Screening for Cancer in China:
One hot summer day, as we stepped up to the humble Beijing offices of Jin Hui Ze Technology Development Co., Victor Li and I, Yashih Wu, looked at each other with a nod of acknowledgement and sense of baited breath. It had been almost an entire year since we first began the numerous late-night conference calls and emails to communicate with this Chinese biotech startup firm as a volunteer consulting project.
Thanks to some generous funding from the Student Association Community Impact Fund, we were eager to finally meet our “clients” face-to-face in Beijing for the first time and to present our last deliverable, a business plan. But before we go in, we reminisce about the steps that brought us here today.
Cancer is the number one cause of death in China. In 2000, the cancer incidence in China was estimated at 1.8 to 2.0 million people and the total death toll was estimated to be about 1.5 million. At present, science is far from able to cure cancer so the prevention and early treatment of cancer is still the most effective method of controlling the incidence of death caused by cancer. As a result, there is a tremendous need for early cancer detection tools.
Recognizing this need, Jin Hui Ze Technology Development Co. was established in 2007 as a for-profit social enterprise whose mission is to improve quality of life through the prevention, detection and monitoring of precancerous conditions. Their primary product was based on a patent for an affordable, easy-to-use occult blood cancer screening kit which quickly screens for up to 23 different types of cancers. Although they had a great technology based on extensive research conducted by the prestigious Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences, in order to scale the reach of their product they needed to create a viable go-to-market strategy.
Seeking assistance in creating a business plan to present to VCs, Jin Hui Ze reached out to HBS students through the International Business and Development Club (now the Globalization Club) volunteer consulting program and found a team of six eager RCs: Ray Liu (OD), Hui Wen Chan (OE), Victor Li (OC), Ade Okunubi (OC), Jessica Shannon (OE), and me. It was certainly an interesting mix of backgrounds: some of us had worked in healthcare at GE and the Clinton Foundation, others had backgrounds in finance and marketing, some were scientists-but all of us were excited to do something new which would potentially further healthcare in China.
Over the course of the school year, our team discussed patent strength, ways to partner with the government, channel strategies, pricing differentiation, and urban vs. rural outreach. We debated the merits of China’s universal healthcare subsidies as a way to stimulate domestic spending and the role the cancer screening results would have on the decision by insurance companies on who to insure. We tried to wrap our heads around the technology and struggled through the translation of specialized medical terms. We developed an appreciation for the difficulties of managing project scope, addressing ever-shifting client demands, and working in global teams. But above all, we developed a greater appreciation for each other.
In the end we concluded with the client that it would be best to phase the roll-out by targeting private urban hospitals with a complete screening product kit. Jin Hui Ze would have to invest in gaining entry to hospitals and educating physicians on how to administer the tests and interpret results. As they gained acceptance in these channels, Jin Hui Ze could begin partnering with insurance companies to include this kit in their annual physical exams and obtain Chinese government healthcare subsidies to cover the cost of these kits. Only once these channels were established could Jin Hui Ze look to expand into community health centers, public government health channels, and rural villages with more basic versions of the kits. Five million USD raised from venture funding would be used to pay the patent licensing fees, ramp up manufacturing and distribution, and obtain channel entry.
Now, as the two representatives from our team, Victor and I had flown in from Hong Kong and Shanghai, where we were respectively interning this summer, to present our culminating work and to discuss Jin Hui Ze’s next steps to proliferate their life-saving product. We step inside the office and exhale.
Note: Jin Hui Ze is seeking additional HBS student consulting help. Any Mandarin-speaking students interested in joining this project for the 2009-2010 school year should contact project leader, Ray Liu at email@example.com.
Yashih Wu (OC) was born and raised in sunny Southern California. She believes in “drinking life to the lees” and has thus made it her goal to travel the world, especially the many amazing places in China. Yashih is a graduate of Princeton University and is Co-President of the Asia Business Club. She thanks the SA Community Impact Fund for making this visit to Jin Hui Ze in Beijing possible.