Chemistry teacher who founded pharma firm now worth $14 billion

HONG KONG (BLOOMBERG) - Zhong Huijuan quit her job teaching chemistry to teenagers and got into the drug business.

The career switch has paid off handsomely.

Her Hansoh Pharmaceutical Group, China's largest maker of psychotropic drugs, is poised to go public on Friday (June 14) in Hong Kong with a market value of US$10.4 billion (S$14.2 billion). Ms Zhong holds a 68 per cent stake, giving her a US$7.9 billion (S$10.8 billion) fortune, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index.

Ms Zhong, 58, is not even the richest person in the family. Her husband Sun Piaoyang, 60, is worth US$9.3 billion, due to the success of his Jiangsu Hengrui Medicine Co, a maker of anti-tumour drugs whose stock has returned about 16,300 per cent since it went public in Shanghai almost two decades ago.

They are poised to be among the world's richest pharma families, with a combined fortune that rivals the Sacklers, who made a fortune selling opioids, and the Bertarellis of Switzerland.

Healthcare spending in China has surged to 5.9 trillion yuan (S$1.1 trillion) last year from 3.5 trillion yuan in 2014, and is projected to top 9.4 trillion yuan in 2023, Hansoh said in a prospectus for the offering.

Mr Cen Junda, a long-time investor of the Lianyungang, Jiangsu-based company, is also a billionaire with a stake valued at about US$1.7 billion.

Ms Iris Luo, a spokesman for Hansoh, declined to comment on their fortunes.

The initial public offering will make Ms Zhong China's third-richest woman, after two real estate moguls: Country Garden Holdings co-chairman Yang Huiyan, and Longfor Group Holdings chairman Wu Yajun, who are worth US$21.4 billion and US$10 billion, respectively.

Ms Zhong graduated with an undergraduate degree in chemistry from Jiangsu Normal University in July 1982 and taught chemistry at Yan'an middle school in Lianyungang in the early 1990s, according to the website of All-China Women's Foundation. She founded Hansoh in 1995.

The company, which researches and produces drugs for six major therapeutic areas, reported 1.9 billion yuan in profit in 2018, an 18 per cent increase from a year earlier, the prospectus shows. The drugmaker gets almost half of its revenue from cancer treatments.

"We believe its R&D will focus on making generics as soon as possible to take the first-mover advantage, a strategy many leading pharma companies applied in the past," said Hong Kong-based analyst Zhang Jialin of ICBC International Research.

Hansoh's cornerstone investors include Singapore's sovereign wealth fund GIC and Hillhouse Capital, Asia's biggest private equity buyer, helping to draw more market interest in Friday's IPO.

The company said on Thursday that the retail portion of the offering was 12 times covered. Hengrui's earlier success also may help bolster investor confidence in Hansoh.

"The synergies between Hengrui and Hansoh, particularly in R&D and distribution, will bring the latter advantages over industry competitors," said Bloomberg Intelligence analyst Mia He.