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7 Life Sciences trends and talent gaps in China today

7 Life Sciences trends and talent gaps in China today


The healthcare industry in Mainland China is transforming rapidly. Healthcare reforms by the Chinese government, as well as advancements in research and AI, are having a significant impact on life sciences companies. While the level of investment went down in comparison to 20181, the biotech industry is still booming due to a high level of both government and venture capital investments, China’s unmet medical needs and ageing population2. Furthermore, China’s biotech sector is set to exceed 4% of its GDP by 20203 and China is expected to overtake the USA as the largest pharma market in the world by 2020 with over $1trillion in healthcare spending4.

At the same time, one of the major challenges of the life sciences industry is in hiring and retaining talent in this highly competitive market. The war for talent has become one of the key factors for the success or failure of companies.

Life Sciences trends

A shifting regulatory environment, advancements in research, AI, data sciences and precision medicine are the major driving forces that transform the life sciences industry. Those changes have a big impact on the companies and the talent that work in this industry.

  1. Oncology

    Oncology continues to be the leading therapeutic area, both globally and even more so in China. In 2018, 28% of newly started clinical trials globally were targeting cancer (up from 21% in 2014) whereas it was 54% in China (up from 32% in 2014)5. This trend will continue with biologics, in particular cell and gene therapy, leading this growth.

  2. Cell & Gene Therapy

    Monoclonal antibodies were one of biotechnology’s most significant innovations of the last century and much research is still being conducted to improve this technology. The new hot topic however is cell and gene therapy. As this highly promising technology is developing rapidly, the competition is fierce, and many challenges are yet to be overcome. The most significant issues in this sector are the cost and therefore the accessibility of cell and gene therapy.

  3. Orphan Drugs & Rare Diseases

    The Orphan drugs market is expected to grow globally by around 20% per annum over the next few years6. China just joined the global trend to incentivize the development and access of orphan drugs. For example, in addition to providing a priority review pathway for rare diseases, the Chinese government is now also offering tax incentives for Orphan drugs7. As China is slowly catching up to incentivize orphan drugs, this means that the biggest growth opportunity for orphan drugs in China is still ahead of us.

  4. Biosimilar

    Biosimilars are on the rise globally as they play an essential role in improving the affordability of biologics and therefore, increasing accessibility. China is leading this trend as it has the highest number of biosimilars in development, ahead of the USA or India8.

  5. Precision Medicine

    Precision medicine – also called personalized medicine – will be one of the most significant innovations of this century. While precision medicine is just in its infancy, it is estimated that more than 40% of all drugs and over 70% of oncology drugs can be personalized9. Technologies such as Next-generation sequencing (NGS), CRISPR-Cas9 and the fast development of AI will support this trend, whereas the infrastructure of big data for gene pools still has to be built.

  6. Digital, AI & Data Science

    Digital, artificial intelligence (AI) and data science will transform the life sciences industry. While companies are just at the very beginning of implementing AI and related technologies such as big data, machine learning and block chain, it is clear that AI will change the landscape of the healthcare industry. AI, digital and associated technologies are expected to have a significant impact on drug discovery, clinical research, diagnosis, treatment plans, patient monitoring and many other areas in the healthcare industry. Both organizations and talent can’t afford to fall behind in these new technologies in order to stay relevant.

  7. Regulatory trends in China

    The regulatory environment in China is changing rapidly, and it is expected that this trend will continue. The Chinese government has initiated various reforms linked to its “Healthy China 2030” program. While there are many changes that have a substantial impact on the life sciences industry, some of the major ones are the new Investigative New Drug (IND) policy which promises an improved drug approval speed10, a new Clinical Trial Application (CTA) approval process which will shorten it to 60 day11 and the acceptance of foreign clinical data in China12. With such initiatives, China is part of the global trend in speeding up the drug approval process and offering fast-tracked drug approval for orphan drugs and accelerated approval for other breakthrough therapies.

    Other changes that demonstrate the speed of change in the regulatory environment in China are the renaming of the CFDA to National Medical Product Administration (NMPA) at the end of 201813, China joining the International Council for Harmonisation (ICH) in 201714, or the launch of Health Technology Assessment (HTA) by China National Health Development Research Centre (CNHDRC) in 2016, just to name a few.

With so many changes happing at such a fast pace, it is not surprising that companies are struggling to keep up. This is also reflected by the increased demand for talent who can navigate this challenging environment.

6 talent gaps in China

Because the life sciences industry in China is growing rapidly, the overall demand for talent is very high. While the biotech industry is leading this boom, experts in cell and gene therapy, orphan drugs, precision medicine and AI are in particular high demand.

  1. Most organizations struggle to find skilled scientists with a strong track record of independent research in specific therapeutic areas to support their commitment to drug discovery.
  2. Clinical pharmacologists are very difficult to find as there is a shortage of them in China. Because of this, organizations often use DMPK candidates for those positions which leads to a lack of skilled DMPK talent.
  3. Skilled clinical research physicians with a narrow focus on a specific therapeutic area are hard to come by globally. This is more so in China. To counter this, companies could broaden the therapeutic area requirement which would lead to less specialized physicians or train, for example, principal investigators. The downside of training PIs is that it takes one to three years to fully train them and for their level of English to be proficient.
  4. As the number of clinical trials in China increased by 56% from 2014 to 201815, there is a massive shortage of all types of clinical research candidates. Particularly for CPMs, CRAs and more senior candidates, the war for talent in this area is very real.
  5. Medical affairs candidates with a focus on specific therapeutic areas are highly sought after. The increasing narrow specializations lead to a limited pool of candidates, which means that companies have to pay more to attract suitable talent. One solution could be to broaden the therapeutic area requirements.
  6. Because the regulatory environment in China is undergoing significant changes and the number of drugs that companies submit for approval has increased substantially over the past few years, organizations are in dire need of regulatory affairs and market access candidates. Candidates that are in particularly high demand are those who have a good understanding of the ongoing changes.


About the author

Chris Reinert
Manager, Hudson Shanghai
Research & Development
Chris has over 10 years of experience recruiting for the life sciences industry. He has successfully placed candidates across APAC, Europe and the US. His recruitment team are working on R&D, Bioinformatics, Clinical Research, Biometrics, Drug Safety, Medical Affairs and Regulatory Affairs in Mainland China.
Phone: +86 21 2321 7829

4 State of China Life Science – 2019, ChinaBio, 1019
6 Orphan Drug Report, EvaluatePharma, 2017
8 Deloitte Research Monthly Outlook and Perspectives, Issue XXXI, Deloitte, 2017
9 The Personalized Medicine Report, PMC, 2017

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