As the CEO of one of the top global AI-powered biotechnology companies, I regularly get to see some of the world’s most innovative techno parks and biotechnology hubs that are popping up all over the world. Over the past couple of years, I traveled to several such centers in the US, Canada, China, Singapore, and the Middle East. We even established one of our R&D centers at the Hong Kong Science and Technology Park. All of these centers have their advantages and disadvantages that often go in line with the 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 biotechnology hubs are in China and in Singapore.
One of the centers that impressed me the most in recent years was BioBay in Suzhou. It is the home to the many biotechnology and technology companies some of which reached a unicorn status and are contributing to the growth of the global biotechnology ecosystem.
My first visit to Suzhou for a presentation at a scientific conference was in 2010. Like everything else in China, in 10 years the city transformed beyond recognition. It got much more developed, greener, and more sustainable. And BioBAY is certainly the crown jewel which is still in 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 Shanghai city center of the high-tech area of Shanghai called Zhangjiang. It is 30 minutes away from Shanghai if you decide to take a high-speed train. High-speed trains in China are a modern-day miracle.
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The nature of Suzhou is phenomenal with the many untouched green zones, bamboo forests, scenic Taihu and Dushu lakes, providing spectacular views from the shore and from the lakeside if you decide to take a boat tour.
It is home to the many prosperous Chinese and the property rentals and prices will be comparable to Chicago, Berlin, or other Western high-tier cities. It is incredibly green, scenic, and has many cultural sites to visit. It also is the home of some of the most comfortable hot spring hotels with the hot spring pools located in the bamboo forests.
BioBAY at a Glance
BioBAY is a platform for global biomedical innovation spanning a lake area Southeast of Suzhou. Like the many other technology megahubs in China, BioBAY was rolled out in several phases with Phase I based in the southwest of Suzhou Industrial Park. The foundation was laid in 2006 and it was opened in 2007. If you would like to get a virtual tour of the territory, here is a Google Maps geotag. Cold Spring Harbour Laboratory Asia is located across the street from the main BioBAY headquarters and hosts some of the most prestigious conferences in many areas of biomedical research and attracts some of the world’s top scientists.
The Phase II and Phase III stages of BioBAY development include the construction of massive biomedical complexes that will allow for discovery and creation of innovative medicines, including small molecules, biologics, cell therapies, medical devices, and robotics complexes.
In Phase I, the ecosystem was already massive sporting over 500 innovative biotechnology 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 massive R&D facility there.
What impressed me the most during my first visit to BioBAY was their level of knowledge of the industry, and deep analysis of the biomedical ecosystem. In 2021 I met with the similar megahub in another region of China and while they had some understanding of technology, they did not understand the AI drug discovery (AIDD) industry at all. BioBAY was completely different. After a short round of introduction, their CEO, Michael Yin showed a brief industry landscape, the capabiilties 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 drug discovery labs on the planet, and I needed to find the vendors that can help build the infrastructure locally. “We can help with that”, said Michael. I also wanted to do something unusual – collect my own tissues and make iPSC lines and organoids to release to the research community in China openly as a community service. “No problem”, said Michael. And in the matter of days we were introduced to the Suzhou-based advanced robotics and laboratory automation companies, one of the top cell therapy companies, and the world-class iPSC and organoid team with multiple Nature papers and even a Nature cover. All that in a matter of 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), the CEO of BioBAY and the man behind this grandiose biomedical ecosystem. Michael Yin graduated form Life-science School of Fudan University, China and holds a Mater degree of Biotechnology Engineering.
Interview with the CEO of BioBAY, Michael Yin
Alex: The first time I visited Suzhou was in 2011. But today, when I walk around Suzhou and especially BioBAY I feel like I am on a different planet – it is very advanced. Can you tell me a little bit about how BioBAY evolved?
