By Lu Ya’nan, Li Xinping
China is one of the countries in the world that boast the greatest abundance of biological resources and see the broadest consumption market of life and health products. With complete categories and systems of the biological industry, the country is in an advantageous position to accelerate the development of biological economy.
In Yangling district, northwest China’s Shaanxi province, a research team completed the evolution of nearly 400 generations of corns in just a few months with a biological breeding technology; in Zhangjiang Hi-Tech Park of Shanghai, the CAR-T therapy is giving cancer patients new hopes; in Heze, east China’s Shandong province, 229 million kWh of electricity is generated annually with a straw-fueled condensing turbine and a high-temperature and high-pressure water cooled vibrating grate, which helps reduce emission of 100,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide and 1,500 tonnes of sulfur dioxide.
Technological breakthroughs are constantly being made. Artemisinin earned China the first Nobel Prize in the field of physical science. Currently, China ranks second in the world in terms of the number of innovative drugs developed, and also enjoys comparative advantages in domains such as gene detection, super rice, artificially synthesized starch, and vaccines.
Industrial innovation stays active. In recent years, 1/3 of the enterprises listed on the Shanghai Stock Exchange’s sci-tech innovation board were engaged in the biological sector. Between 2016 and 2020, the R&D spending of pharmaceutical enterprises above designated size, or those with annual main business revenue of 20 million yuan ($2.99 million) or more, was growing 8 percent on average each year. Today, China’s biological fermentation products account for over 70 percent of the global market share.
Regional agglomerations are taking shape. In the sector of biological economy, the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei region, Yangtze River delta, Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area and Sichuan-Chongqing economic circle have become new high grounds of innovation. They are home to around 80 percent of Chinese listed companies, and produce 90 percent of China’s Class-1 innovative drugs and 85 percent of China’s specially approved innovative medical apparatus and instruments.
Recently, a plan on the development of biological economy during the 14th Five-Year Period (2021-2025) was issued. This is the first five-year plan issued for the industry in China. Biological economy encompasses a wide range of aspects. Therefore, to achieve development targets, the plan proposes to foster and expand the following four key industries, including healthcare, biological agriculture, biological energy and environmental protection, and biological information.
According to the plan, original innovation capability shall be enhanced in the healthcare industry, focusing on drugs, vaccines, advanced diagnosis technology and equipment, as well as biomedical materials, so as to strengthen the supply chain of high-end biological medicines and equipment.
The plan also encourages the development of modernization-oriented biological agriculture. It says new-gen products of biological breeding, biological fertilizer, biological feed, and biopesticide shall be developed, and the protection, development, and utilization system of germplasm resources shall be improved.
The plan says new types of food, such as artificial proteins, shall be developed, so as to upgrade the food industry and reduce the environmental impacts brought by traditional breeding industry.
Besides, the plan proposes new scenarios of biological energy, biological environmental protection and biological information, such as the knowledge model and algorithm for assistant decision making in the treatment of major diseases.
Keeping risks controllable is one of the most important principles for developing biological economy. The plan has thus decided to hasten the construction of the bio-security guarantee system and establish a national biological resources sharing system. To create a sound environment for innovation and development of biotechnologies, the plan also proposes to set up several pioneer zones to pilot reforms in key links of biological economy, such as sci-tech innovation, admission, and regulation.