What's Big Pharma's latest hot spot? The Middle East

Are the BRIC countries passé in Big Pharma? Not exactly. Brazil, Russia, India and China aren't the great shining frontiers they used to be, but they're still on most drugmakers' to-do lists.

The latest fashion, however, is smaller emerging markets. As the IMS Institute for Healthcare Informatics noted earlier this year, drugmakers with ambitions in the developing world are moving into second- and third-tier emerging markets as the top-level BRICs slow down. And multinational pharma's newest trend lies in the Persian Gulf, the Wall Street Journal reports.

Particularly for companies strong in diabetes, the Gulf region is a hotbed of activity, the WSJ notes. As in other markets around the world, diabetes is a fast-growing problem across the region, and companies are moving in to help treat it--and increase sales along the way.

Sanofi ($SNY), Merck KGaA's Serono division, Merck & Co. ($MRK), Novo Nordisk ($NVO), Eli Lilly ($LLY) and Bayer are among those building manufacturing sites and distribution hubs, not to mention hiring staffers to fan out and help promote diabetes care.

Merck KGaA tapped Neopharma, a domestic drugmaker in the United Arab Emirates, as its manufacturing partner and recently started turning out the standard diabetes treatment metformin there. U.S.-based Merck & Co. joined a venture to build a $93 million insulin plant in Bahrain, to start production in 2015. Meanwhile, Lilly set up a Middle East and Africa headquarters in Dubai, where Sanofi recently established a distribution hub. Bayer, Merck and Novo Nordisk have diabetes education and awareness programs in various countries around the region. And Pfizer ($PFE) is building a plant in Saudi Arabia, expected to come online in 2015 to make a number of the company's drugs.

Till now, the U.A.E. and other countries in the Middle East have had to import most of their diabetes treatments. So, governments in the area are keen on bringing foreign drugmakers in. They're offering economic incentives, and they've been setting up their own diabetes partnerships with pharma companies to help increase treatment of the disease.

- read the WSJ piece (sub. req.)

Special Reports: Top 10 Drugmakers in Emerging Markets - Bayer Healthcare - Sanofi - Merck KGaA - Novo Nordisk - Pfizer