government policies and I will try to cover some of these centers in my future posts and make a comparison. So far, some of the most impressive biotech hubs are located in China and Singapore.
One of the centers that has impressed me the most in recent years has been BioBay in Suzhou. It is home to numerous biotech and tech companies, some of which have achieved unicorn status and are contributing to the growth of the global biotech ecosystem.
My first visit to Suzhou for a presentation at a science conference was in 2010. Like everything else in China, in 10 years the city has become unrecognizable. It has become much more developed, greener and more sustainable. And BioBAY is definitely the flagship that is still under development. For those unfamiliar with China, Suzhou is a very green region west of Shanghai. It is only about 1.5 hours drive from the center of Shanghai from the high-tech area of Shanghai called Zhangjiang. If you decide to take a high-speed train, it is 30 minutes from Shanghai. High-speed trains in China are a modern miracle.
The nature of Suzhou is phenomenal with the many pristine green areas, bamboo forests, picturesque Taihu and Dushu lakes, offering spectacular views from the shore and lake if you decide to take a boat ride.
It is home to many prosperous Chinese and rents and property prices will be comparable to those in Chicago, Berlin or other upscale Western cities. It is incredibly green, scenic, and has many cultural sites to visit. It is also home to some of the most comfortable spa hotels with thermal pools located in bamboo forests.
BioBAY at a glance
BioBAY is a global biomedical innovation platform covering a lake area southeast of Suzhou. Like many other tech megahubs in China, BioBAY was launched in stages with Phase I based in the southwest of Suzhou Industrial Park. The foundations were laid in 2006 and it was inaugurated in 2007. If you want to take a virtual tour of the area, here is a Google Maps geotag. Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Asia is located across the street from BioBAY’s headquarters and hosts some of the most prestigious conferences in many areas of biomedical research and attracts some of the best scientists in the world.
The Phase II and Phase III phases of BioBAY’s development include the construction of huge biomedical complexes that will enable the discovery and creation of innovative drugs, including small molecules, biologics, cell therapies, medical devices and robotics complexes.
In Phase I, the ecosystem was already huge and was home to over 500 innovative biotech companies, medical device companies, contract research organizations (CROs) and pharmaceutical companies. For example, one of the largest biopharmaceutical companies in China, BeiGene, is building a huge research and development facility there.
What impressed me the most on my first visit to BioBAY was their level of industry knowledge and in-depth analysis of the biomedical ecosystem. In 2021, I met a similar megahub in another region of China, and while they had some understanding of the technology, they didn’t understand the AI drug discovery (AIDD) industry at all. BioBAY was completely different. After a brief introduction tour, their CEO, Michael Yin, showed a brief overview of the industry, the capabilities of each company, and said, “We are building the industry here. We know what you do and what you can do. Let’s talk about concrete steps and what do you need? “. We wanted to explore the possibility of building one of the largest fully autonomous robotics labs for drug discovery on the planet and needed to find vendors who could help build the infrastructure locally. “We can help with that,” Michael said. I also wanted to do something unusual: collect my tissues and create iPSC and organoid lines to be released to the research community in China openly as a community service. “No problem,” Michael said. And within days we were introduced to Suzhou-based advanced robotics and laboratory automation companies, a leading cell therapy company, and the world-class iPSC and organoid team with multiple papers from Nature and even a cover by Nature. All this within a week during the visit. Unprecedented speed is the motto of this place.
To learn more about BioBAY and expansion plans, I interviewed Michael Yin (Jiangua Yin), CEO of BioBAY and the man behind this great biomedical ecosystem. Michael Yin is a graduate of the Life-science School of the University of Fudan, China, and holds a master’s degree in Biotechnology Engineering.
Interview with BioBAY CEO Michael Yin
Alessio: The first time I visited Suzhou was in 2011. But today, when I walk around Suzhou and especially BioBAY, I feel like I’m on a different planet: it’s very advanced. Can you tell me a little about how BioBAY evolved?
