With a checked shirt, a black jacket, leisure jeans, grey hair, and a baseball cap in the hand, it seems like that he is trying to put this cap on the top of the mountain behind him, and he is enjoying all this with a big smile. This is Cai Dongwei. People who have communicated with him say that 'his eyes deliver rigorousness and earnestness, and his speech and behavior disclose scholar's simple and frank personality'.
As for the pursuit of life, if you asked him this question before 2006, he would tell you that he wanted to become a top chemist in a leading pharmaceutical company and to enjoy a happy life and the nature's green mountains and rivers. With the great development in the pharmaceutical industry in China, his enthusiasm was aroused and he wanted to seize this golden opportunity and pursue a greater goal - return to China and start his own business to make greater contribution to the society and his motherland.
Many years after he came back home, his attitude has changed from uneasiness and excitement to familiarity and satisfaction. He said, 'In my life, I will find my own stage'. Although he had lived in foreign land for 22 years, his stage is always in his motherland.
Chemistry likes me
In 1983, Cai Dongwei graduated from Sun Yat-Sen University and participated in the CGP national selective examinations. He was admitted to Columbia University with the highest score in organic chemistry and the second highest score in chemistry and studied with the famous professor of organic chemistry Clark Still. 'I like mathematics, but chemistry likes me, so I chose chemistry,' Cai Weidong playfully said about his choice at that time.
The 5-year doctoral research in Columbia University was simple but fulfilling. Every day he spent more than 10 hours in the lab. Cai Dongwei said that different from the focus on publications in China, the free and relaxed environment for scientific research provided by foreign university helped him to devote himself in trials without any concern. When exposed to such an environment, he did not feel tired, and he managed to make achievements in numerous trials and gain happiness in each success.
After obtaining the doctoral degree in 1989, he entered Stanford University and followed the famous professor Barry Trost to conduct post-doctoral research. In 1992, he entered the world’s leading pharmaceutical company MSD and held the positions of researcher, senior researcher, and senior researcher for research and development. He was mainly engaged in the research and development of new drugs. He worked for his company for 14 years.
During his days in MSD, Cai Weidong participated in process research and development for dozens of new drugs. At that time, with his solid knowledge in chemistry and good training for many years, he began to display his own talent. He solved the tough difficulties in process and provided a solution to the synthetic process of BINAP, which was simple, highly efficient, and easy to amplify, exerting a great influence on chiral synthesis. The team he led also solved the difficulty of the synthetic process of pyridine-3-boronic acid. This creative process was published in JOC and the article was evaluated as one of the ten most-cited articles in 2003 by the American Chemical Society. He always took delight in talking about the development of the synthetic process of CCR2. His team shortened the 10-step synthetic route into only 2 steps, and the total recovery was increased multiple times.
A scholar established a company
In 2006, Cai Weidong, who owned everything in America, decided to give up the comfort life with an annual salary of hundreds of thousands of dollars and start his own business in China.
'MSD was the largest company at that time and had thousands of doctors. I think it was quite crowded.' People with high education background and high IQ like Cai Dongwei sensed the narrow space for development. 'I want to find a more spacious place.' When chatting with friends, Cai Dongwei made up his mind.
At that time there were two choices, the one was to provide outsourcing services to large companies and the other one was to develop medical products based on own technology. The latter had a greater risk, but Cai Dongwei chose the latter.
In 2006, Cai Dongwei brought the projects of new drugs recently developed successfully back to China and established Meizhong Nengte Chemical Technologies Co., Ltd. in Jingzhou, Hubei.
However, the road for starting a business was not always smooth. Enterprise management was a great challenge for a scholar, and the high mobility of research and development staff greatly affected the progress of research and development. A few years passed, and the company's economic efficiency was poor.
'People engaged in scientific research are simple and don't know much about how to run a company.' Seeing himself as a person focusing on technology, Cai Weidong said that after the partners quit one after another, the company was in a dangerous situation.
Fortunately, Cai Dongwei had been strongly supported by the government and his partners. In 2010, he finally found a new partner, Chen Liequan, who had more than 20 years of experience in enterprise management. The cooperation between them led the company into the fast lane of development and a great qualitative leap was realized.
Up to now, they have successfully developed various chiral ammonia intermediates including 2-methylpropane-2-sulfinamide, Yin An Chun, and aminoindane, and the chiral drug lobeline hydrochloride. These new high-tech products with independent innovation have great innovation in technology, which helps to shorten process routes, realize new production of old drugs, and greatly reduce the cost of production; meanwhile, most techniques are original in the world and have their own intellectual property, and some of them even fill in the gaps in the field of medicine in China.
Since the year 2010, the intermediate for asthma drugs montelukast sodium produced by Nengte has had an annual output of 100 tons, with an annual sales volume of more than a hundred million RMB, and the company has become the largest supplier of montelukast sodium in China. Two pharmaceutical factories Zhejiang Xinchang and Zhejiang NHU produced more than half of vitamin E of the whole world, but the intermediate tricresol was all imported from Germany. Cai Dongwei observed this gap in the domestic market, and started to develop tricresol in 2010. In 2011, with the project of 'an annual output of tricresol 40000 tons', he was successfully selected by the program of Thousand Talents. At present, Nengte has a team consisting of more than 20 professional research and development staff. In 2014, the company was successfully reorganized with listed companies and achieved a sales revenue of 430 million RMB.
Looking back to his own life journey, Cai Weidong thinks that he is very lucky. When he graduated from senior high school, the National College Entrance Examination was restored; when he graduated from university, China was opening its door to the world; after he worked in MSD for more than 10 years, the pharmaceutical industry was developing rapidly in China and India. With more than 20 years' experience in research and development of synthetic process, he firmly believes that an outstanding synthetic process is not simple preparation, and needs solid chemical knowledge and rich experience in synthetic process. Thus we can pass through the narrow path, and develop optimized, simplest, safest, and most economic synthetic process, and bring greatest economic benefits to the company.
Dr. Cai Dongwei is the distinguished guest for the 35th Tongxieyi Forum
Born in 1963, Doctor of Chemistry, Chinese American. Currently holds the position of technical director in Hubei Nengte Technologies Co., Ltd.;
In 1983, he graduated from Sun Yat-Sen University and was admitted into Columbia University;
In 1989, he received doctoral degree and entered Stanford University, doing post-doctoral research following the famous professor Barry Trost;
In 1992, he entered MSD and was engaged in research and development of new drugs;
In 2006, he quit his job and started his own business in China;
In 2011, he was selected in the program of Thousand Talents.