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Ningbo Lures Biotech South of Shanghai

By Allison Proffitt

May 18, 2010 | Ningbo is located 138 miles south of Shanghai—a pleasant drive. We crossed the Hangzhou Bay Bridge, the longest trans-oceanic bridge in the world, to get there, but the fog in January was so thick I couldn’t see past the edge of the bridge, much less to the East China Sea.

My destination was the Ningbo National Hi-Tech Zone, located just east of the city on the south bank of the Yangtze Delta. In 2002 the park was officially established by the Ningbo city government and the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS). In 2007, it was upgraded to a national project, meaning an influx of government money. And the government has its eye on biotech.

Xiuliang Cui, deputy director of the Ningbo Hi-Tech Industrial Development Zone committee, says that almost four square miles of the planned 7.2 square mile final area are currently finished. The goal for 2010 is to develop the central business district and the R&D park, and then turn attention to apartments and facilities for the researchers there.

The Zone will eventually contain the R&D Park, the central business district, and areas dedicated to innovation, new energies, advanced electromechanical industries, electronic information industries, housing, and an international school. To the north of the river lies Ningbo University.

Ningbo has long been an export hub for China, but until recently the main industries were textiles and manufacturing. The government has identified biotech as one of Ningbo’s future areas of investment, explains Kiagao Dai, vice director of the Zone’s investment promotion bureau. Labor costs are increasing and the park is incentivizing biotech and biomedical companies with subsidies and programs, encouraging other industries to move away from the coast and into central and Western China.

“The responsibility of the Hi Tech Zone is to innovate industry in Ningbo,” Dai says, and “lead new economies and growth.”

Sitting a few hours’ drive from Shanghai, companies have good reason to select Ningbo over the well-known competition: All the benefits, none of the hassle, Cui explains. Shanghai is expensive and crowded—both transportation and real estate—and Ningbo offers reprieve from both. There is also stiff competition for talent in Shanghai, and Cui believes that in Ningbo companies will be more likely to hold on to their assets.

And if you need something from China’s most international city, Ningbo is installing a high-speed train from Ningbo to Shanghai which should be ready by 2011. At the end of my trip I remember this as I rocket through the countryside at 268 miles per hours without so much as spilling my tea on the mag-lev train from Shanghai to the airport. That will make the two cities quite close indeed.

Tier One

Ningbo isn’t planning direct competition with Shanghai, but it does intend to be a tier one research park. To attract and create the talent needed, the Ningbo area boasts 16 universities including a software institute, Ningbo University, and the University of Nottingham, a satellite campus of the British university.

The goal, Cui says, is for the zone to be very international, with families from the U.S. and the U.K. The government is investing in policies for the education of international children, committing to offering jobs of foreign spouses, and building housing for an expat community. A tax exemption policy can convert personal income tax to purchasing power. 2010 is the year to spread the word. The park is hosting Science & Technology Weeks to woo local talent and monthly events in China and abroad to attract investment.

The Zone hopes to house regional and R&D headquarters of international companies, refining and updating Ningbo’s long history as an export hub. Services are a major component here. The government has identified ten platforms for the park including science & technology services, standardization, safety testing, software evaluation, and energy-saving supervision.

If You Build It…

With the government’s part—incentives, policies, and plans—firmly underway, now the science just needs to keep up.

In the Zone’s pyramid-like Incubation Center, the Bio Real Chip Company produces gene chips and microfluidics for genotyping, tuberculosis drug mutation detection, protein analysis, and hepatitis B and C diagnosis. The only manufacturer for genotyping products in China, Bio Real Chip is a joint venture of the Ningbo High Tech Park and Shanghai Institute of Microsystem and Information Technology, part of the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

Xiangrong Tang is manager of Bio Real Chip. He received startup subsidies to come to Ningbo and now spends most of his time outside of Shanghai. Of his 20 existing staff, half are master’s level or higher scientists. The company is currently part of a national high-tech research plan to develop a rapid detection micro-system for coronary artery disease.

Across the park, Scientz was established in Ningbo in 1989, but CEO Fang Zhou leapt at the chance to move the company inside the Zone two years ago. The company makes gene guns, sterilizers, water baths, and other laboratory equipment.

Every few years. Scientz and the other companies receiving government incentives report their R&D plans to the Zone and those are evaluated for technology progress, Zhou explains. “Professionals in this field are dedicated to the growth of the field,” she says of biotech. “But they need support with technologies and methodologies.” Scientz currently has 100 employees and an 80% market share in China.

“China’s environment is more suitable for manufacturing and commercialization,” Zhou tells me. She says that China is the ideal location in which to make the transition from R&D to commercialization.

This article also appeared in the May-June 2010 issue of Bio-IT World Magazine. Subscriptions are free for qualifying individuals. Apply today.


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