Sanofi sets up a major R&D hub in booming Shanghai

French pharma giant Sanofi ($SNY) has opened a major new R&D center in Shanghai with plans to employ 1,400 staffers while bringing together the drug development work being done in a dozen different Pacific Rim countries. Sanofi's fifth big R&D hub will integrate work being done on biopharmaceuticals, rare diseases, vaccines and animal health. And highlighting the center's new role as a central dealmaking spot, Sanofi also put out the word on two new research partnerships that will be coordinated in Shanghai.

Sanofi says it will now work with the GPCR Institute on new diabetes "breakthroughs" while collaborating with ZAI Lab on respiratory ailments.

The move underscores Shanghai's emergence as a global crossroad in the research and development of new drugs. It's home to a number of big R&D operations which represent pharma's ongoing effort to build a big presence for themselves in the booming Chinese market. J&J ($JNJ) has been putting together the last of its global deal-making teams in Shanghai, while Merck ($MRK) has promised to follow suit as well.

Even after GlaxoSmithKline ($GSK) was hammered by allegations of widespread corruption, the multinationals haven't stepped back from China. Sanofi's move here indicates that there's still room for growth as China helps foster the first generation of biotechs to take root in the country. And it also highlights Sanofi's preference for doing R&D outside of its home base in France, where company officials have been frustrated by low productivity and a backlash from unions as well as government officials to their plans to trim the research staff in France. Sanofi also has a major R&D hub in Boston, which has been growing steadily.

Frank Jiang

"Integrating all our R&D activities in the region, the Asia Pacific hub will operate as one to accelerate the introduction of innovative solutions to the region while driving Sanofi's global efforts to improve health across the world," says Frank Jiang, head of the new R&D center, in a statement. "We are excited to enhance our ability to capture opportunities from this dynamic region with greater flexibility to respond to changing needs."

- here's the release (PDF)
- and here's the ShanghaiDaily story