Feeling the pulse in China

Updated: 2013-05-10 07:34

By Cecily Liu and Zhang Chunyan (China Daily)

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Healthcare and pharmaceutical firms across Europe are strengthening their presence in China, driven by the country's high demand for medicine and the improving environment for research and development.

China became the world's third-largest pharmaceutical market in 2010, according to the international healthcare market researcher IMS Health Inc. Sales of medicines are expected to reach 694 billion yuan ($110 billion; 86 billion euros) by 2015.

Many European companies are drawn to China by the country's R&D environment and focusing on local partners to make it easier to register in the market and gain approval for their research activities.

The biopharmaceutical industry is one of seven strategic sectors for which the Chinese government has promised support in its 12th Five-Year Plan (2011-15). The plan also encourages foreign investment.

One such company is the Danish healthcare provider Novo Nordisk, which is carrying out extensive R&D in China. The company is focusing on diabetes drugs for China's rural population.

"Diabetes in China is getting more severe. We saw the progression in China's rural areas and people there are financially capable and keen to obtain foreign drugs through county-level hospitals," said Ron Christie, senior vice-president of Novo Nordisk (China) Pharmaceuticals Co Ltd.

Medical reform in China began in 2009 with the goal of establishing universal healthcare by 2020 and allowing access to affordable public hospitals and national medical insurance. The central government plans to spend a total of 400 billion yuan by 2020 to improve healthcare in rural regions, improve the prevention of psychological diseases, create a digital public health information network, innovate medical devices, develop traditional Chinese medicine and train more doctors.

The French pharmaceutical company Ipsen is looking to expand its presence in China as demand in the country for drugs to treat chronic diseases continues to rise.

Spending on treating chronic diseases, which typically last more than three months, accounted for 69 percent of the country's total healthcare costs in 2011.

To develop medicines specifically tailored for treating China's chronic diseases, Ipsen will open an operational office with more than 60 employees in Beijing this year to carry out clinical trials for its products in China.

The Swiss pharmaceutical giant Novartis opened an R&D center in Shanghai in 2007. Two years later, it invested another $1 billion (760 million euros) to add 1,000 researchers, making the center the third largest R&D base for Novartis behind their centers in Switzerland and the US.

In 2011, Novartis acquired an 85 percent stake in Zhejiang-based Tianyuan Bio-Pharmaceutical Co Ltd, in a deal that significantly increased Novartis' share in China's vaccine market.

Pharmaceutical companies aside, many European medical equipment companies are also hoping to take the latest technologies to China.

One example is Siemens Healthcare of Germany, which is promoting the technology of Internet-based long-distance imaging technology to Chinese hospitals.

This technology allows doctors with expertise to offer real-time assistance with imaging diagnosis to help less experienced local physicians with surgeries. It is particularly useful when patients encounter emergencies and only have a limited time to travel to their local physicians.

Contact the writers through cecily.liu@chinadaily.com.cn

(China Daily 05/10/2013 page17)