Interview with Mr. Yan Cheng, President Asia, Karolinska Development AB

Mr. Cheng has many years of experiences of Venture Capital in European life science companies and has successfully invested in/exited from such companies or/and been adviser to such companies on business development, especially on the Technology and Research Collaboration and Mergers & Acquisitions activities between Asia and Europe.

As an entrepreneur, Mr. Cheng participates in, among various life science companies, the early-stage investment to and exit from KRY, one of the largest digital health companies in Europe. Meanwhile, Mr. Cheng provides strategic advice to public and private companies from both Europe and China, such as to a Hong Kong listed pharmaceutical company Sino Biopharmaceutical, to a UK listed life science research company Oncimmune, to a Hong Kong private pharmaceutical company WinHealth Pharma, and to a China state-owned life science management company BioBay. While working with these companies, Mr. Cheng is usually been appointed by these companies and their affiliates as in house executives, as professional members of the board, or/and as trustees.

Besides the entrepreneurial ventures, Mr. Cheng is the President Asia, and the Chairman of Nomination Committee at a Sweden public life science investment company Karolinska Development.

Before initiating the entrepreneurial activities, Mr. Cheng has been in various international business development positions for research driven companies and academies, such as at Immune Therapy Holdings from Sweden, at Indonesia International Institute for Life Sciences from Indonesia, and at Jönköping International Business School from Sweden.


ASIA PACIFIC BUSINESS: Mr. Cheng, please tell us more about Karolinska Development and how do you empower the life science and healthcare companies?

Karolinska Development is a Nordic life sciences investment company. The company focuses on identifying breakthrough medical innovations in the Nordic region that are developed by entrepreneurs and leadership teams. The Company invests in the creation and growth of companies that advance these assets into commercial products that are designed to make a difference to patients’ lives while providing an attractive return on investment to shareholders. The Company has access to world-class medical innovations at the Karolinska Institutet and other leading universities and research institutes in the Nordic region. The Company aims to build companies around scientists who are leaders in their fields, supported by experienced management teams and advisers, and co-funded by specialist international investors, to provide the greatest chance of success.
Once having made the investments, Karolinska Development ensures that the invested companies empowered with management teams and advisors with high levels of scientific expertise, experience of professional project management, and a strong track record of successfully commercializing their gains. Meanwhile, Karolinska Development provides professional support throughout the process, such as optimizing the design of the clinical studies, and expanding therapeutic indications for spreading the risks, etc.

ASIA PACIFIC BUSINESS: Asia is no doubt a mega market for healthcare industries, please tell us your business or investment in Asia. What are some of the latest trends that you’ve been observing across markets that you’d like to highlight? Where do you see the greatest potential?

As pursuing the commitments to the portfolio of companies from Asian market access and Asian investment perspectives, Karolinska Development has been actively supporting the portfolio of companies collaborating with Asian industrial partners and investors. For example, Dilafor, one of Karolinska Development’s portfolio of companies, has been remaining good partnership with a Hong Kong public company Lee’s Pharmaceutical. This partnership enable Dilafor tap into the Greater China market for its lead drug candidate for obstetrics and gynaecological indications, where there are significant unmet medical needs in maternal health with nearly 20 million babies born each year in China. This partnership will also add value for Dilafor in terms of all other markets outside the Greater China area.

Recently, I have seen the trend of Asian life science companies especially from China and European life science companies making cross-border deals and fund raising at each other’s market which opens up greater opportunities, e.g., speeding up the research and development process and commercialization process, thus faster providing the treatments to the patients. Considering this trend, I see one of the greatest potentials might be having an experienced active cross-border life science investor capturing this trend by providing tailor made solutions to both Asian life science companies and European life science companies.

ASIA PACIFIC BUSINESS: As an investment company, is there a philosophy or an approach you take when deal making? And how do you add value for your portfolio companies?

