"Two years ago, when I decided to come back to China, I wanted an opportunity to
change people's lives and to help China's pharmaceutical industry," said Dr. Jin
Li, COO of Shenogen Pharma Group, in an exclusive interview with ChinaBio®
Today. Dr. Li was speaking in highly personal terms of his professional
odyssey as a returnee, or Hai Gui (literally, "sea turtle"). "If many
of us who have an understanding of Western pharma invest and work in China's
companies, we can do that. I will add a little bit, and everybody will add a
little bit," he continued. "But if we do just what Western pharma does, we won't
develop a unique China pharmaceutical pathway."
Those words say a great
deal about Dr. Li. But they also describe his company, Shenogen Pharma Group,
which is a combination of Western practices and traditional Chinese medicines.
It is also a highly innovative company that, despite its small size, is taking
on a very large goal: small molecule and biologic drugs that are potential
treatments for breast cancer and obesity.
The story has proved to be
compelling. At the recently held ChinaBio® Investor Forum in Shanghai, 21 young
companies presented their business plans to the over 80 venture capitalists in
attendance, and Shenogen was one of two presenters selected by a panel of 12 of
the VCs to win a "Most Promising Company" award. The Investor Forum was
organized by ChinaBio® Accelerator, a sister organization to ChinaBio® Today,
and hosted by ShanghaiBio Corporation, a rapidly growing CRO in Zhangjiang
Hi-Tech Park. (See www.ChinaBioLLC.com and www.shanghaibio.com.
To trace a short history of this young company, about three
years ago, one of the four founders of Shenogen, Zhao-Yi (Charlie) Wang,
discovered ER-a36, a novel variant of the estrogen receptor, as part of his
research at Creighton University in Omaha, Nebraska. Previously, ER-a66 had been
considered the main estrogen receptor that mediated estrogen signaling and
estrogen-stimulated cell proliferation in estrogen-caused breast cancer. Wang
showed that ER-a36 was also a significant participant in the estrogen signaling
process. ER-a36 is situated in the membrane. Membrane mediated estrogen
signaling had been thought to exist, but its mechanism was never proven until
Dr. Wang completed his research.
ER-a66, the long-characterized estrogen
signaling receptor that is located in the nucleus, is also the target through
which the breast cancer drug tamoxifen works. Tamoxifen, in use for 30 years, is
a very successful drug that still produces several billions of dollars of annual
revenues for its manufacturers. Generally, it is given for five years following
successful cancer treatment to prevent relapse.
According to Shenogen's
website, ER-a36 has considerable sequence homology with ER-a66, but
distinguishes itself by a unique C-terminal 27 amino acid sequence. It appears
to function through a totally different mechanism.