Dr Xiaobin Wu is BeiGene’s president, its chief operating officer and the general manager of the company in China. Dr Wu spoke with BioPharmaDispatch during his current visit to Australia.
He joined BeiGene in 2018 from Pfizer, where he led the company’s business in China, having previously worked in senior roles with other companies in a variety of markets.
BeiGene is quickly emerging as a company with a global presence, including a striking ambition to ‘disrupt’ the business of bringing new medicines to market.
Its emergence is evident in Australia with a significant investment in clinical trials, the reimbursement of its targeted cancer therapy BRUKINSA (zanubrutinib), and its recruitment of established and highly regarded executives.
Adam Roach leads the company’s commercial operation across Asia Pacific and serves on the board of Medicines Australia.
Dr Wu said, “Until I joined BeiGene, my entire career was with a multinational European or American company. These companies are very, very good at developing innovative products, but the challenge is cost and pricing."
“I recently joked with a counterpart that the mission might be to make the world healthier, but how is that possible when 80 per cent of people can’t afford the medicines? This is a very challenging question for everyone in the industry,” he said.
Dr Wu said he was attracted to BeiGene because of the way its co-founders, John Oyler and Xiaodong Wang, described its ambition.
“They said to me, we can focus on developing products much faster and providing our medicines at a lower price so that more patients can benefit.”
He said the company's ambition is a critical factor in its goal of attracting the best talent in markets like Australia.
Lowering costs is also critical to achieving its ambition, he said, but challenging in what is a highly regulated and institutionalised framework for medicine development.
“The very high cost of running a global clinical trial has been a historic barrier to entrepreneurs and small biotech companies. They might do the research, and progress a candidate into the clinical stage, but are then forced to license it to a larger company because of the cost of development. This hurdle is very high.
“Is this hurdle reasonable? Well, the question our company’s co-founders have asked is what can we do as a company to lower development costs so that we can pass that on in terms of lower prices?”
Dr Wu said BeiGene is focused on achieving a “critical mass” of clinical assets that are supported by a growing internal capability. He said the company’s reluctance to outsource clinical trials makes it easier and more efficient to “push certain programs” and “deprioritise” others. “That is, everything is in our hands,” he said.
He cites the location of trial participants as another factor.
“In the traditional multinational company, around 70 per cent of clinical trials are conducted in the US and Europe. This is very costly.
“If we run clinical trials globally, we have an allocation of patients in the US, in Europe, in China, in Australia, in Thailand, in Eastern Europe. At the same time, you have a good portion of the trial patient base in China, which is probably 30 per cent cheaper per patient than the US and Europe.
“These factors - in-house capability and patient location - help us to make clinical trials faster and cheaper.
"If you can get a clinical trial and the data analysis finished early, even by one year, that reduces cost and should be reflected in the price of the medicine."
He said lower prices will lead to faster patient access in markets like Australia which then has the added benefit of attracting the company's investment.
BeiGene already maintains a significant presence in Australia. “We are the second biggest clinical trial sponsor in Australia. We are just a little bit behind another company but we do believe that, by the end of the year, we will be the number one in Australia,” he said.
On the future, Dr Wu said the company is focused on achieving its goal of making medicines more affordable, particularly to ensure access for more patients in developing countries.
"In 2026 or 2027, we would be very proud to say that we have contributed to making medicines like targeted cancer therapies more affordable so that 70, 80 or 90 per cent of all patients benefit.
"We know that in many developing countries doctors have limited or no experience with targeted therapies. They use old or very old treatments that provide little benefit for patients. If we can meet our goal of making more affordable innovative medicines, patients will benefit, but so will doctors and health systems.
"If we can do that, if our team in Australia can contribute to that, then we will all be very proud. We will all feel good and our families will be proud," added Dr Wu.