Journalist Spotlight

Julie Zhu on report on China cash funding U.S. biotech sector

Julie Zhu on report on China cash funding U.S. biotech sector

Last month, an in-depth Reuters report detailed how billions of dollars are flowing from China to fund U.S. biotech startups in a bet on the growth potential of China’s prescription-drug market and its biotech sector. The story, by Robin Respaut and Julie Zhu, reported that biotech startups are riding a wave of money from Asia that so far this year has poured $4.2 billion into private U.S.-based biotech companies. In a Reuters Best: Journalist Spotlight Q&A, Julie offers a behind-the-scenes look at how they landed the scoop.

Q. How did you and Robin get started on this story?

A. It started when my co-author Robin Respaut noticed there was a surge of Chinese money into U.S. biotech start-ups in the first half of the year, which was intriguing and hadn’t been previously reported. She then reached out to me to see if I had any interest in figuring out the reason and working on a story together. I immediately said yes and started to contact my sources for the story.

Q. What types of reporting were involved?

A. The story involved a lot of meetings, calling sources and data reporting over several weeks to find out what was going on.

Q. What was the hardest part of the reporting?

A. As I don’t have a background in healthcare or life sciences, it took me a while to figure out puzzling biotech/biopharma jargons and de-jargon them in the story. The next challenge was to get the right information from investors and entrepreneurs who don’t necessarily want to tell the whole world about their investment strategy or business plan. Also, my sources and myself were travelling a lot while we were working on the story. It was not easy to get hold of them.

Q. Why was this an important story to tell our customers?

A. As China, already the world’s second-largest drug market, has stepped up efforts to boost biotech as a strategic emerging industry, it was important to find out the goal of Chinese capital invested in U.S. biotech firms, the reason for U.S. firms accepting Chinese money, and whether the trade tensions between Washington and Beijing would slow down the flow of Chinese investment.

Q. What makes you passionate about journalism?

A. Journalism is the career for the curious. To me, it’s probably a lifestyle more than a job. It’s fascinating and satisfying to find things out that influential people don’t want the public to know, and break news stories.

Q. What is your beat and what do you find most fulfilling about it?

A. I cover Chinese deals and finance. It is an interesting and eye-opening beat as it lets me tell stories about the movers and shakers as well as the money in the world’s second largest economy.

Q. What have been your most rewarding and most difficult experiences as a journalist?

A. Like most journalists, I have ups and downs at work. The most rewarding times are when I put out scoops that rivals couldn’t match. The most difficult ones are when I have to interview people who’ve just suffered a tragedy and can barely talk in sorrow.

Read the latest from Julie Zhu and follow her on Twitter.


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