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Meet the Manager: Q&A with Cinney Zhang

  • 08 March 2023 (5 min read)

Please tell us about yourself. What are your education and career experiences to date?

I was born and raised in China until age 13, that’s when I moved to the US with my family. I graduated high school as valedictorian and was awarded the highest honours for mathematics-statistics and finance in my undergraduate studies in the US. Also during my university years, I completed a research project funded by the American National Science Foundation for which I devised an efficient monitoring scheme for tracking medical errors. Following that, I continued my education journey at the University of Cambridge in the UK, studying a masters degree in statistics with a concentration on biostatistics.

In July 2010, on the heels of the financial crisis, I joined Citi after graduating from Cambridge, exposing myself to both market and credit risk management training. Later, I moved from risk management to equity research, covering the biopharma industry. This was a career move that, while proven to be exceptionally rewarding, was also extremely demanding given the plethora of scientific and industry knowledge required.

After spending six years at sell-side investment banks on both sides of the pond, in 2016, I moved to Bloomberg Intelligence (BI), the research arm of Bloomberg. In addition to supporting the team’s large pharma coverage, I was the lead Analyst for over a dozen biotech stocks. I travelled internationally to conduct site visits, interviewed management teams, attended medical conferences, and built financial models to support investment ideas. There, I also initiated BI’s coverage of China’s biotech sector. In 2018, I hosted BI’s first biotech event in Hong Kong, shortly after Hong Kong Stock Exchange’s new listing regimen that allows pre-profit companies to be listed on its board, a change that is significantly bolstering biotech companies’ access to capital markets. A few months later, I was on the road again meeting biotech management teams in Asia, and hosted BI’s second event featuring presentations by C-level executives from some of the most prominent and innovative companies in the China biotech field, and panel discussions with biotech investors and experts.

Then in 2021, I joined AXA IM’s Healthcare Investment team as a fund manager, working alongside Linden and Peter.

Recently, I completed my Executive MBA at the University of Cambridge, with a thesis titled “The Rise of China’s Biotech Sector: What the Future Holds”.

What is interesting about your role here at AXA IM and what motivates you to do well?

The most interesting thing about my fund manager role here at AXA IM is no two days are the same. Whether it be the market moves, or sector newsflow, or meeting companies, or attending conferences – there’s always something new, something different, something to learn, something that gets me curious and pushes me to dig further, and ultimately something to consider for our fund.  

Linden and Peter are very experienced fund managers; working with them in the Healthcare Investment team has been a true pleasure. Their knowledge and grasp of the healthcare industry as well as their passion for science and innovation are motivational. I also see Linden as a strong female role model who is genuinely considerate and inspiring. In addition, I benefit from having the opportunities to interact with the wider AXA IM equities team.

With increasing responsibilities, I feel it’s a setup that enables me to build a career as a fund manager, covering a sector that I am passionate about and in a role that affords me opportunities to progress and succeed – how could one not to be motivated by that?!

How do you feel you complement the team’s skills and add value?

As a close three-person team, Linden, Peter and I work independently yet collaboratively. Peter is the expert on the non-therapeutic side of healthcare, while Linden and I look at everything drug-related. We comb through the investable universe and observe industry developments with our own method and style, but we’re each other’s sounding board when it comes to investment ideas and portfolio management. During earnings and conference seasons when newsflow is peaking, “divide and conquer and then reconvene” is an approach we often take!

We also bring in different networks. Collectively, we operate with a nose for cutting-edge innovation, leveraging resources at hand to spot interesting companies, i.e. attractive investment opportunities.  

In addition, I find financial modelling therapeutic, and I love the sound of typing as my fingers dance on the keyboard! In fact, in my previous job, I was chosen to showcase a model I built to the Board and management committee at Bloomberg and helped push forward a modelling initiative. One of my favourite things is thinking through assumptions and numbers in the models to support or reject investment ideas!

As we look ahead, what is exciting about the Biotech sector?

Everything! From the fundamental scientific discoveries to disruptive innovation in drug development to leaving an impact on the society, everything about biotech is fascinating, and clearly I am not biased!

In all seriousness, as an investor, the biotech sector is innovation-led and offers defensive top-line growth, strong long-term fundamentals supported by structural demographics and lifestyles, and geographic expansion opportunities. I see investing in biotech as a way to contribute to science and drive therapeutic innovation forward, while having the opportunities to support the best quality companies and generating returns for our clients.
 

What can you tell us about the emergence of China in the Biotech sector?

A greying society and seismic shifts in affluence drive the whetting domestic demand for novel medicines in China, putting cutting-edge drug development into sharp focus. Regulatory reforms in recent years also are encouraging a greater emphasis on R&D capabilities and promoting faster drug approvals, aligning policies closer to practices in the West. China’s biotech, a sector that was almost non-existent a decade ago, has evolved considerably from just a handful of companies into a much broader universe. I think the growth witnessed in the Chinese biotech sector over the last few years has been remarkable. The speed of drug development and the breadth of the biotech universe showcase the sector at its best, while the large number of high-profile partnerships between Chinese biotech firms and Western pharmaceutical companies adds conviction.

However, undeniably, heightened geopolitical concerns cast a shadow over the thriving capital markets that have been vital to the sector’s expansion.

While the economic and regulatory environments are likely to remain supportive to encourage greater investment in science and foster an innovative R&D culture, I think enhanced reimbursement models for novel medicines and improvements in governance and social progress will also be demanded as China’s biotech sector is increasingly wooing the attention of the world. Global investors like us are closely watching China’s progress towards being an equal to global leading innovation hubs and ultimately a peer to the dominant US biotech sector, while being mindful of the top-down geopolitical risks.

And aside from work, tell us something interesting about yourself that most people won’t know?

I was a math nerd in high school. I was part of the “Pi Club” for remembering 120 digits of the magic number Pi (π). One summer I also had the privilege of attending a highly selective international math camp, whose alumni include co-founder of OpenAI Greg Brockman, and now infamous FTX founders Sam Bankman-Fried and Gary Wang.

At the math camp, I was like a kid in a candy shop -- exploring different areas of mathematics and falling in love with them. Through my studies of mathematics and statistics from high school all the way to my master's at Cambridge University, I discovered a world of wonders. Now as someone who has been working in the financial industry for over a decade in different countries, I see the application of mathematics and statistics in every aspect of my life. I am grateful for the choices I made in school and for the amazing opportunities afforded to me, and I would encourage all the girls who are considering STEM subjects to be bold, curious, imaginative -- go discover your world of wonders.

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