Pfizer, Roche, Novartis lead the way in Japan

As Japanese drugmakers look outside their home market for acquisitions and growth, Big Pharma is moving in. With sales growth slowing to a crawl in the U.S. and Europe, global drugmakers have targeted the island nation, and they're now competing for market share, using tried-and-true marketing tactics such as disease-awareness campaigns, public relations and amped up sales forces.

Some multinational drugmakers have been more successful than others, as the Wall Street Journal reports. At 5.6%, Pfizer's ($PFE) market share in Japan is second only to homegrown Takeda Pharmaceutical's. Roche and Novartis ($NVS) are tied in 5th place with 4.4%, while Merck's ($MRK) 3.7% puts it in 9th. These four are the only non-Japanese drugmakers in the top 10.

Japan's drug market isn't growing at the level of much-ballyhooed emerging markets like China and India. But Japanese drug spending is already among the world's biggest, and the country's population is aging, spurring demand for healthcare. The government has also lowered some barriers to launching new drugs, the WSJ says. And there are plenty of new drugs to launch, because the country has fallen 3 to 5 years behind the rest of the world in getting newly minted drugs to market.

Big Pharma's growth ambitions for Japan are substantial. Merck aims to crack the top three by market share by asking the government to approve 20 more drugs in the next 5 years. Novartis also wants to elbow its way into the top three; it has launched 11 drugs since 2009 and reported $3.3 billion in sales there last year. The goal is for more than $4 billion within the next few years, the company's top Japanese exec told the Journal. Meanwhile, Eli Lilly ($LLY), which hasn't edged into the top 10 yet, hopes to double last year's $1.64 billion in Japanese sales by 2015.

- read the WSJ piece