Technology transfer is a two-way street

Zou Yue CGTN Published: 2018-10-09 19:16:21
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The story starts with a vegetable – the humble celery. 

Chinese farmers in the south have long used celery seeds to treat epilepsy. But a small pharma company in northern China has extracted a chemical from celery oil – known as butylphthalide or simply NBP – and turned it into a real medicine. It made a huge difference for those who suffered strokes.

The key is that the compound can get through the blood-brain barrier, while most molecules can't. Once inside, it strengthens blood circulation and protects mitochondria, the energy machine of our body. NBP has proven to be effective in 78 percent of patients who had suffered blood blockage in brains. 

"Nobody believed that we could produce new patented drugs like NBP. For five years, we have been losing money. That is a big challenge. But looking back, that is how we made our way here, by overcoming challenges," said Lu Lijun, executive vice president of CSPC Pharmaceutical Group Limited. 

In 2017, NBP sales soared to 3.5 billion yuan (540 million US dollars) and it is now going through the approval process of the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). 

"It is costly to enter the US market. But we are confident about our technology. It has treated millions of Chinese and it can do more in the US," said Dr. Li Chunlei, CSPC's executive president and also chief scientist in charge of research and development.

Nobody can steal its way to wealth. The story of CSPC is a telling chapter of how Chinese people invent and use technology.

In the past four decades, the company has developed 200 categories of medicine treating diabetes, strokes, hypertension, infection and tumors. And the list goes on – eight Chinese drug companies were applying for approval from FDA in 2017. Their ambition is to treat more people around the world.

From semiconductors to software, and dumpsters to data, technologies have traveled to China. But it is a marriage of free wills, not an abduction of unwilling partners. China spent 28 billion US dollars in buying licensed patents in 2017 – that's 15 times more than 2001 when it joined the World Trade Organization (WTO). And the US patent owners are the biggest beneficiaries. 

Technology comes and goes. You may think China is mostly a receiver. Wrong! China also gives back. Patents awarded to international firms saw a 40-percent surge between 2012 and 2016. Guess who gets the most? The US. America is the largest recipient of Chinese patents. The number has doubled in five years. In 2017, revenue from patent export from China was 4.8 billion US dollars, a three-time jump year on year.

The diffusion of knowledge is an organic process. It encourages taking the lead, but also allows catching up. If China was a toddler in 1978, it became a teenager when it joined the WTO in 2001. And as any young life, China learned from others, and fast. Sometimes it makes mistakes, but it is always trying to do the right thing.

Now China has grown up and became a young adult. It started to work and pay back – that should be a new land of promises for itself and the world.

In Chinese, we say 恩人者圣,自恩者愿 – To benefit yourself is human, to benefit others is divine. The story of technology is always one of benefiting ourselves and others.

Scriptwriter: Zou Yue 

Animation consultant: Luo Qing 

Animation director: Hu Dacheng, Kong Qinjing 

Animation & Editing: Wang Pengbo, Shen Siyu 

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LU Xiankun Professor LU Xiankun is Managing Director of LEDECO Geneva and Associate Partner of IDEAS Centre Geneva. He is Emeritus Professor of China Institute for WTO Studies of the University of International Business and Economics (UIBE) and Wuhan University (WHU) of China and visiting professor or senior research fellow of some other universities and think tanks in China and Europe. He also sits in management of some international business associations and companies, including as Senior Vice President of Shenzhen UEB Technology LTD., a leading e-commerce company of China. Previously, Mr. LU was senior official of Chinese Ministry of Commerce and senior diplomat posted in Europe, including in Geneva as Counsellor and Head of Division of the Permanent Mission of China to the WTO and in Brussels as Commercial Secretary of the Permanent Mission of China to the EU. Benjamin Cavender Benjamin Cavender is a Shanghai based consultant with more than 11 years of experience helping companies understand consumer behavior and develop go to market strategies for China. He is a frequent speaker on economic and consumer trends in China and is often featured on CNBC, Bloomberg, and Channel News Asia. Sara Hsu Sara Hsu is an associate professor from the State University of New York at New Paltz. She is a regular commentator on Chinese economy. Xu Qinduo Xu Qinduo is CRI's former chief correspondent to Washington DC, the United States. He works as the producer, host and commentator for TODAY, a flagship talk show on current affairs. Mr. Xu contributes regularly to English-language newspapers including Shenzhen Daily and Global Times as well as Chinese-language radio and TV services. Lin Shaowen A radio person, Mr. Lin Shaowen is strongly interested in international relations and Chinese politics. As China is quite often misunderstood in the rest of the world, he feels the need to better present the true picture of the country, the policies and meanings. So he talks a lot and is often seen debating. Then friends find a critical Lin Shaowen criticizing and criticized. George N. Tzogopoulos Dr George N. Tzogopoulos is an expert in media and politics/international relations as well as Chinese affairs. He is Senior Research Fellow at the Centre International de Européenne (CIFE) and Visiting Lecturer at the European Institute affiliated with it and is teaching international relations at the Department of Law of the Democritus University of Thrace. George is the author of two books: US Foreign Policy in the European Media: Framing the Rise and Fall of Neoconservatism (IB TAURIS) and The Greek Crisis in the Media: Stereotyping in the International Press (Ashgate) as well as the founder of, an institutional partner of CRI Greek. David Morris David Morris is the Pacific Islands Trade and Investment Commissioner in China, a former Australian diplomat and senior political adviser. Harvey Dzodin After a distinguished career in the US government and American media Dr. Harvey Dzodin is now a Beijing-based freelance columnist for several media outlets. While living in Beijing, he has published over 200 columns with an emphasis on arts, culture and the Belt & Road initiative. He is also a sought-after speaker and advisor in China and abroad. He currently serves as Nonresident Research Fellow of the think tank Center for China and Globalization and Senior Advisor of Tsinghua University National Image Research Center specializing in city branding. Dr. Dzodin was a political appointee of President Jimmy Carter and served as lawyer to a presidential commission. Upon the nomination of the White House and the US State Department he served at the United Nations Office in Vienna, Austria. He was Director and Vice President of the ABC Television in New York for more than two decades.