China pharma giant on the hunt for Israeli investments

WuXi PharmaTech’s new office will seek to work with – and maybe acquire – promising Israeli life sciences companies

A WuXI lab at work (Photo ctedit: Courtesy)
A WuXI lab at work (Photo ctedit: Courtesy)

Chinese pharmaceutical giant WuXi PharmaTech is making a move to Israel. The company is opening an office here to “promote WuXi’s broad platform of integrated R&D services to local customers,” the company said. It will be on the lookout for promising investments in the biotech and medical devices spheres, in cooperation with its new partner Pontifax, a venture capital firm that specializes in medical industry investments.

WuXi is one of the world’s largest medical research companies, with nearly 2,000 customers using its platform to develop and test new medicines. The company’s origins are in China, where it was established in 2000, and it now has extensive operations in the US, after it acquired Minnesota-based AppTec labs in 2008. The company’s services for the biopharmaceutical and medical device industries include testing, contract research and development, as well as pharmaceutical manufacturing services.

The WuXi announcement Friday came a few days after a major conference in Tel Aviv, in which dozens of top business officials from China met with Israeli investors, start-ups, and veteran companies. The Go4Israel conference, organized by Cukierman & Co. Investment House Ltd. and Catalyst Funds, is considered one of the top venues for Israel-China business, addressing developments and investment opportunities in areas like high-tech, life sciences, renewable energy, real estate, and others.

Like other recent moves, the establishment by WuXi of an office in Israel is a further sign of a growing business relationship with China. Over the past two years, said Edouard Cukierman, chairman of Cukierman & Co. Investment House and managing partner of the Israel and Hong Kong-based Catalyst Investment Funds, “China has become the number one investor in Israel. For them, Israel is a great source of technology to help them develop their economy, while for us, it’s a fantastic opportunity to gain entry into the biggest market in the world.”

Last May, during a confluence of trade shows and government-sponsored events, there were nearly 1,000 Chinese business people in Israel at one time. Among those meetings was the first-ever Israel-China Economic Summit. Nearly all of them were in Israel for the first time, taking in the sights and scenery of the Start-Up Nation, and shopping around for technologies they can take home to help solve China’s manifold problems. The Summit was attended by several Knesset members, including Robert Ilatov and David Rotem, and Minister of Agriculture Yair Shamir, and was organized by a group called the Israel China Interflow Association (ICIA). Much of the technology that China needs, according to Chen Gang, mayor of Xiang He City outside Beijing, revolves around environmental issues, an area where Israel excels.

On his first visit to Israel, Chen was just getting to know Israeli high-tech, but was already impressed. “I knew Israel was a leader in technology, and I also knew its accomplishments were out of character for a nation of its size — with the kind of technology you would expect only in bigger countries — but you have to come to Israel to understand what the term ‘Start-Up Nation’ really means.” Words alone, he said, cannot express the level of innovation and entrepreneurship in Israel.

With their economy so dependent on exports, Israelis are thrilled prospect of being able to export technology and systems to the world’s second largest economy. “It’s a two-way street,” Cukierman said. “As much as we are helping them, they are helping us.” Cukierman has done his part to promote the Israel-China business relationship. He is one of the founders of the Catalyst Everbright Fund, a joint fund managed by Israel’s Catalyst Equity Management and Hong Kong-based China Everbright focusing on investments in agriculture, industrials/manufacturing, healthcare, water, energy, technology, media and telecommunication, among others, picked for their potential success in the Chinese market. The fund secured more than $100 million at its first closing in March 2014, and is targeting US$200-US$300 million for its final closing.

Dr. Ge Li, chairman and CEO of WuXi PharmaTech, said that the company was “excited to establish a presence in Israel and to contribute to one of the most dynamic healthcare innovation ecosystems in the world. We value the expertise that Pontifax has developed in Israel’s biotech industry and look forward to working closely with them to help many of their portfolio companies and other start-up companies.”

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