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One of the World's Largest Drugmakers Announced its Development Plan to Fight Chronic Diseases in China


BEIJING, Nov. 9 (Xinhuanet) -- The international pharmaceutical company Bristol-Myers Squibb Co (BMS) has announced that it will focus on the development of drugs to fight chronic diseases in China, and will launch at least five new products by 2020.

Jean-Christophe Pointeau, president of BMS (China) Investment Co Ltd, said that the company's concentration on diabetes, hepatitis, cardiovascular and metabolic conditions, and cancer, is based on the fact that China has seen a rapid rise in the incidence of these chronic diseases.

Ranked the world's sixth-largest drugmaker by Fortune magazine in 2010, BMS launched a new diabetes medicine in China earlier this month. It will also launch new cardiovascular medication under joint development with Pfizer Inc next year.

Two more new diabetes drugs are expected to come on to the market between 2013 and 2014, and there are plans to launch a range of cancer and anti-viral medicines between 2015 and 2016.

"We have a busy schedule (of new drug launches) before 2020. It's an ambitious plan," said Pointeau, who took over his current position in June. Previously, the US-based company had only launched one innovative medicine in China in the last decade.

The strategy is to cater to the demands of China's aging population and the increased incidence of chronic diseases in the coming years. According to the government's 2010 census there are 178 million people aged 60 years or older in China, accounting for 13.26 percent of the population. Meanwhile, the number of Chinese people below 15 years of age had dropped 6.3 percentage points compared with a decade earlier.

A recent report by the World Bank, the Ministry of Commerce and the World Health Organization shows that in the coming two decades around 80 percent of deaths in China may be caused by non-infectious chronic diseases, such as diabetes, cancer and cardiovascular illness. By 2030, the number of people aged 40 or above and suffering from diabetes is set to increase fourfold. Meanwhile it's estimated that the figure for lung cancer will rise fivefold.

"There are two strategies (for developing in China), some multinationals are diversifying (their businesses), or expanding their portfolios in both generic and OTC (over-the-counter) medicines. We are focusing on the unmet needs of patients on providing innovative new drugs," said Pointeau.

He cited the company's new diabetes medicine as an example. Patients can take their medication once a day at any time and maintain stable blood sugar levels throughout the day. Other products require two or three injections a day at fixed times.

China's market for chronic disease medication is already intensely competitive. The diabetes sector is led by Denmark's Novo Nordisk A/S, and Eli Lilly and Co and Pfizer Inc of the US. Meanwhile Switzerland's Novartis AG and UK-based GlaxoSmithKline Plc are well placed in the treatment of liver disease.

To win against that sort of competition, "you have to have innovative products", said Pointeau.

BMS said that the sales growth of its new innovative products has been much higher than average. The company's overall year-on-year sales growth in China has been between 10 and 15 percent during recent years. However, the growth rate for sales of innovative products, such as the hepatitis drug Baraclude, launched in China in 2006, has been in the range of 30 to 40 percent.

China is currently the company's eighth-largest market and is expected to become the sixth-largest by next year.

Guo Fanli, an analyst from the domestic research company China Investment Consulting Co Ltd, said domestic drugmakers have become increasingly competitive in the chronic disease sector in recent years, thanks to government support for biopharmaceutical innovation.

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