Innovation’ Nation

Category: Best data-driven reporting (small and large newsrooms)

Country/area: United States

Organisation: Nature Biotechnology

Organisation size: Small

Publication date: 29/10/2019

Credit: Brady Huggett, Andrew Marshall, Laura DeFrancesco

Project description:

The article investigates China’s fast-growing healthcare biotechnology field and reveals the country is still dependent on the western world’s drug industry and universities for talent and inspiration, contrary to most media reports. The article also highlights the steps China would need to take in order to achieve true innovation, and it points to areas where the country does indeed have unique strengths. 

Impact reached:

The article has helped re-align investing trends in China, and pointed to its lack of an efficient technology transfer system at its universities. 

Techniques/technologies used:

Analysis of all recent biotech IPOs and private financings, determing ties to the west. Also generated a historical timeline of all new modalities in biotechnology, and determined where the initial science came from, showing that innovation has almost exclusively come from the academic research centers in the west (where free speech is cultivated). Sifted through hundreds of thousands of patents to determine country of first filing, showing trends in biologial innovation. 

What was the hardest part of this project?

Gathering accurate information on China — a government that is not particularly forthcoming. The language barrier is one issue, but the Chinese often does not release public information on clinical trials, the number of biotechs, etc. This means that many media outlets looking at ‘innovation’ in China missed the truth. It took more than a year of reporting and multiple visits to the country in order to get a more accurate picture of what is actually happening on the ground, and in the academic labs. 

What can others learn from this project?

What China may truthfully excel at in the life sciences in the coming years, and why. 

Project links: