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5.6.2010 Man who turned pigs’ guts into blood thinner tops China’s rich list

By Times Online

A pharmaceutical researcher who discovered a way to harvest blood thinner from pig’s intestines has become the richest man in China.

Li Li rose to the top slot of China’s rich list today as shares in his Shenzhen Hepalink Pharmaceutical Co were listed on China’s Nasdaq-style market for start-ups.

Looking overwhelmed by the extraordinary investor interest in his firm, Mr Li made a rare public appearance to strike the gong marking the start of trade this morning in the southern boomtown of Shenzhen.

The price of the shares rose 27 per cent on their first day of trading in an issue underwritten by Goldman Sachs, swelling the wealth of Mr Li and his wife and business partner, Li Tan, to $7.8 billion (£5.2 billion).

That ensured the couple, who own a 72 per cent stake in Hepalink, comfortably overtook the $5.1 billion fortune of Wang Chuanfu, chairman of the hugely successful car manufacturer BYD.

Hepalink shares traded as high as 188 yuan (£18), a record for a Chinese stock. This values the company at about $10.5 billion.

Mr Li owns about 40 per cent of the company and his wife holds 32 per cent.

Interest was fuelled by the fact that Hepalink is the only Chinese company accredited by the US Food and Drug Administration to export heparin – a blood thinner harvested from pigs’ intestines and used in kidney dialysis and many types of surgery.

Little is known about Li Li and Li Tan, both of whom refused interviews in the run-up to the listing.

What is known is that both were born in 1964 and graduated from Sichuan University in southwestern China with degrees in chemistry in 1987.

Mr Li first worked for a state-owned meat processing plant in the provincial capital until 1992, leaving to become chief executive of a biotechnology firm.

After failed attempts to co-operate with state-owned firms, the couple set up Hepalink in 1998 to produce heparin using a procedure that Mr Li had been perfecting for 25 years.

True to his modest image, Mr Li told one newspaper before the listing: “My success is really due to this great era.”

The Southern Metropolis Daily ran reports on the company’s rags-to-riches story last week, including one under the headline: “Processing pig intestines fares better than making cars.”