In 2000, Frank Jiang, HS ’99, had just finished a year as an attending physician at Barnes-Jewish Hospital. “As a doctor, especially in the emergency room, you are the one calling the shots,” Jiang says. But Jiang was now joining pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly. “You’re still working with a bunch of people with similar medical backgrounds, but you’re no longer calling the shots. It is consensus-driven. It was really a culture shock,” he says with a laugh.
Treating an individual required someone to take charge, but a new drug “is going to serve a million or even more patients, so the process, obviously, is very rigorous and carefully regulated.”
Despite the initial shock, Jiang enjoyed pharmaceutical research. He is now the chairman and CEO of CStone, a biopharmaceutical company creating immuno-oncology and precision medicines to address cancers that are prevalent in China, such as liver cancer, stomach cancer and esophageal cancer, but are rare in the West. He hopes CStone will become a leading global pharmaceutical company like Eli Lilly.
Jiang became chairman and CEO of CStone in 2016 and had almost no employees. By 2019 the company was listed on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange. CStone now has 700 employees, 15 assets in its pipeline, two approved products, and two more expected by the end of 2021.
Jiang attended medical school in China — he’s from Nanjing — but went to Canada for his PhD and to WashU for his residency and clinical fellowship.
“The School of Medicine really is committed to creating a diverse, inclusive and equitable culture and environment,” Jiang says, which is why he stayed a year as an attending after his residency.
At Eli Lilly, Jiang was trained in running clinical trials and ran his first within a few months. Two years later, Jiang joined Sanofi Pharmaceuticals, where he was global project team leader and ran a mega clinical trial of 21,000 patients. The trial, EXTRACT, used a blood thinner to treat patients who had suffered an acute myocardial infraction (heart attack). “The success of the study, of this trial, changed the entire treatment paradigm,” Jiang says. “And to see that drug on the market after four years straight of working on weekends, working every day — it was worth every single minute of the effort.”
“The success of the study, of this trial, changed the treatment paradigm … It was worth every single minute of the effort.”Frank Jiang, on the extract trial
In 2006, Jiang returned to China with Sanofi, eventually becoming head of research and development for Asia. At the time, it could take over a year to get a clinical trial approved in China, while in the U.S., for example, it took 30 calendar days. This meant clincial trials often had no Chinese participants, making it harder to get the drug approved in China.
“We did a lot of work with Chinese regulators to shorten the review time,” Jiang says. Sanofi also started submitting their applications earlier in China. As a result, the number of clinical trial patients from China increased six-fold, and application approval times went from 12-18 months to 60 days.
Throughout his career, Jiang has made time for patient care and mentorship either at his companies or as a professor. Now, he teaches part-time at Tsinghua University.
“I developed a very clear mission statement for myself. It is a tripartite mission: patient care, education and also research,” he says. “That’s it. That’s my mission, and the things that I do.”