The Health Silk Road features prominently at this year’s Boao Forum for Asia Annual Conference. The Shanghai Institutes for International Studies and Grisons Peak Services, a consultancy firm based in London, recently published a report on this program, which is part of the Chinese Belt & Road Initiative. In an interview Henry Tillman, founder and Chairman of Grisons Peak Services, shared some of the key findings.
Q. Why is the Health Silk Road Important to Global Public Health Governance?
Henry Tillman: Upon gaining control of COVID-19 on a domestic basis, over a seven-month period running from early March until late October 2020, China provided medical assistance to some 150 countries. This is an extraordinary feat.
In addition, the nation also provided other aid to numerous countries adversely affected by the virus, coming both directly from the Chinese Government and its policy banks as well as via multilateral institutions such as the World Health Organization (WHO) and its vaccine pillar COVAX. Throughout 2020, Chinese biotech companies subsequently developed, tested and began distributing vaccines by the year’s end.
These global partnerships extended beyond the circa 140 countries that had previously signed Belt and Road cooperation documents, reaching out to all of humanity.
Being the first country to control the virus, China then rapidly changed course to provide time-sensitive medical aid focusing on countries that had signed Belt and Road cooperation deals as well as some other countries in the EU and Asia, demonstrating global leadership. China has also donated $50 million to WHO in support of its anti-pandemic programs and joined the COVAX.
The combination of this global coalition together with what we see as the development of a hub-and-spoke model along the Belt and Road routes can provide up-to-date medical data as well as a base for identifying possible future epidemics.
Q. How do you interpret the growth of mutual investment between China and foreign countries in the health and pharmaceutical fields?
Henry Tillman: From our study on outbound healthcare investments, partnerships, joint ventures (JVs) and licensing agreements gathered pace throughout the third quarter of 2020. This trend continued in the following quarter. Our numbers are in line with Gordon Orr, a global consultant, who mentioned in March that over 250 partnerships were launched just in 2020 between Chinese and non-Chinese pharmaceutical companies. Many of these were forged to license China-developed innovative drugs for global sale—a reflection of the advancements in China’s pharmaceutical and biotech research and development.
Q. Financing of China’s capital market in the country’s health and pharmaceutical enterprises has increased. How do you think this will contribute to global health?
Henry Tillman: According to Pitchbook Data Inc., venture capital (VC) investment in the biotech and pharmaceutical fields totalled $28.5 billion across 1,073 deals, up by 60.5 percent year on year, driven in part by the importance of vaccine development. VC-backed biotech companies raised $11.5 billion across 73 public listings in 2020. This helped lead to a global No.2 ranking for the Hong Kong Stock Exchange ($51.2-billion IPO proceeds), No.3 for the Shanghai Stock Exchange ($51-billion IPO proceeds) and No.5 for the Shenzhen Stock Exchange ($18.8-billion IPO proceeds).
This new capital raised via capital markets as well as from VC investors can be expected to fuel the growth of existing vaccine groups as well as new groups being formed and new vaccines being tested.
Q. How can Belt and Road Initiative participating countries work together to address deficiencies in their health sectors?
Henry Tillman: The official launch of the Health Silk Road program in 2015 is a token of China’s commitment to global healthcare. The term Health Silk Road was first officially used in a document by Chinese health authorities. President Xi Jinping mentioned this when he visited the WHO headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland, in 2017.
It is not possible to predict any future responses from various governments, but China’s development of a number of healthcare hubs in other Belt and Road Initiative participants is a solid starting point for further collaboration.