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    International talent flocks to innovation-driven Chengdu

    Li Jin (center), chairman and chief executive of HitGen, and his team conduct a test at the pharmaceutical company in Chengdu. Provided to China Daily

    A hotbed for startups and entrepreneurs, Chengdu is set to attract more professionals from home and abroad to start businesses with its innovation-friendly environment and policy incentives.

    Its goal is to build itself into an internationally influential innovation and entrepreneurship hub, local officials said.

    Li Jin, a returnee from Britain, said the city has advantages in terms of education, the pharmaceutical industry and policies.

    “The government offered me rent allowance and exemption, lab subsidies and financial investment when I decided to start my own business several years ago,” said the 54-year-old entrepreneur, who is now chairman and chief executive of HitGen, a biotech firm focused on innovative drugs and research projects.

    “As a startup enterprise in the Chengdu Hi-tech Industrial Development Zone, what we need most are a stable team and support from the local government. Chengdu gives me confidence in all those factors.”

    The city is home to 56 universities and 30 national-level research institutes with 45 key laboratories and research and development platforms.

    Last year the Chengdu government launched a special fund of at least 2 billion yuan ($290 million) for talented people and initiated a series of incentive policies to attract professionals with financial aid of 1.2 million yuan to 50 million yuan.

    Li, born in Youyang county, Chongqing, in 1963, holds a PhD in macromolecular science from Aston University and a post doctorate from the University of Manchester in Britain.

    He founded HitGen in 2012, and the company has established more than 20 early stage discovery projects related to oncology, ophthalmology and cardiovascular and metabolic health.

    Last month the world’s premier biopharmaceutical company Pfizer joined with HitGen to explore a DNA-encoded library based on HitGen’s synthesis and screening technologies.

    Developed by HitGen, the DNA-encoded library, also known as “the seed bank for medicines,” is the basis for R&D in new drugs.

    “Based on the library, we have already synthesized a total of 30 billion drug-like DNA-encoded chemical compounds with new structures and diversities,” he said. “We will continue to improve the screening ability for known targets spots and unknown ones.”

    Li said the medicine seeds in the library are increasing and are expected to reach 100 billion after two years.
    The joint work is a good example for HitGen’s flexible business model, research capability and professionalism, he said.

    “We will work closely with the scientists from Pfizer and establish a special DNA-encoded library to support Pfizer’s screening of new drugs.”

    Tony Wood, vice-president and head of the medicine and science department of Pfizer, said combining HitGen’s core technology with Pfizer’s strengths in pharmacy and chemicals will speed up the R&D of new medicines, from the theory stages right into the clinic.

    “We are glad to cooperate with HitGen and hope that we can improve our ability in screening the lead compounds among many target spots,” Wood said.

    HitGen has strengthened R&D with Johnson & Johnson and Merck, and has investigated new medicines for lung cancer with the Manchester Institute of Cancer Research U.K.

    In addition to overseas returnees and cooperative projects, Chengdu welcomes professionals from other cities in China.

    Wang Rui, deputy manager of the Chengdu branch of Venustech, has chosen the city as his second home.

    “I feel a sense of belonging in Chengdu, as life here is stable and balanced, which is different from first-tier cities such as Beijing,” said Wang, who has lived in Chengdu for almost 10 years.

    Born in Gansu province and once a resident of Beijing, Wang said he loves Chengdu because of its diversity and tolerance.

    The city has huge potential in developing big data, internet and cloud computing with abundant human resources and low labor costs, he said. “Venustech encourages R&D professionals to seek careers in Chengdu, and in three years, our branch will have more than 1,000 staff.”

    Venustech has invested 500 million yuan in building an R&D center in Chengdu Science City in the Tianfu New Area.