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The first billion-dollar molecule produced in China, an infinite game with innovative drugs

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At the beginning of the 21st century, China’s pharmaceutical industry had neither a top-level blueprint nor reports written by so many analysts and consulting firms.
Even in the eyes of overseas countries, China is a desert for innovative drugs, and local needs cannot be solved. But after 10 years of development, innovative drug talents, capabilities, experience, and even the development of new models, local pharmaceutical companies now have opportunities to compete with American manufacturers in overseas markets.
As a landmark event, the first domestically produced billion-dollar molecule was officially born. Not surprisingly, the second domestically produced billion-dollar molecule will also be released this year.
In the long course of history, it may be important who created this moment of history, but more importantly, this moment has finally arrived. This means that the development of China’s innovative drugs has passed the half-page prologue of succession and transition, and it is time to seriously write the main line.
This has also sparked feelings of joy within the industry. The reason why the market is so concerned is essentially a kind of relief that has been waiting for a long time – the development of domestic innovative drugs has finally caught up with expectations.
People are always accustomed to quickly adjusting their expectations for the outside world based on technological developments. And when innovative pharmaceutical companies turn plans into reality, it is often the technology that finally catches up with people’s expectations. In other words, the emergence of the first domestically produced billion-dollar molecule confirms that the dreams of Chinese pharmaceutical people are neither crazy nor nihilistic.
Today, innovative pharmaceutical companies are facing a track with larger space and longer time dimension. Racing on such a track will further test biotech’s ability to balance short-term and long-term, innovation and follow-up, radicality and conservatism. In an infinite game, it may be more important to continuously explore the boundary than to have a temporary lead within the boundary.
The emergence of billion-dollar molecules will also encourage more pharmaceutical companies to invest in this infinite game.
01 The “long-cherished wish” of the billion-dollar molecule
There is a well-known standard in the field of innovative drugs. Only when the annual sales of a drug reaches 1 billion US dollars can it be called a global blockbuster drug. Among the top 50 drugs with global sales in the first half of 2023, the lowest sales volume is US$1.5 billion.
The threshold is rising almost every year. In the past long years, there have been no Chinese elements on this list.
Until February 26, BeiGene announced its full-year performance report. According to the announcement, the company’s total revenue will reach US$2.5 billion in 2023, of which global sales of the BTK inhibitor zanubrutinib will reach US$1.3 billion, marking the birth of the first domestically produced billion-dollar molecule.
Another innovative drug is also very likely to achieve this achievement this year. In 2023, Legend Biotech/Johnson & Johnson’s Cedagene sales will reach US$500 million. In Johnson & Johnson’s expectations, Cedar Chiolense’s sales will exceed US$1 billion this year, with peak annual sales reaching US$5 billion.
This means that, perhaps within a few years, Chinese innovative drugs represented by Cedagene will officially join the top 50 best-selling drugs in the world.
The domestic innovative pharmaceutical industry has experienced great leaps and bounds, and almost all innovative pharmaceutical companies have the dream of going overseas and creating blockbusters. Looking back at the success of zanubrutinib and cedarchiolense, an obvious answer is that the US market is the key to their growth.

