Drug maker Mundipharma (China) Pharmaceutical Co. Ltd. is gearing up to boost its pharmaceutical business in China, betting on the country’s rise to the world’s second-largest market for prescription medicines by 2018.
“China will be the single largest market for us in terms of incremental growth in the next 10 years,” Raman Singh, regional director for Asia, the Middle East, Africa and Latin America, told EJ Insight. “It has become a very big strategic driver for us to invest in.”
Mundipharma has four types of drugs in the mainland with another coming on stream in December. It plans to increase the number to 14, closer to its global portfolio of 17, with clinical trials on the new drugs scheduled for the next 12 months.
Established in the US in the 1950s, Mundipharma International Ltd. operates in 28 countries and has been doing business in China since 1993 with a manufacturing plant in Beijing. It is a leading maker of painkillers.
Singh said there is a growing community of moderate and severe pain sufferers that receive weak and inadequate treatment in China despite an increasing awareness of pain management.
“People don’t have the medicines because either these are too expensive or they don’t have proper diagnosis. Most of the emerging world is still undertreated,” he said.
Singh said China is already the world’s third largest pharmaceutical market and is on course to replace Japan to become second only to the US by 2018.
China is set to boost the healthcare industry including the pharmaceutical sector to more than 8 trillion yuan (US$1.31 trillion) in 2020, according to a State Council document on the development the health services market.
Forbes magazine expects the mainland’s pharmaceutical prescription market to top US$315 billion by 2020.
Singh said the company will launch any new medicine simultaneously in China, Europe and the US in order to establish a bigger footprint in the global market as quickly as possible.
“In the past, we used to do these launches in the US and Europe and think about China later but now China has become a key part of our global strategy,” he said.
International clinical trials involve three phases. China recognizes the first two, which are done overseas, and then requires testing on a Chinese population before the drug can be sold in the mainland market.
Typically, it takes about five years to complete the third stage of the trials in China, including three years to clinically develop the product, a year to analyze data and another year to get approval from the China Food and Drug Administration, Singh said.
“We would like the products to be available to patients at the same time because as a company, we should not have to wait if a product is a game changer,” he said.
Mundipharma has increased its manpower fourfold from 450-strong in 2011 to tap China’s growing healthcare market and expand its reach to tier 2 and tier 3 cities.
Today, it employs 2,000, nearly 80 percent of whom are medical representatives who promote the drugs to doctors and hospitals.
“With 350 people, we could only go to tier 1 cities in China — a very small number of cities such as Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou. In order to make our products reach more patients and hospitals and move from tier 1 to tier 2 and 3 cities, we made a decision to add close to a thousand medical representatives,” he said.
The biggest challenge in China is intensifying competition after the government decided to allow more domestic drug makers to enter the market, Singh said.
The government hopes that with more competition, the price of medicines will come down, making them more accessible to people and helping the government cut healthcare costs.
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