ADVOCACY: Championing R&D for public health

ADVOCACY: Championing R&D for public health

BVCF Management has a long history of funding and championing China healthcare sector pioneers, and today its work is having a positive impact on global health equity and improving access to sustainable health technologies

What are the origins of BVCF Management? 

I founded BVCF Management in 2005. At the time, it was one of the first venture capital/private equity firms in China focused on the healthcare sector. Dr Robert Li, who joined BVCF in 2007, and I envisaged bringing the VC-driven innovation model to China healthcare sector, drawing on our experience in the United States where we studied and became familiar with American academia, biotech companies and the VC industry. BVCF was founded on the belief that effective R&D is the cornerstone of better treatment and health options for China’s vast population. The team at BVCF comprised staff with PhDs and other professionals with meaningful scientific, operational and clinical expertise – not a common practice then when China’s healthcare sector was mostly dominated by low-end generics, and capital market activities mostly involved pharma distributors and generics manufacturers.

BVCF’s evolution runs parallel to the development of China’s healthcare sector. How are the
two connected?

Back in the 1980s, I was in the first class of the China–United States Biochemistry Examination and Application Program, a China government sponsored programme that from 1982 to 1989 selected and placed 422 top Chinese students into top universities in the US to study for advanced degrees. I studied at Harvard University and Dr Li, in the fourth class of the CUSBEA Program, joined later. 

In 2005, with backing from the World Bank’s International Finance Corporation, we raised the first BVCF fund. Since then, BVCF has raised four more funds with total assets under management of more than $700 million and additional investors from the US, Europe and Asia. To date, BVCF has invested in 43 companies across different healthcare subsectors, which created more than 4,200 job opportunities. Ten of the portfolio companies have gone public and five have executed trade sales. BVCF was the lead investor in 90% of the investments and spent a substantial amount of time working with entrepreneurs to help them build a lasting organisation. 

BVCF’s work coincided with the push by the China government to create a public health system that delivers broader and more comprehensive coverage to the whole population. From the start, from the government’s goals to increase basic medical coverage to all and ensure equal access of health services across the country, to the push for development of a local R&D ecosystem and the creation of capital market rules that allow the public listing of pre-revenue biotech companies, my team and I have observed and understood the role that R&D can play and how the private sector can be an active contributor to public health. Without the development of effective and applicable products and services, many of which have come from private sector enterprises, it is impossible to deliver health care to a population of 1.4 billion. China’s healthcare sector has evolved from me-better products and in-licensing technologies from other countries to now vigorously developing proprietary technologies.  

What does the future look like for BVCF?

BVCF’s global investors have supported our work with portfolio companies that created meaningful impacts for China as well as for the global healthcare sector. This strengthened the case that many have made before: that R&D investments can be globally beneficial and there are incredibly valuable possibilities of partnerships among scientists and investors across different countries and backgrounds. The BVCF team observes many parallels in the development paths, needs and supply gaps of healthcare sectors in other countries and that of China’s own healthcare sector. We seek to actively share our learning and network with other countries and companies, in addition to our portfolio companies in China. However, while global R&D investments have led to many new technological breakthroughs, most of the benefits are being enjoyed in a limited number of countries. We hope to facilitate and enable the growth of companies with technologies that are globally applicable, rather than just in high-income countries. 

How is BVCF aligned with the work of the World Health Organization?

Our general partner, Vanessa Huang, is a member of the WHO Council on the Economics of Health For All, which aims to reframe Health For All as a public policy objective. Through her work, she advocates for the creation of a globally recognised health taxonomy. A health taxonomy can serve as a common language to define a set of common health goals. It can ensure that stakeholders have a more holistic appreciation of health-positive as well as -negative economic activities, and ultimately prevent ‘healthwashing’. A health taxonomy will help to intensify awareness for positive health investments, start adding better health metrics into sustainability frameworks and allow all stakeholders to proactively contribute to global health.

As the BVCF team looks forward under the current global environment that seems to be heading towards more divisiveness, we aim to be a positive contributing stakeholder to global public health. We hope that through our work, we can have a positive impact on global health equity and further improve global access to sustainable health technologies.