Student Founder Profile: Yang Zhang '19, Co-Founder & Chairperson of ZXBio
ZXBio, A Financial-Immunological Technology Hybrid Firm to Transform the Pharmaceutical Industry
Yang Zhang’19 is a Co-founder and the Chairperson of ZXBio.
It was 2014, one of my closest friends in China was suffering from non-Hodgkin’s B cell lymphoma and he asked me about the best treatment option. I mentioned Rituximab to him and helped him consult with a physician about the price of the treatment. “Rituximab costs RMB 95520 CNY (14,209.56 U.S. Dollars) for a month when combined with chemotherapy,” the physician said. When I heard the price tag, I was shocked. Due to the cost, my friend ended up choosing chemotherapy without Rituximab. At that time, I realized that a large patient population in China was not able to get the best treatment option because the drugs were not affordable. I decided to pursue a career in the biomedical field to develop drugs at an affordable cost.
In 2016, after publishing my dissertation in the eLife journal, I completed my Immunology Ph.D. at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF). Although I had solid training in immunology research, in order to drive advancement in affordable drug development, it was necessary to develop financial skills and widen my business experience. When I mentioned the idea of pursuing a joint degree program at the Yale School of Management and the Yale School of Public Health to my mentor at UCSF, Dr. Jason Cyster (Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator, member of National Academy of Science and of American Academy of Arts and Sciences), he was very supportive of my decision and encouraged me to make a transition in my career path. Luckily enough, I was accepted at Yale. During my last 2 years at Yale, I have been fascinated by how the financial world works and how different financial derivatives and instruments can be used to construct a specific investment portfolio which allows an investor or a firm to take a specific set of risks. Advanced classes such as “Speculation & Hedging in Financial Markets”, “Corporate Finance”, and “Private Equity: Leveraged Buyout” greatly deepened my understanding of financial products’ pricing and corporate capital management.
How did Yale SOM lead me to the ZXBio founding process?
SOM curriculum is well-suited for entrepreneurs. The first-year core class at Yale SOM is extremely important and greatly influenced my career choice. Unlike other business schools, Yale SOM took an organizational point of view, we took integrated curriculums during our first year at SOM. It opened my eyes and helped me develop broad awareness and elevated perspectives about how business decisions influence complex organizational systems. The classes I found most helpful are “Sourcing & Managing Funds”, “Operations Engine” and “The Executive”. Additionally, the healthcare and VC/PE conferences exposed me to leaders in different industries, assisting me to understand how different sectors work from a systematic point of view. The most valuable things I learned at SOM are that Yale provides us a stage to learn different perspectives and synthesized information for the business decision-making process. We also learned different tools that help in pursuing careers in different business settings. Yale SOM educates and provides a platform for practice. After the first year of core curriculums, I decided to pursue a career in entrepreneurship.
In the summer of 2017, when I went back to visit my family in Zhejiang, China, I met Mr. Nan Chen - my current business partner - during a family gathering. Both Mr. Chen and my parents ran family businesses in China. Mr. Chen mainly manufactured accessories to furniture retail companies in the western countries and my parents were manufacturing bearings and other mechanical accessories to supply the China mainland market. Nevertheless, both of them felt the traditional manufacturing business was getting more and more competitive and it was essential to upgrade the technology or move into other high tech industries. When they expressed this concern, I was inspired and I sensed a great opportunity to partner to form a biotechnology company. Mr. Chen’s and my parents’ experience in traditional manufacture could be transformed into high-quality drug accessory/packaging production, and their local relationship could facilitate the founding process. I expressed the idea of forming a partnership to start a new biotechnology company which applies the latest technologies to develop antibody diagnostic reagents and drugs, to which I could bring the technology and the financial management skills. “That’s fantastic!” Mr. Chen and my family were very excited. Very soon we developed a business model and proposed it to Mr. Zheng Fei, the head officer in the Mogan National Hi-Tech Zone, Huzhou, China. Mr. Fei was constantly reviewing different business plans to decide which one to support. After reading our plan, he was extremely encouraged and he thought we had a strong and close leadership team, novel technology, new business model and good connections with the local market. He was very generous and provided us with great financial and policy support from the Science and Technology Bureau, Mogan National Hi-Tech Zone, Huzhou, China. On August 22, 2017, our company, ZXBio, was officially registered in the State Administration of Industry and Commerce, with a registered capital at 40MM RMB (Roughly $6 MM US Dollars).
How has your experience at Yale SOM impacted your decision-making at ZXBio?
My experience at Yale has greatly influenced my decision-making and business strategy at ZXBio. Through the analysis of Porters’ five forces and ZXBio’s competitive advantage in the biotech sector, I decided to combine financial skills, digital technology, and the latest immunological advancement to position ZXBio as a hybrid biotechnology platform which establishes an expertise in manufacturing and operational process optimization to facilitate top-grade antibody production. Specifically, ZXBio focuses on 3 major transformations in the biotech/pharmaceutical industry to establish a unique presence: 1) Digital Manufacturing Facility: we are establishing an innovative model of manufacturing data analysis and feedback control system to optimize production efficiency, which allows us to fit our antibody manufacturing process according to the market needs. 2) Manufacturing and Service Partnership: to develop a new business model for the pharmaceutical industry, instead of developing new molecules and pushing the molecules through the clinical trials, we serve as a manufacturing and service partnership with promising drug owners to help them scale the drug production and guide their discoveries through the clinical development process. 3) Patent Assessment and Acquisition: to make sure our technology is up-to-date, not only do we focus on improving our manufacturing automation and digitalization, but ZXBio also establishes a patent evaluation platform to assess the value of different technologies on the market. This allows us to engage deals of patent acquisition, which creates the opportunity of technological synergy and generates additional cash flows from acquired patent’s royalties.
Additionally, the HR strategy and project management skills I learned at SOM helped me recruit talents whose value and skills align with our organizational strategy and decide the product portfolio of our company. Now it has been one and a half years since the company was founded. We have been able to recruit top talents in the Chinese job market, and develop 15 antibody research reagent prototypes and one biosimilar to treat rheumatoid arthritis.
What have been the most valuable lessons you’ve learned at both Yale SOM and ZXBio?
Like every other SOM alumni does, I think the most valuable lesson at both Yale and ZXBio is that no matter what industries we are in, we need to create value from the business we are operating and at the same time develop skills and tools to make sure we can achieve our goal to make the impact in the society, which could be used to improve the public transportation efficiency, provide financial, consulting services to clients or help eradicate diseases. As we progress in our career we become leaders for business and societies, which is exactly the same as the SOM mission statement.
 Yang Zhang, Jason Cyster et al. Migratory and adhesive cues controlling innate-like lymphocyte surveillance of the pathogen-exposed surface of the lymph node. eLife. https://elifesciences.org/articles/18156
 ZXBio Website: https://www.zxbiopharm.com/