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Chinese group’s visit could result in closer business ties with Buffalo

A delegation from China is visiting Buffalo this week at the invitation of executives from the biotech company Athenex in a visit meant to boost Western New York’s position as a player in the global pharmaceutical and health care markets, a top company official said.

The group will spend Tuesday and Wednesday exploring Athenex facilities in the region and meeting with local leaders in a visit that also is meant to forge closer ties among business, government and academic institutions in the two countries.

The hope is to leverage Athenex’s recent surge of growth in its Asian markets to generate further economic development in its home region of Western New York, Flint D. Besecker, the company’s chief operating officer, said in an interview.

“We’re trying to connect the legs of the stool we have in China with the legs of the stool we have in the U.S.,” he said.

No announcements of partnerships or projects are expected to be made this week, Besecker said, but the visit is likely to lay the groundwork for further collaborations.

That’s illustrated by the presence in the delegation of two executives – Yonghui Wang, chairman and general manager, and Lun Zeng, deputy general manager – from Xiangxue Pharmaceuticals, a Chinese company that already is a partner with Athenex. Besecker said Xiangxue is considering investing in a plant in Western New York that would manufacture neutraceuticals – food that has been treated to provide a health benefit – and would employ between 250 and 500 workers.

“This is just the initial scoping it out,” Besecker said.

That manufacturing partnership, if it comes to pass, would be separate from the $200 million manufacturing plant that the state is building for Athenex in Dunkirk.

Another part of the delegation includes representatives of the Chinese equivalent of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration who want to see Athenex’s facilities in this country. They will visit Athenex’s operations at the Conventus building on the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus, in the University at Buffalo’s New York State Center of Excellence in Bioinformatics and Life Sciences and at QuaDPharma in Newstead.

Another key member of the delegation is Jianchun Li, the top political representative from the government of the Banan district, in China’s Chongqing municipality, that is building two manufacturing plants for Athenex.

Two other important members of the group are a pair of professors from Hong Kong Polytechnic University, Besecker said.

Johnson Lau, Athenex’s CEO, helped to arrange a translational medicine collaboration between the government in Chongqing, which oversees the hospitals and universities in the province, and the Hong Kong university.

The professors – Larry Chow and Terence Lau, both of the department of applied biology and chemical technology – were invited on the trip to see whether UB could fit into the collaboration, and they will have the chance to meet with UB administrators, Besecker said.

Some of Athenex’s Asian investors, who have pumped tens of millions of dollars into the company, also are coming along on the trip.

A planned highlight of the visit is a Tuesday evening dinner at the Buffalo Club with local officials.

This visit comes eight months after a group of high-ranking officials from Chongqing came to Buffalo to meet with local corporate, research and government leaders and to see Athenex’s local operations. That September visit was a preamble to the province’s and the Banan district’s agreeing to construct the manufacturing facilities for Athenex, a deal that was reached in October.

email: swatson@buffnews.com