Michael Yin: BioBAY was initiated at the year of 2006, in that period of facility construction, BioBAY started to attracted scientists from home and abroad, mostly in small molecule drug, the generic drug. From the year of 2011,when you first visited BioBAY, we started to look at projects of biosimilars, and for the next ten years, BioBAY put all its resources into the up-stream, pilot-run and down-stream capabilities. And by the year of 2018, we started to look at new modalities like gene therapy, cell therapy and nuclear-acid, siRNA and mRNA, drugs. BioBAY has always been at the cutting-edge technology and we have in-and-outs. I guess that makes you feel different each time you come here.
Alex: Are any of the big global pharmaceutical companies and biotechnology companies setting up centers at BioBAY?
Michael Yin: At this moment, the absolute majority of the companies in BioBAY and start-ups biotechs. Big global Pharma has not yet a strong foothold here. We have 540 biotechs here and there will be a lot of vertical integration and horizontal collaborations within the biotechs and between biotech and big pharmaceuticals. We sincerely welcome Multinational Corporations (MNCs) to come to BioBAY to set up entities and explore the opportunities.
Alex: Are there any exciting success stories that you can share? For example, any big breakthroughs out of BioBAY?
Michael Yin: I would like to share to typical start-up companies-to-Pharma stories. One is INNOVENT. 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 that’s been approved into the National Medical Insurance Catalogue. Now, it has been an Icon of Suzhou BIOPHARMA industry.
Another stories is the Abogene, which started itself only 3 years ago. The then-small-biotech had a small space in BioBAY, with only 9 staff, 300 sqm of a bench – cell room-CEO and staff-office complex. Today, its mRNA covid vaccine is the first of its kind entering phase III trial, home and abroad.
Stories like these are abundant in BioBAY.
Alex: In your opinion, what are the main critical technologies that will be transforming biomedicine in the next decade and what capabilities are you building within BioBAY to acquire these technologies and capabilities?
Michael Yin: First, we are extremely interested in the delivery technology, anything or any method that can successfully deliver a small molecule, protein, or nuclear acid into human body and then successfully arrive into the specific tissue and then starts to function. This technology is simply amazing, be it through lipids, protein ,peptides, polysaccharide, EVs or living organisms and etc.
Secondly, we are interested in linking technology. Anyway that you can put a chemical, protein, DNA, RNA to either of them or to a living organism. We are interested. Conversely, we are also interested in ways that can degrade the above mentioned, it is like YIng-and-Yang Taoism.
Thirdly, we are excited by the recent progress in cell-therapy, like CART, with bi-specific antibodies ,car-NK, TIL , TCRT, these new modalities of cell therapy has already changed the ways people treat liquid tumor fundamentally ,and we are looking forward they will conquer solid tumor. I also need to mention the stem cell therapies, especially IPSC.
For the indications, we are optimistic about the possibility of gaining evident progress in neuron diseases, the field of which has long been filled with setbacks and failures. But recent progress gave us enormous amount confidence. We saw scientists in biobay are trying to use different ways to tackle it ,be it through gene-therapy, stem cell, inducing small molecule, peptides and factors , or the combination of the above.
For the ways, AI technology has definitely been a crucial-at-present and essential-in-the-future way in the initial discovery ,screening ,validating ,trialing ,CMC or manufacturing stage. It changed the way we are thinking and doing things. From a single compound to single cell, AI will playing a determining role in our decision making process.The future labs will be completely different from what it is now.
Alex: What are your plans for the next 5 years? What about 20?
Michael Yin: BioBAY has been credited as the National Biotech Innovation Center last year and we will continue the search for the new technologies and try new frontiers of the life science industry.
We welcome scientists to join this national biotech platform and realize theirs dream. BioBAY will help fulfill their dream through our network of services, which include ready-to-use RD facilities, co-shared labs, VC, non-diluted fund support, EHS, BD and etc. We name our services package POWER-OMICS, we hope we can empower scientist into entrepreneurs. That’s what we have done in the last 15 years and we will do it better in the next 5 years on the platform of National Biotech Innovation Center.
For the next 20 years… We do not plan so long. The only thing we know is scientists will continue to explore the unknown world.
BioBAY mission is to make contributions to the well-being of the cured or the to-be-cured.