Saving Lives as a Doctor-entrepreneur

Dr Yin Wei Dong (APEX-C MBA 2002)

yin_wei_dongAs a trained physician, Dr Yin Wei Dong could be saving lives one at a time. As the founder and Chief Executive Officer of vaccine producer Sinovac Biotech, Dr Yin is in the position possibly to save millions of lives. Nasdaq-listed Sinovac is a vaccine manufacturer that develops, manufactures and sells vaccines to protect against viruses such as Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B, and the swine flu.

Engaging a major health crisis
Dr Yin’s interest in vaccines began during the 1980s in the city of Tangshan, located in the Chinese province of Hebei. After graduating from medical school, he was sent to the department of public health specializing in epidemics. In the early 1980s, Hepatitis A outbreaks were very common in Tangshan, where more than 10 outbreaks a year would occur.

“Because of the situation, in some villages, no one went to harvest crops or went to school,” recalls Dr Yin.

To address the problem, he had to essentially start from scratch. This was because at the time, the authorities were unable to identify what Hepatitis strain a person was infected with, whether it was A or B.

“There were neither diagnostic facilities nor vaccines. I had to drill down into the subject in order to fight against the epidemic,” remembers Dr Yin.

Hepatitis A in China was a serious public health problem, and not just in Tangshan. During the 1980s, the incidence of Hepatitis A in China was 60–200 individuals out of every 100,000. In one particular outbreak in 1988, more than 300,000 people in Shanghai contracted the illness after eating infected clams.

Making a difference in China
In the 1990s, China began importing vaccines to fight against Hepatitis A. However, this did little to stop the outbreaks, because the vaccines were too expensive, and people could not afford them. This is where Sinovac was able to make a difference.

In 2002, the company launched its first inactivated Hepatitis A vaccine in China. Developed by Sinovac, it was cheaper than imported vaccines. The vaccine was given to tens of millions of children in China. Today, the incidence of Hepatitis A in China is now down to 1 individual in every 100,000. In major cities such as Beijing, Tianjin, and Shanghai, the rate is even lower than that.

Another major achievement by Sinovac is the production of a vaccine to fight against swine flu. This was developed only 87 days after the outbreak occurred in Mexico in 2009. Sinovac was the first company in the world to run clinical trials for the vaccine. Sinovac’s vaccine against swine flu allowed the Chinese government to stockpile the vaccine in the event of a major outbreak in China.

An NUS education changes his outlook
He attributes a significant amount of his success to the Executive MBA that he obtained from the National University of Singapore’s (NUS) Business School in 2002. He began his EMBA in 2000, a significant year in the company’s history, when the first inactivated Hepatitis A vaccine had been developed in China, and was entering its commercialization stage. Dr Yin started on his EMBA and in just three weeks, it changed his life.

Before starting his course, he was proud of the fact that he considered his company to be the best in China. “After studying at NUS Business School, I changed my mind. I started to understand what it meant to be the best in the world, and how to make it so,” relates Dr Yin. After taking the EMBA program, the company’s goal changed from “being the best in China” to “being the best in the world.”

Looking ahead
He managed to get the necessary funding to commercialize the vaccine. In 2004, he got Sinovac listed on the American Stock Market, giving him access to even more capital. In 2009, Sinovac moved over to Nasdaq.

Sinovac is not standing still of course. It is now focused on bringing new products to the market, such as a vaccine against the enterovirus type 71, which causes a severe form of hand, foot, and mouth disease.

Staying motivated for the future
He believes that the secret to Sinovac’s success is what he took away from the first three weeks of his EMBA. “In my opinion, to be successful in what you do, the most important thing is to target the best, farthest and the greatest goal,” advises Dr Yin.

Naturally, achieving such a goal is not easy, and requires great effort, focus and dedication. He believes in going all in, as his work is a part of his life, and his life is a part of his work. He does not distinguish them from each other.

“By seeking a good career, you are doing positive, inspiring, and meaningful things for the society. When you work hard, your family will back you up. When you succeed, they will share your joy and happiness. When you are home, you bring the joy, success, and reward of your career home, which in turn results in a happier family,” reflects Dr Yin.

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