Samantha Du, ZAI Lab

Samantha Du
China biotech pioneer

Company: ZAI Lab
Title: Chairman and CEO

A lot of people want some of Samantha Du's time as they pass through China, banking on the depth of her contacts and experience in the pharmaceutical industry's commercial and regulatory landscape for a clearer path.

For Du, the mother of two sons in addition to her very full-time job as chairman, CEO and adviser at ZAI Lab, her own path to this spot started with a willingness to ask questions during a crucial management stint in licensing at Pfizer ($PFE).

"That was an important job for me professionally and personally," Du said in a phone interview from Shanghai with FiercePharmaAsia. "I learned to ask questions to establish my own credibility."

She did indeed manage to establish credibility in the development of multiple early- and late-stage products, two of which were approved and launched globally by Pfizer.

The experience opened up a new direction as managing director for Sequoia Capital China looking at healthcare investments. "That was a big step, making decisions on investments, but I had that other experience as well."

That would have been as co-founder and effective chief scientific officer at Hutchison China MediTech, which she helped lead to a 2006 IPO in London.

"I look back and the reward was always about building an enterprise for China biotech," she said. "So ZAI Lab is the next stage and the aim is to have a fully-integrated biotech in China. We are not alone. It is so exciting now, so many biotech companies are now in China--and many will not make it. But the drive and building are real."

That drive sees her sit on the boards of China-focused BGI Tech, JHL Biotech and Beta Pharma--as she easily walks between multinationals and growing companies.

Du holds a doctorate in biochemistry from the University of Cincinnati. She serves as an adjunct professor at Fudan University as well as an adviser to China on broad healthcare issues.

In September, ZAI Lab in-licensed global rights to a first-in-class monoclonal antibody aimed at treating autoimmune and other inflammatory diseases from Belgium's UCB, following an in-licensed novel multikinase inhibitor aimed at a non-small cell lung cancer target from Sanofi ($SNY) in August.

ZAI Lab also in-licensed China rights to the Phase III liver cancer drug brivanib, an oral kinase inhibitor for oncology indications including hepatocellular carcinoma, from Bristol-Myers Squibb ($BMY) in March.

Overall, the biotech has successfully taken 5 novel drug candidates into clinical trials in China, conducted multiple IND trials in the U.S. and brought the first China-discovered drug into global Phase III trials. Not bad for a company that got its start in 2013.

And with great insight comes great responsibility.

"We make an effort to recruit women not for show but because they are part of the dream too," Du said. "When they come and ask to work at the company though--it is even better and a validation of what we have done and proof of what we can do, as past success is a predictor of future success." -- EJ Lane (email)

For more:
Shanghai-based ZAI Lab in-licenses autoimmune candidate from UCB
China's ZAI Lab in-licenses global rights on Sanofi NSCLC candidate
ZAI Lab in-licenses BMS cancer candidate

Samantha Du, ZAI Lab