When it comes to scouting out new chemical compounds as potential drug candidates, “we recognized early that China was the place to be,” says Mireille Gingras, Ph.D., founder and CEO of Huya Bioscience International.
Huya is named after the Chinese abbreviations for Shanghai (Hu) and Asia (Ya). Through partnerships with Chinese research institutions and biotechnology companies, Huya identifies new molecular entities and accelerates their worldwide development by providing a bridge into the international development process and global biopharma market. Huya has partnered with a number of large pharmaceutical companies including Abbott, Schering-Plough (now part of Merck), and Solvay Pharmaceuticals (recently acquired by Abbott).
Dr. Gingras formed the San Diego based firm in 2005 with the goal of discovering promising new compounds. Her worldwide travels took her to China, where she learned about a new treatment for Alzheimer disease. “The science was excellent, but the intellectual property was lacking,” recalls Dr. Gingras. From this experience, she recognized that a great pool of scientific talent exists in China, which she subsequently turned into a business opportunity to in-license Chinese drug candidates. Huya has built a continuously expanding portfolio of Chinese compounds to treat oncology, neurology, immunology, and hematology disorders, among others.
Huya currently has a large team of people working in six strategic locations in China, including Shanghai, Beijing, Shenzhen, and Hangzhou, tracking thousands of novel drug compounds and contacts in a wide range of therapeutic areas. The compounds are in various stages of preclinical and clinical development. Huya evaluates these new and innovative compounds for their therapeutic and market potential.
“International companies have an interest in partnerships with us so they can access our abundance of compounds and tap into our network,” says Curtis Tyree, Ph.D., Huya’s senior director of portfolio management and analysis.
The discovery of new compounds is fueled by sea turtles, or Chinese returnees trained as scientists in the U.S. and Europe, many of whom have worked at western pharmaceutical companies. These scientists are lured back by the Chinese government’s recent initiative to modernize traditional Chinese medicine. They are now isolating and purifying the active compounds in traditional Chinese herbal remedies and creating modern formulations to test in randomized, placebo-controlled trials. They also are discovering new biologics and new chemical entities.