Michael Yin: BioBAY started in the year 2006, around that time of building the facility, BioBAY started attracting scientists from home and abroad, mainly into the small molecule drug, the generic drug. Since the year 2011, when you visited BioBAY for the first time, we have started examining biosimilar projects and, for the next ten years, BioBAY has invested all its resources in upstream, pilot and downstream capabilities. And in the year 2018, we started looking into new modalities like gene therapy, cell therapy and nuclear acid, siRNA and mRNA, drugs. BioBAY has always been at the forefront of technology and we have it inside and out. I guess it makes you feel different every time you come here.
Alessio: Are any of the large global pharmaceutical companies and biotech companies opening centers at BioBAY?
Michael Yin: Right now, the absolute majority of companies in BioBAY and biotech start-ups. The big global pharmaceutical company does not yet have a strong foothold here. We have 540 biotechnology here and there will be a lot of vertical integration and horizontal collaborations within biotechnology and between biotechnology and big drugs. We sincerely welcome multinational corporations (MNCs) to come to BioBAY to create entities and explore opportunities.
Alessio: Are there any exciting success stories you can share? For example, any big breakthroughs from BioBAY?
Michael Yin: I would like to share with typical start-up to Pharma stories. One is INNOVENTO. This company was founded by Dr. Michael Yu and his team 10 years ago. They launched the first PD-1 clinical trial in China and licensed the overseas rights to Eli Lilly. It is also the first PD-1 approved in the National Medical Insurance Catalog. Now, it has been an icon of Suzhou’s BIOPHARMA industry.
Another story is the Abogene, which started only 3 years ago. The then small biotechnology company had a small space in BioBAY, with only 9 employees, 300 square meters of bench – cell-room-CEO and staff-office complex. Today, its covid mRNA vaccine is the first of its kind to enter a phase III trial at home and abroad.
Stories like these abound on BioBAY.
Alessio: In your opinion, what are the key critical technologies that will transform biomedicine in the next decade and what capabilities are you building within BioBAY to acquire these technologies and capabilities?
Michael Yin: Firstly, we are extremely interested in delivery technology, anything or any method that can successfully deliver a small molecule, protein or nuclear acid into the human body and then successfully get into the specific tissue and then start functioning. This technology is simply amazing, be it through lipids, proteins, peptides, polysaccharides, electric vehicles or living organisms and so on.
Secondly, we are interested in connecting technology. However you can put a chemical, a protein, a DNA, an RNA to one of them or to a living organism. We are interested. Conversely, we are also interested in ways that can degrade the above, it’s like YIng-e-Yang Taoism.
Thirdly, we are excited about the recent advances in cell therapy, such as CART, with bi-specific antibodies, auto-NK, TIL, TCRT, these new cell therapy modalities have already fundamentally changed the way people treat liquid cancer. and we can’t wait that they will conquer the solid tumor. I must also mention stem cell therapies, especially the IPSC.
For the indications, we are optimistic about the possibility of clear progress in neuronal diseases, the field of which has long been filled with setbacks and failures. But recent advances have given us tremendous confidence. We’ve seen Biobay scientists trying to use different ways to address it, whether through gene therapy, stem cells, induction of small molecules, peptides and factors, or the combination of the above.
For the modes, AI technology has certainly been a crucial way to the present and essential to the future in the early stage of discovery, screening, validation, testing, CMC or production. It has changed the way we think and do things. From a single compound to a single cell, AI will play a major role in our decision making. Future labs will be completely different from what they are now.
Alessio: What are your plans for the next 5 years? And 20?
Michael Yin: BioBAY was accredited as a National Biotech Innovation Center last year and we will continue researching new technologies and trying new frontiers of the life sciences industry.
We welcome the scientists who join this national biotechnology platform and make their dream come true. BioBAY will help make their dream come true through our network of services, which includes ready-to-use RD facilities, shared labs, VC, undiluted funds support, EHS, BD and so on. We call our service package POWER-OMICS, we hope we can turn scientists into entrepreneurs. This is what we have been doing over the past 15 years and we will do it better over the next 5 years on the National Biotech Innovation Center platform.
For the next 20 years … We don’t plan that long. The only thing we know is that scientists will continue to explore the unknown world.
BioBAY’s mission is to make a contribution to the well-being of those treated or to be treated.