Editor’s note: This story is part of our 2022 PharmaVoice 100 feature.
Our honoree: Samantha Du
Title: CEO, founder, chair, Zai Lab
The company’s focus: Zai Lab is a biotech emerging from China with four approved products — targeting three types of cancer and bacterial infections — and a deep pipeline with more than 28 candidates across various indications in over 50 clinical trials.
A company at the forefront of China’s efforts to become a hub of biotech innovation, Zai Lab is targeting treatments for the global commercial market, while also developing therapies for China’s unmet patient needs.
“[Du] saw an opportunity to make innovation in healthcare more accessible and [became] one of the first to address the underserved patient market in China,” a nominator says.
Zai Lab’s 11 internal R&D programs are mostly geared towards oncology but also include treatments for conditions such as schizophrenia, Alzheimer’s and more.
Du’s background: After earning her Ph.D. in biochemistry, Du dove into healthcare by leading research at Pfizer, working with investment portfolios at Sequoia Capital China and co-founding Hutchinson MediPharm.
“Now at Zai Lab, [Du] brings her veteran expertise in drug research and development, entrepreneurial spirit and passion for healthcare to drug innovation in biotechnology,” a nominator writes.
According to her nominator, Du’s experience in China’s biopharma industry has earned her the moniker the “godmother of China’s biotech industry.”
Her impact: Du isn’t just focused on advancing R&D to fill unmet medical needs — she’s looking to transform the process of drug development all together.
“Dissatisfied with the status quo of biopharma, [Du] aims to create a new R&D paradigm that employs efficiency while maintaining quality and leveraging the most rigorous science to positively impact the lives of people,” her nominator says. “[Du] has built a broad pipeline of life-changing therapies.”
“The biotech industry was young in China, and it often took years for Western innovation to reach patients in China — I knew I had to be a part of solving this.”
CEO, founder, chair, Zai Lab
Why she’s inspiring: A shrewd business leader, Du also recognizes that internal talent changes can drive a meaningful impact on business. In particular, Du believes that the future of healthcare should include more women in leadership roles and, according to her nominator, Du has built a workforce that is 57% female with over half of the key management positions filled by women.
“[Du] doesn’t just want to close the healthcare gap. She is driven to close the gender pay gap at Zai Lab by being one of the first to achieve gender parity,” her nominator says. “In holding her own company to the highest standards of transparency, ethics and accessibility, [Du] is paving the way for a new type of healthcare business model.”
Du has also woven a commitment to other social issues into the fabric of the company.
“[Du] introduced employee-developed core values and integrated environmental protection, social responsibility and governance practices into Zai Lab’s core principles to create a culture where inspiration and innovation can thrive,” her nominator says.
In her own words: “I entered the pharmaceutical industry after completing my Ph.D. I was inspired in the lab to translate research to patients to improve lives,” she says.