China's increasing integration into the global pharmaceutical value chain is occurring at a time when big pharma's traditional R&D model has entered a period of crisis, and when China faces significant challenges in providing healthcare for its huge and rapidly ageing population. Despite China's ambitions of promoting its own pharmaceutical sector, it is likely to continue to depend for some time on significant contributions from foreign companies. While this situation provides considerable opportunities for big pharma companies to expand their markets in China, they are also hoping that offshoring aspects of their R&D to China may contribute to reconfiguring their current R&D model with its weak record of producing new drugs. Drawing on interviews with a small number of pharma R&D centres in Shanghai, patent analyses and industry reports, we provide insights into both the challenges and the opportunities associated with the early stages of establishing such centres in an emerging region with a rapidly growing market. This paper contributes towards a more nuanced view of the internationalization of R&D in emerging regions.