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Over the past decade, China’s pharmaceutical industry has made drug innovation a top priority. The driving factors include new and complex medical needs, rapid market expansion and regulatory system reform. Although China is currently the world’s second-largest pharmaceutical market, most Chinese pharma companies are still in the early stages of innovative drug research and development (R&D). Here, we present a side-by-side comparison of the R&D pipelines of the top 20 Chinese pharma companies with 20 non-Chinese multinational pharma companies, to gain a clearer picture of where China's pharmaceutical industry stands globally in terms of innovative R&D. Details of the data and analyses are provided in the Supplementary information.