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This is in line with the vision of domestic pharmaceutical companies to go global, open up the ceiling through internationalization, take advantage of the high prices of innovative drugs in the United States to earn more revenue, and contribute more power to innovative growth.
Although the two are different in terms of development and commercialization strategies, they have proven that overseas markets can bring substantial commercialization benefits, whether they build their own teams or join forces with MNCs, but the premise is that the clinical value and efficacy advantages are Pursue.
Zanubrutinib and cedarchiolense both have excellent curative effects. The former laid the foundation for commercialization through head-to-head treatment; the latter did not go head-to-head, but even for patients who received multiple lines of therapy, the objective response rate still reached 98%, and the complete response rate in the strict sense reached 80%. Other therapies Then it is between 61% and 73%.
By successfully going overseas, the first domestic billion-dollar molecule was born, and the next one is on the way.
02 The infinite game of innovative drugs
If China’s innovative drugs are to succeed globally, what preparations need to be made? There may be no standard answer to this question.
But what is certain is that at least a group of awakened people are needed to lead China’s innovative drugs to continue to move forward.
As an awakener, the birth of the first domestically produced billion-dollar molecule is undoubtedly a landmark moment for domestic innovative drugs. But in the long course of history, it may be important who created this moment of history. What is more important is that this moment has finally arrived.
The development of domestic innovative drugs has finally caught up with expectations. The emergence of billion-dollar molecules will also encourage more pharmaceutical companies to invest in this infinite game.
Innovative medicine is essentially an infinite game.
In his book “Finite and Infinite Games”, Professor James Kass of New York University divides the world into two kinds of games: finite and infinite. “Finite games aim to win, while infinite games aim to continue the game and let more people play.” Multiple people were involved.”
The fundamental difference is that in order to win, participants in finite games need to meet every possible move of their opponents and be trained to predict every possibility in the future, so as to control the future. What they want is certainty; while participants in infinite games need to constantly Respond to emerging situations and fully expose yourself to the future, thereby creating possibilities.
The goal of this infinite game of innovative drugs is to build a more open, cooperative and innovative ecosystem to allow more people to participate.
In this process, technological innovation and BD cooperation are the foundation. In competition, more emphasis is placed on cooperation and innovation, and the competition between enterprises is transformed into a broader ecosystem competition, in order to continuously expand its own boundaries and advantages and achieve sustained development and progress of the entire game.
Although the current external environment is still difficult, when more and more innovative pharmaceutical companies focus on meeting unmet clinical needs and develop more drugs that patients urgently need, the infinite game of realizing the forward development of innovative drugs will not end.
After all, the prosperity of the industry cannot rely solely on the success of one company or one drug.
At the moment when the “long-cherished wish” is realized, China’s innovative drugs, which have crossed the cycle through technological development, have set off an industrial revolution and a sublimation of ideals. There will still be greater ideals waiting to be realized.
03 Greater ideals
The last time the passion for the domestic innovative drug industry was fully ignited may be traced back to five years ago.
On December 17, 2018, a piece of news greatly ignited investment confidence in the domestic innovative drug field: the country’s first domestically produced PD-1 monoclonal antibody was approved for marketing.
PD-1 is regarded as a once-in-a-century target, and domestic PD-1 can be regarded as the starting point for the take-off of China’s pharmaceutical industry: before this, domestic generic drugs were mainly generic drugs, and innovative drugs were almost all imported. The cost is high; since then, innovative drugs have emerged one after another and developed vigorously. China and the world have almost equalized or even caught up with the progress of new drug launches.
There are more and more moments when the passion for the innovative pharmaceutical industry is ignited. BeiGene and Legend Biotech have successfully gone overseas, and more and more domestically produced innovative drugs are launching head-to-head competitions and passing the FDA, as well as super BDs represented by Kangfang Biologics and Bailey Tianheng…
The essential reason for achieving this breakthrough is the result of the continuous accumulation and convergence of domestic pharmaceutical innovation forces in the past few decades. Looking back at the construction and development of my country’s innovative pharmaceutical industry in the past 10 years, the more important driving force is the country’s determination and confidence, as well as the endogenous driving force of the industry.
Of course, this will not change the cyclical nature of the development of innovative drugs, which is a matter of experience.
This kind of experience includes not only the external economic environment cycle, but also the company’s own development cycle. For innovative pharmaceutical companies, the biggest experience right now is going overseas.
Going to sea is no longer a multiple-choice question, but a must-answer question. After passing through the stage of rapid imitation and follow-up, the stamina and potential of China’s innovative drugs are gradually emerging. The birth of Billion Dollar Molecule means that the time to go overseas is becoming more and more mature.
However, different regulatory and commercial environments make going overseas a new and complex test for all Chinese pharmaceutical companies. After experiencing early failures and troughs, more and more people believe that compared to going overseas independently, the external licensing model that guarantees harvests despite droughts and floods is undoubtedly more cost-effective, and license outs have also exploded.
Different resources, capabilities and missions determine the different routes and rhythms of pharmaceutical companies, and the final results will also be different.
In any case, what China’s innovative drugs are facing at this moment is a track with a larger space and a longer time dimension.
Racing on such a track will further test pharmaceutical companies’ ability to balance short-term and long-term, innovation and follow-up, radicalness and conservatism. In an infinite game, it may be more important to continuously explore the boundary than to have a temporary lead within the boundary.

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