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Taking the pulse of this nation's healthcare market and packaging growth

Analysts predict 8% to 9% growth in China's healthcare market through 2010. Contributing one-fifth of the global population, China has become more open and affluent.

The aging population, combined with growing affluence, has a direct correlation on demand for better healthcare. Still, all is not well. The Chinese are eating and smoking more and exercising less. (Western influences?) Cardiovascular disease is on the rise and has become the most frequent cause of death. Doctors are seeing more patients in their 40s, 30s and even 20s falling victim to heart disease. Cardiovascular drugs and devices are in high demand.

In addition, respiratory, anti-inflammatory, and anti-ulcer drugs as well as drugs to treat neurological orders are also in high demand. An increase in the number of older people creates more need for orthopedic devices and geriatric medicines.

Distribution of healthcare resources is skewed. Although two-thirds of the population lives in the countryside, only 19% percent of healthcare resources reach those locations. Roughly 90% of the rural population has no medical insurance!

Analysts from Pacific Bridge Medical, which provides business development and regulatory assistance to medical companies hoping to set up shop in China, expect healthy growth in both the over-the-counter and prescription drug markets. Because China is expected to have the largest OTC market in 10 years, many global companies are developing research-and-development centers on Chinese soil.

Foreign drug companies remain the dominant players in the region, with Chinese companies not really prepared to compete. Almost all Chinese pharma manufacturers make only generic drugs—yet another example of the Chinese not investing in R&D.

Most Chinese companies are happy to take someone else's intellectual property with little or no compunction. No wonder one insider recently referred to China as the "Venus Flytrap," the plant whose leaves close in on unsuspecting prey. U.S. and European packaging machinery manufacturers are lured to China by cost savings and the promise of new markets, only to have the Chinese strip them of their intellectual property.

Counterfeiting, clinical trials

At the recent Interphex conference in New York City, DuPont's Carolyn Burns talked about the counterfeit problem in China. "China is a big source for sophisticated counterfeit medicines," said Burns. "Often authorities in the region where counterfeiters operate own stock in the companies making the fakes.

"China has great legislation to deal with counterfeiters," Burns continued. "The problem is enforcement. Sometimes the local government wants to turn a blind eye to protect the local economy."

In 2003, the State Food and Drug Administration was created in China, modeled after the FDA in the United States. The SFDA is the governing body that regulates all drugs, food, health, and cosmetic products. Drug registration in China takes up to two years. Even if the product is approved elsewhere, the SFDA will most likely require at least some clinical testing in China before approval.

Because of low costs and faster approvals, many drug companies are performing clinical trials in China, which is building up a large pool of experts. China, with its large population, also offers a sizable pool of patients. In fact, many of those who do not have insurance volunteer for clinical trials as a way to visit a doctor.

Future projections

Chinese hospitals are notorious for overcharging for medicines. Many people have a deep distrust of doctors, hospitals, and pharmacies. This will lead to high growth in OTC drugs, as more people will turn to large discount retailers to purchase medicine.

Older Chinese citizens will buy nutrition and beauty products to keep their bodies healthy and maintain physical appearance. One colleague returned from China recently and talked about the explosion of hair color, with blondes, brunettes, and redheads walking down the streets of major cities—and not just women!

Packaging will enjoy enormous growth in this country, and more companies are using Chinese companies to manufacture their packaging. Demand will be highest for plastic bottles, prefilled syringes, blister packaging, and strip packs. [HCP]

By Jim Chrzan, Publisher
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