Merck KGaA, Bristol-Myers plan joint assault on China's diabetes market

Diabetes is rampant in China, and growing. And relatively few of the more than 90 million Chinese diabetics are treated. It's no wonder that pharma companies are piling into China, diabetes treatments in tow.

Now, Merck Serono and Bristol-Myers Squibb ($BMY) have inked a new partnership to tap that market. The German drugmaker and Bristol-Myers plan to co-promote various formulations of Glucophage, a.k.a. metformin, a standard therapy for blood-sugar control.

Bristol-Myers has been selling Glucophage in China since 1999. The two companies aim to expand geographic distribution of the drug--in its various formulations--and step up outreach to hospitals. They're also planning an education program for doctors and other healthcare workers.

"The combined promotion efforts of the two companies will help reach more patients in urban and rural communities who have had less access to treatment and who can benefit from metformin," said Jean-Christophe Pointeau, president of Bristol-Myers Squibb China, in a release.

The two companies aren't alone in targeting China's diabetics or its rural areas. Provincial China has become increasingly important to Big Pharma as companies seek to take advantage of the country's growing pharma market.

Novo Nordisk ($NVO) is developing a $400 million production plant in the country, for instance, and Eli Lilly ($LLY) has amped up its investment in insulin development there. And Bayer is expanding into medium-sized cities and rural areas, partly via provider-education campaigns. Its diabetes drug Glucobay is a strong performer there.

Bristol-Myers is betting big on diabetes elsewhere in the world, too. Last year, it bought Amylin Pharmaceuticals ($AMLN)--and its drugs Byetta and Bydureon--in a two-stage deal that also amped up its diabetes partnership with AstraZeneca ($AZN).

- read the release from Merck KGaA (PDF)
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