Karolinska Development invests in medical innovations that can be developed into ground-breaking treatments for serious diseases with high commercial potential. Our goal is to make a difference in patients’ lives and to generate high returns for our shareholders. We work as active owners in close partnership with other leading specialist investors, and the holdings are normally divested on the basis of the results of phase II clinical trials (pharmaceutical projects), or during the early phase of commercialisation (MedTech projects).

To optimize the chances of success, Karolinska Development ensures that the portfolio companies have management teams and advisors with high levels of scientific expertise, experience of professional project management, and a strong track record of successfully commercialising their gains. We have well-defined exit strategies for every individual portfolio company. One of the recent exit portfolios is a good example to show our work from investment to exit. We first invested in Forendo Pharma, which is developing a new treatment for endometriosis, in 2013. Karolinska Development has been heavily involved in the work of Forendo Pharma’s Board of Directors ever since, helping to develop the company up to the point of last year’s sale. In November 2021, the global pharmaceutical company, Organon, acquired Forendo Pharma, for a total purchase price of USD 945 million. This is one of the biggest single transactions ever in the Nordic biotech sector. At the time of Organon’s acquisition of Forendo Pharma, Karolinska Developments had an ownership of approximately 9.7 per cent.

ASIA PACIFIC BUSINESS: COVID-19 is still a worldwide threat, but covid has significantly accelerated health industry’s development, can you talk about how has COVID-19 impacted the healthcare industries and your business?

COVID-19 has accelerated the digitalization to health industry in many aspects over the last two years, I remain optimistic that this trend will continue in the years ahead. We have been adapting with this trend by optimizing the operation and putting special attentions to the companies of Digital Health, Digital Medicine, and Digital Therapeutics. I have been observing great number of innovations in the fields of Digital Health, Digital Medicine, and Digital Therapeutics.

COVID-19 has no doubt accelerated the awareness of life science companies being a good and responsible corporate citizen in a broader aspect. Sustainability for Karolinska Development is about contributing to society’s development through investments in innovative pharmaceutical projects and medical technology products with the potential to improve human health. To ensure that we conduct our business in a responsible way, we work actively to constantly develop the company’s understanding and management of ESG aspects (Environment, Social, Governance), both from an impact perspective and from a business perspective. I have also seen the great emphasis on ESG, not only from large corporations, but also from small and medium sized enterprises.

COVID-19 has a profound impact to our industry and our business, however, “adapt, learn and overcome” is what I have always been saying, and I think we should always remain an open mind to embrace tomorrow.

ASIA PACIFIC BUSINESS: Mr. Cheng, please tell us about yourself, your personal experience, the lessons you learnt. What inspires you about being in the healthcare industry?

I am always passionate for practising new things that I can learn continuously and be rewarded with such learning, while doing good things for the society. My passion is also very much driven by international contexts. Being rewarded by doing good things to the society has been driving and inspiring me in the life science and healthcare industry.

Besides my assignments at Karolinska Development as the President Asia and the Chairman of Nomination Committee, my enthusiasm in the life science and healthcare industry has also been cultivating me do various entrepreneurial ventures and activities.

As an entrepreneur through my various companies, I participate in, among various life science companies, the early-stage investment to and exit from KRY, one of the largest digital health companies in Europe. Meanwhile, I provide strategic advice to public and private companies from both Europe and China, such as to a Hong Kong listed pharmaceutical company Sino Biopharmaceutical, to a UK listed life science research company Oncimmune, to a Hong Kong private pharmaceutical company WinHealth Pharma, and to a China state-owned life science management company BioBay. While working with these companies, I have usually been appointed by these companies and their affiliates as in house executives, as professional members of the board, or/and as trustees.

Before initiating the entrepreneurial activities, I had been in various international business development positions for research driven companies and academies, such as at Immune Therapy Holdings from Sweden, at Indonesia International Institute for Life Sciences from Indonesia, and at Jönköping International Business School from Sweden, where I have also got my bachelor’s degree in business administration.

Recalling these years of working, I have been learning intensively from many aspects and not thinking from yourself perspectives is one of the biggest lessons that I shall keep learning.