Novo Nordisk says new drugs Tresiba, Ryzodeg will claw back lost market share in China

(Novo Nordisk)

Novo Nordisk has seen its position in the Chinese diabetes market whittled away in the last couple of years, but it says new products will keep it on top.

Western rivals, such as Sanofi and Eli Lilly, as well as local manufacturers are putting up a fierce fight to supply drugs for China's fast-growing diabetic population, said Novo's international operations head Maziar Mike Doustdar in a Bloomberg interview.

The world's largest insulin producer is banking on two new drugs--long-acting insulin Tresiba (insulin degludec) and combination Ryzodeg (insulin degludec and insulin aspart)--to help it start building market share. 

It says it expects to get approval for the two drugs in China within the next couple of years, which will add momentum to their already buoyant growth in other markets. Tresiba sales leaped 167% in the first half of the year after it won U.S. approval.

China represents a massive market opportunity for diabetes drug producers. Figures from the International Diabetes Federation suggest that China has around 114 million diabetics--with only around half diagnosed--and by 2040 that could swell to more than 150 million. 

To put those numbers in perspective, the U.S.--where competition and downward pricing pressure is also affecting diabetes drug sales--currently has around 30 million people with the disease. 

China's recent economic slowdown has taken its toll on the pharma industry, where growth rates have slumped from more than 30% a year in 2008 to around 5.5% at the moment. But diabetes products have been less affected--growing at more than 9% a year, and insulins are doing even better with almost 10% growth, according to IMS Health data.

Novo maintains the scale of the opportunity in China remains very large, particularly as only around a third of patients are diagnosed and less than a quarter are on some form of drug treatment.

Novo was an early mover in China, setting up a Chinese affiliate back in 2004, when most of its peers in the pharma industry were wary of doing business in the country directly. 

Novo Nordisk China quickly became the biggest supplier of insulin products, and at last count had some 2,800 employees and the largest diabetes sales force in the country. Toward the end of last year it was also claiming diabetes market share of around 33%, down around three points from end-2012, and saw sales in China accelerate in the first half of this year.

Since 2012 there have been modest gains for Sanofi, Lilly, and Bristol-Myers Squibb, as well as local producers Tonghua Dongbao and BJ Ganli Pharmaceutical. However, a fragmented group of smaller players--competing mainly on price--saw the biggest gains and accounted for almost a quarter of the market in 2015, according to IMS figures.

- read the Bloomberg story

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