Pharma bets its chips in developing countries

We've been talking a lot about drug sales in the developing world lately, as Big Pharma eyes markets such as Brazil, China and India--the so-called BRIC countries--to make up for stalling sales in the U.S. This week's Economist comes to the party, taking a look at America's declining contribution to pharma profits, and just how developing countries might help take up the slack.

As the magazine rightly notes, pharma's a bit late. Other industries started targeting the growing markets in Asia and Latin America years ago. While consumer brands and high-tech companies poured billions into those countries, drugmakers sniffed about weak intellectual property laws and low per-capita incomes. Now, however, that's changed, partly because other countries have started to beef up IP protections and partly because incomes have been growing.

But at least half the reason is that China, India, et al, are among the only countries pharma hasn't fully tapped. Consider a new report from Decision Resources, which predicts that China's market for antidepressants will triple by 2012 to $226 million. The research firm expects SSRI sales to post continuing double-digit growth there. Plus, Chinese docs and patients consider Western-made antidepressants to be better-quality than those made domestically.

The roll call of companies looking eastward and southward includes GlaxoSmithKline and Pfizer, which just announced that it would put emerging markets on its priority list. And then there's Abbott Laboratories, which has quietly been building up its Chinese business and now ranks as that countries' No. 1 outside pharma firm. Plus, news is just now breaking that AstraZeneca is building up a supply hub in China that's aimed at helping the company not only build its "In China for China" manufacturing strategy, but also its "In China for Global" business.

Meanwhile, look no further than the FDA, which is cutting ribbons at three new offices in China this week: Beijing, Guangzhou and Shanghai. "Establishing a permanent FDA presence in China will greatly enhance the speed and effectiveness of our regulatory cooperation and our efforts to protect consumers in both countries," HHS Secretary Michael Leavitt said in a statement.

So pharma appears to be meeting itself coming and going, from developed nations to developing countries and back again. And the FDA won't be the only ones watching.

- read the story in The Economist
- see the AstraZeneca news at Supply Chainer
- check out the release on China's antidepressant market
- see the AP article about new FDA offices

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